On Empire

I’ve finished part one of Empire, and my biggest task thus far has been to figure out what Hardt and Negri mean by “Empire” itself. Right from the preface, they spend plenty of time addressing this question. The preface contains all of the following passages, describing Empire.

Empire is:

  • “irresistible and irreversible globalization of economic and cultural exchanges”
  • “The [singular] sovereign power that governs the world”
  • characterized by an equilibrium of sovereignty: although there has been a decline in the sovereignty of nation-states, total sovereignty has not decreased
  • “a new global form of sovereignty” with a “single logic of rule” ie, Empire is being articulated systematically
  • NOT Imperialism, but a “decentered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers” — “Imperialism is over.”
  • NOT a metaphor, but a concept, “which calls primarily for a theoretical approach,” and is characterized by:
    1. Lack of Boundaries: “rules over the entire ‘civilized’ world
    2. Suspends History: “fixes the existing state of affairs for eternity”
    3. Full Spectrum: “operates on all registers of the social order extending down to the depths of the social world.” “Creates the very world it inhabits.”
    4. Blood/Peace Conflict: “although the practice of Empire is continually bathed in blood, the concept of Empire is always dedicated to peace—a perpetual and universal peace outside history”
  • To resist Empire requires an understanding of Magic and Manipulation of Energy: “Our political task” is “not to resist … the passage to Empire and its processes of globalization … but to reorganize them and direct them to new ends.” From a pagan perspective, this is magic, it is becoming adept at manipulating energy.
  • Despite its problematic, Empire is actually an improvement over the old form of imperialism of nation-states: “we insist on asserting that the construction of Empire is a step forward in order to do away with any nostalgia for the power structures that preceded it and refuse any political strategy that involves returning to that old arrangement, such as trying to resurrect the nation-state to protect against global capital. We claim that Empire is better in the same way that Marx insists that capitalism is better than the forms of society and modes of production that came before it” (p 43).

So wrapping one’s head around Empire the concept requires that one think systematically, and hugely, on the macro, zoomed-out level. Empire is a unified, monolithic structure that has assimilated most forms of power, and is adept at assimilating any new forms of power that arise. And interestingly, Hardt and Negri seem to be arguing that to resist Empire, direct assault on perceived weak spots will be ineffective, since that is precisely the type of assault that Empire is structured to resist. Empire is adept at responding to crises, but their response strategies are littered with terms like “shock and awe” or “overwhelming force” or “full spectrum dominance” or “a new Pearl Harbor.” So threats against these perceived “weak spots” or vulnerabilities are responded to with what is perceived as “strength,” which is usually a militaristic, horribly violent assertion of power-over, whether one characterizes such outbursts as “war” or “terrorism” or “conflict.” Rather,

In the constitution of Empire there is no longer an “outside” to power and thus no longer weak links — if by weak link we mean an external point where the articulations of global power are vulnerable. To achieve significance, every struggle must attack at the heart of Empire, at its strength…. The construction of Empire, and the globalization of economic and cultural relationships, means that the virtual center of Empire can be attacked from any point. The tactical preoccupations of the old revolutionary school are thus completely irretrievable; the only strategy available to the struggles is that of a constituent counterpower that emerges from within Empire” (58-59).

So border skirmishes within Empire are no longer effective. That plays right into Empire’s conception of low-intensity warfare, its power is consolidated to resist such attacks. Rather, one’s opposition to Empire must be first of all to redirect its energies, and secondly must attack the idealogical core of Empire. One must refuse to participate (to the extent possible) in the manifestations of Empire that are objectionable, and rather must assert autonomous power, rising up from within the global community, that resist the ever more abstract (and thus less ontologically based) modes of control wielded by Empire.

The Intermezzo of the book is a 15-page section on “Counter-Empire.” I’m looking forward to reading that, as I imagine it will dramatically clarify where Hardt and Negri are going with all of this. Not to mention Multitude, the sequel to Empire….

Now I’m all out of breath…. sorry for the academic bookishness of this post, but sadly it’s necessary to make sense of Empire; the book is written very much in the academic/bookish idiom. Part of my task, if I am to move forward with the writing project in my head I will need to internalize theory such as this, so that I can express it in a more accessible manner.

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