Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

63: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri part VIII:
Republic of Property & Altermodernity

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         The Republic of Property
         In the state of exception which we find ourselves, there is a sense of an apocalyptic crisis of sovereignty: law and order being challenged from all sides and if they are not maintained then there will be a chaotic war of all against all. (Q1) A source of the apocalyptic crisis which serves to perpetuate its presumed transcendent nature is that it appears that it is the natural order of things or at the very least it appears that there is nothing that can be done about it. Therefore we must defend “our” system from these threats. (Q2)
         The system is under attack but not in the sense that is generally thought. The system is not under attack from outside. (Iran, North Korea, Syria and al-Qaeda are not interested in our system) The system is under attack because, despite its claims, it does not actually stand for the principles (freedom, democracy and toleration etc.) it claims to stand for. The system will almost always sacrifice any of its principles in the pursuit of the protection of private property (the system will sacrifice private property only for the sake of its own existence). The excessive protection of private property is the source of the greatest evils in the world. (Q3) The authors refer to a regime that puts the protection of private property above all other principles as a republic of property. We live in one and the world is full of republics of property.
         Modernity is usually thought of as our emergence from primitive superstitious backward times. This is the narrative that servers some powerful groups best. However for the vast majority of the people of the world today and in the past modernity is more usefully understood as a power relation between sovereignty and liberation. Today and for hundreds of years now every country has been a modern country – Western imperialism spread modernity to the world. What the European imperial powers spread was their sovereignty on many different levels. European reason, science, governance, literature, music, art and military discipline became the standard to which all others were compared, found lacking, devalued and in many case forced out of existence. (Q4)
         Anti-modernity is portrayed as a step backwards to a premodern savage time however anti-modernity is really a resistance to modernity. Resistance is usually thought to be a reaction however resistance comes first before domination. Domination is the reaction; It needs subjects to dominate and it reacts to a perceived threat. Agents act on their freedom and encounter the force of domination to which they resists – they insists on doing things their way. The ensuing clash determines who is stronger. But the dominating force cannot ever take away all the freedom. Therefore there will always be resistance against domination. (Q5) The productive forces of the multitude provide the material necessary for their domination therefore the multitude can also provide the material necessary for an alternative. When the multitude recognize that their resistance came first; that their production is necessary for the existence of the dominator then altermodernity can come about.
         Altermodernity is the creative production of alternatives to the power relations of modernity. Anti-modernity is, by definition, linked with modernity through resistance. Altermodernity tries to sever the link to break free of the power relations of modernity not by fighting, opposing or challenging modernity directly but by exodus and transformation.
         Next time we will study the building up of an alternative commonwealth to the modern regime of capital (the republic of property) based on the common.
         Q1 Some examples of challenges to “our” law and order are 1) the constant warnings about new forms of imperialism and fascism often in developing countries, 2) degradation of morality and high levels of criminality and 3) the strangeness of other systems such as “radical” Islam and the “radical” ecological movement. All of these are presented in the most evil and vile way so as to stop dialogue. The authors ask as to consider that in each of the three examples we should not look for boogie-men or hobgoblins to stamp out rather we should seek to understand them as symptoms of or reactions to an underlining evil. How does the thought that all the evils systems of thought and actions in the world are not evil in themselves but reactions against a deeper evil that we have not seen yet. If it is imaginable then what do you think this deeper evil might be?
         Q2 If you were to believe that “our” socio-politico-economic system is under attack could you imagine a different course of action than to defend the system? After all “our” system stands for freedom, democracy, tolerance, the rule of law and the protection of private property. Do you believe that our system is under attack?
         Q3 Consider the three great liberal revolutions, the English 1688, the American 1776, and the French 1789; none applied their principles to the slaves within their jurisdictions. Only the Haitian Revolution of 1791 actually freed slaves and had a more consistent application of the principles of freedom, equality and fraternity. (Slavery ended in the rest of the world due to the destabilizing effects of the industrial revolution that required a mass movement of workers – slavery has the effect of reducing worker mobility). The Haitian Revolution was finally corrupted when they agreed to pay reparations in exchange for a cessation of military hostilities. This in a nutshell is an example of how the excessive protection of private property runes all good and just principles. Do you believe we live in such a system? Would the world be better of if private property were protected less and sacrificed more readily for the common good? It is not a dichotomy between protection and no protection it is a continuum of more or less protection. One source of inequality is the unequal protection of private property: the wealthier you are the more your property is protected. Therefore citizens have a much harder time than large corporations in protecting their property. What would be a better balance in your opinion between principles such as freedom, equality, fraternity and private property?
         Q4 The modern project continues today. At the behest of the wealthy elite the great powers continue to impose laws, culture and values on the multitude that create a work force and market for the production of their goods and services to the exclusion of all others (their goods and services means their property). Today the battle is most visibly fought in the patent and copyright sectors. The laws and rules; the discipline and control in today's society is primarily for the protection of the wealthiest's interests: protection of their property (portrayed as a universal protection) and for the sake of their profits (portrayed as “our” economic development). Does modernity as a power relation make sense? Is it more revealing of your interests than the accepted narrative?
         Q5 The importance of recognizing the primacy of resistance is for the sake of the production of an alternative. Recall from an earlier meeting that production for the authors is a very wide term that includes immaterial and affective labour. These productive force are the natural production of the multitude's exercise of freedom. The expropriation of productive forces is what all dominating forces seek. A dominating force cannot kill off the production on which it depends; it needs to control it. Part of its dominating strategy is to convince the dominated that they need the domination. But the multitude rarely want to produce what the dominator wants and so as the multitude exercise their freedom they come into conflict with a dominating force. Does this inversion of the usual logic make sense? And is it important?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren