April 19, 2004


In my previous post on Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire I had casually linked to a post on Peter Levine's blog, which said the democratic left lacked a vision of a better life. Peter is talking specificially about the US, but his remarks also apply to Australia. He says:

"In my view, Democrats and progressives face much deeper problems than Fox News and Karl Rove—problems that also frustrate the Left in Europe; problems that have produced a long, slow decline over two generations. Their crisis is intellectual, not just tactical. It was painfully evident in the primary campaign, when we heard no serious proposals for such change from anyone on the Democratic side.... This void suggests to me that the Left is weak today because of a lack of tough and creative thinking, not because good "progressive" ideas are being suppressed by the mass media."

I said that it was this concern that motivated me to begin to read Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire, since all we had on the table was a Mark Latham's version of the Third Way. Two American response to Peter's revitalizing the left post can be found Hre and here. They are primarily concerned with revitalising the left in party political terms of the US Democrats. That way of revitalising the left is outside my ambit in Australia. Even though I'm a philosopher working within political life I am not a part, or member, of the ALP, the bearer of the social democrat tradition in Australia.

My concern with revitalising the left is more theoretical; but one based on the actual experience of politics.

That then is the context of my reading Empire:--do Hardt and Negri's develop anything that would help to develop a positive vision for the democratic left, currently endeavourign to conserve our civic culture from the series of attacks by the conservatives?
After saying that the new global form of sovereignty is what they call Empire Hardt and Negri distinquish empire from imperialism. They say:

"By "Empire,"... we understand something altogether different from "imperialism." The boundaries defined by the modern system of nation-states were fundamental to European colonialism and economic expansion: the territorial boundaries of the nation delimited the center of power from which rule was exerted over external foreign territories through a system of channels and barriers that alternately facilitated and obstructed the flows of production and circulation. Imperialism was really an extension of the sovereignty of the European nation-states beyond their own boundaries. Eventually nearly all the world's territories could be parceled out and the entire world map could be coded in European colors: red for British territory, blue for French, green for Portuguese, and so forth. Wherever modern sovereignty took root, it constructed a Leviathan that overarched its social domain and imposed hierarchical territorial boundaries, both to police the purity of its own identity and to exclude all that was other.

The passage to Empire emerges from the twilight of modern sovereignty. In contrast to imperialism, Empire establishes no territorial center of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers. It is a decentered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers. Empire manages hybrid identities, flexible hierarchies, and plural exchanges through modulating networks of command. The distinct national colors of the imperialist map of the world have merged and blended in the imperial global rainbow."

Hardt and Negri then go on to give a Marxist account of the transformation of the modern imperialist geography of the globe. They say that the realization of the world market signal a passage within the capitalist mode of production. Capital seems to be faced with a world defined by new and complex regimes of differentiation and homogenization, deterritorialization and reterritorialization.

Fair enough. We have through that radical transformation in Australia during the last two decades. Hardt and Negri add:

"The construction of the paths and limits of these new global flows has been accompanied by a transformation of the dominant productive processes themselves, with the result that the role of industrial factory labor has been reduced and priority given instead to communicative, cooperative, and affective labor. In the postmodernization of the global economy, the creation of wealth tends ever more toward what we will call biopolitical production, the production of social life itself, in which the economic, the political, and the cultural increasingly overlap and invest one another."

That is an accurate description of the new mode of life in postmodernity arising from the transformation of Australia undertaken by the Hawke/Keating ALP during the 1980s and 1990s; a transformation that was often experienced as hell. That is the actual experience of politics of many citizens in Australia.

So how do we understand it?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at April 19, 2004 12:39 AM | TrackBack
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