April 18, 2004

Hardt & Negri's Empire: Preface

This looks to be the full text of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire. I have not read the book, but I have noticed that this upbeat lefty text has been widely reviewed. I presume that it can be read in contrast to the views of the conservative and neo-liberal right—eg., Fukuyama, Nye, Huntington, Luttwak, Friedman, Brzezinski—who have spelt out what I see as the field of US hegemony in geo-politics, economics and mass culture.

So I will work my way through the text here. My reason for this is that since the 1980s there has been a notable gap between ordinary people trying to live in the way they want with the nation state and the systems of political and economic power that defeat them. What is going on here apart from defending the institutions of the welfare state from the revolutionary neo-liberals attempts to privatise them health, education, water, electricity, public broadcasting? My concern here is: "does the democratic left have a positive vision of a nation state and the good society in a global world? Or is it just a defensive stance? Is the Third Way of a Latham-led ALP all there is on the table? Is the Third Way it?

The Preface of Empire opens with the following remarks:

"Empire is materializing before our very eyes. Over the past several decades, as colonial regimes were overthrown and then precipitously after the Soviet barriers to the capitalist world market finally collapsed, we have witnessed an irresistible and irreversible globalization of economic and cultural exchanges. Along with the global market and global circuits of production has emerged a global order, a new logic and structure of rule-in short, a new form of sovereignty. Empire is the political subject that effectively regulates these global exchanges, the sovereign power that governs the world.

Many argue that the globalization of capitalist production and exchange means that economic relations have become more autonomous from political controls, and consequently that political sovereignty has declined. Some celebrate this new era as the liberation of the capitalist economy from the restrictions and distortions that political forces have imposed on it; others lament it as the closing of the institutional channels through which workers and citizens can influence or contest the cold logic of capitalist profit. It is certainly true that, in step with the processes of globalization, the sovereignty of nation- states, while still effective, has progressively declined. The primary factors of production and exchange-money, technology, people, and goods-move with increasing ease across national boundaries; hence the nation-state has less and less power to regulate these flows and impose its authority over the economy. Even the most dominant nation-states should no longer be thought of as supreme and sovereign authorities, either outside or even within their own borders. The decline in sovereignty of nationstates, however, does not mean that sovereignty as such has declined."

Okay. I can go along with that. In a globalized world empire is the name for the political subject that effectively regulates these global exchanges and capital flows. Empire is the name of the sovereign power that governs the world.

And the primacy of the nation state has declined. You only have to think of the jobs moving offshore to realize that. The nation-state---Australia or the US---does not possess the power to prevent these economic flows.

But that does not mean that sovereigny has declined. I'm open to suggestion on what this could mean.

Sovereignty is generally seen as the supreme authority within a territory, and the terrority can be the globe or any part of it. So we can have historical manifestations of sovereignty. The nation state would be one such manifestation. It's power is now being circumscribed by the global market.

Hardt and Negri say that their " basic hypothesis is that sovereignty has taken a new form, composed of a series of national and supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule. This new global form of sovereignty is what we call Empire."

Okay, I'm open to considering a new form of sovereignty in a global world. One that looks to be along economic lines. What we have is a re-thinking of sovereignty.

About time too. Sovereignty had ben too closely tied to the nation-state for too long.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at April 18, 2004 12:16 AM | TrackBack

have never seriously looked into the text, but wonder to what extent the "empire" construct can be of use.

a few ruminations: hardt & negri talk of a "decline in sovereignity of nation-states", sovereignity thus shifting into a global form called "empire". early-modern international law defines sovereignity as "potesta suprema de legibus soluta", which amounts to "supreme authority with the right for legislation". a definition we would expect to spring out of the enlightenment project. legislative power is the central moment in sovereignity here.

does empire have legislative power? according to hardt & negri, "empire" is composed of "a series of national and supranational organisms under a single logic of rule". according to this definition, it seems that the legislative function would have to remain in the nation-state, albeit representing political and economic interests on behalf of "empire". does the nation-state become the legislator of "empire"? a regional administrator upholding the liberal pretense?

perhaps this requires a different notion of sovereignity. maybe carl schmitt can be of help: in his critique of liberalism (whether conservative or not is not an issue here), he held liberal democracies to mark the end of the nation-state. a contour which we also see in hardt & negri. he held liberalism to be unpolitical, usually based on mere economic norms without a positive theory of state. his notion of sovereignity then, was critical of the liberal social contract (locke, kant) to the extent that legislative notions displace sovereign power. he is moving away from the enlightenment conception of sovereignity which is based on legislation, instead proposing a primacy of power before legislation (since no power, no law). in other words, the sovereign ought to be transcendent and pre-constitutional. there seem to be synergies with the "empire" model here, a bit of a transcendent entity itself.

does "empire" expose the liberal pretense in the way schmitt does (albeit from a leftist angle)?

Posted by: mike on April 20, 2004 04:38 AM

I was thinking of Schmitt on sovereignty too when I started reading Empire. Their conception of empire as sovereignty does strike me as one based on economic norms.

It is something that one has to consider now that the global market shapes the conduct and policies of the nation state.

When I have some time I will bring Schmitt into play with the Hardt and Negri text.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson on April 22, 2004 12:12 AM
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