3 December 2007

Bull on Empire

Filed under: Culture — ktismatics @ 7:31 pm

In discussion on the Immanent Marxist Utopia post I expressed the wish that someone would point me toward a Marxist critique of Hardt and Negri’s Empire. Traxus (American Stranger) sent me links to not one but four such reviews. Here’s my understanding of the first one, written by Malcolm Bull — here’s the link.

Bull says that, in a world where capitalism is everywhere, it’s hard to tell the difference between the neo-Marxists and the neoliberals. To energize the potential of the emerging worker multitude Hardt & Negri call for free movement of labor across national boundaries and a worldwide minimum wage. Bull says that libertarians likewise support both of these positions; I’d say that he’s right about free movement of labor but not about minimum wage, which in a libertarian world would be established, like everything else, by the unfettered marketplace. Bull says that minimum wage is part of the dismantling of welfare, but that’s not so: minimum wage is a barrier to hiring low-cost workers, which would increase unemployment. “Just because the ‘anarchists’ espouse bits of the Neoliberal agenda that even George W. Bush has not yet got to does not mean they are pursuing Neoliberal ends,” Bull acknowledges; he doubts that these means will achieve the Left’s desired ends.

Following Spinoza, Hardt and Negri want to release workers’ potentia — the strength and force of creative activity — from the state’s potestas — authority or sovereignty. Not only should potestas serve potentia; potestas emerges from potentia, even as for Spinoza God’s sovereignty is a natural outgrowth of his ability to create worlds.This, says Bull, isn’t a rationale for a Marxist revolution but for a Jeffersonian-republican one. He quotes H&N: “The creative forces of the multitude that sustain Empire are also capable of autonomously constructing a counter-Empire, an alternative political organisation of global flows and exchange.” By invoking the ideals of both “positive liberty” (freedom to fulfill one’s potentia) and “negative liberty” (freedom from authority) in service of a global collective surge of creative work, H&N propose to use a key neoliberal tool in dismantling the hegemonic capitalist empire and building a self-governing workers’ world order.

Bull says that H&N offer a manifesto of natural-born power unconstrained by how that power should be exercised. The potestas of government isn’t a restraint on or a channeling of the exercise of power but rather its aggregation. Where, asks Bull, does the concept of duty come into the picture? This unchecked expression of power can lead just as easily to tyranny as to democracy, as Spinoza acknowledged. There are no “natural” rights to protect individuals and groups against tyranny, says Spinoza: such rights can be conferred and enforced only by the state. H&N don’t accept this countervailing force exerted from outside the potentia. Says Bull: “The conflict at the centre of the movement against global capitalism is the tension between its libertarian stance and the demand for global justice.” Do H&N subscribe to a sort of pantheistic belief in the intrinsic goodness of potentia? Spinoza does, I think, which is why an emergent potestas would be effective in expressing the collective will to goodness and justice. Certainly Nietzsche would be more skeptical about it, though far from clear that he’d want to restrain the potentia.

Bull acknowledges truth in Hannah Arendt’s contention that the compassionate urge to impose restraints on freedom does tend toward totalitarianism. “All those do-gooders are more dangerous than they look,” he says. “The ideological alternative to Neoliberalism is, as Neoliberals never tire of saying, some form of totalitarianism. But that can only be a reason for people to start thinking about what new forms of totalitarianism might be possible, and, indeed, desirable.” The minimalist global regulation envisioned by neolibs isn’t going to cut it. “Unlimited risks need total controls and, as Hardt and Negri point out, ‘totalitarianism consists not simply in totalising the effects of social life and subordinating them to a global disciplinary norm’ but also in ‘the organic foundation and unified source of society and the state’.” But, says Bull, H&N “have no interest in the control of risk — a world of unlimited risk is a world of unlimited constituent power.” This is inadequate, says Bull. “Total social control” is what’s needed, a socially benevalent totalitarian protection that “involves a degree of microregulation with which individuals have to co-operate.” This totalizing force assures inclusion of the powerless in the creative society, guaranteeing work and welfare to all.

Curiously, Bull ends his essay by contending that, no matter what sort worker revolution arises, it will have to involve the United States. He says that, while H&N frame their argument in American terms, they ignore the importance of America the place. Says Bull:

“But theirs is the America of potentia not of potestas. They miss the point that even if the multitude could create its own Americas, it would be stronger under the sovereignty of the existing one – not just materially better off, but better able to bring about its social and political objectives. The international Left’s few successes of the past fifty years – decolonisation, anti-racism, the women’s movement, cultural anti-authoritarianism – have all had proper (and often official) backing from within the United States. The United States is no utopia, but a utopian politics now has to be routed through it… The totalitarian regimes of the 20th century got a bad name less because of their monopolistic control of everyday life than on account of their stifling insistence on a maxim of shared values, and their draconian punishments for nonconformity. They were, in Durkheimian terms, attempts to create total communities rather than total societies. The US offers a model for a different type of totalitarianism. Within a total society – a world of universal anomie populated by the hybridised subjects of mutual recognition – monopolistic microregulation need not be concerned with conformity. Of course, a global United States is not a total society, but total society is rapidly becoming more imaginable than the state of nature from which political theorising has traditionally started.”

I can’t tell what Bull’s point is here. Is he suggesting that the present version of the US could be maneuvered toward a “total society” that would retain the positive and negative freedoms of H&N while imposing a mechanism of justice and protection that it currently lacks? The last sentence seems to bely that hope: “But in a total society, it is not the social that needs a contract but the individual – an anti-social contract that creates individual spaces in a world totally regulated by meaningless mutuality.” Is he saying that an incipient American total society is the source of this meaningless mutuality that dominates the world, or that its full realization would make possible the release of individual agents who derive meaning from their participation in the American total society?

This is long. If (hopefully) discussion ensues I’ll try to formulate my own responses to Bull and to H&N.



  1. thanks for getting the ball rolling on this…

    yeah i also found the bull article perplexing. i liked it mainly because it takes a different approach than the usual marxist critiques, which tend to focus on the perceived superficiality of analysis and don’t really try to figure out what it is that H&N WANT exactly, why they adopt the politics they do.

    btw probably the angriest critique of the book is here, which chabert put on her blog.

    i take his argument to be that it’s not possible to ignore specifically american power and american institutions in favor of a universalization of american ‘values’ like ‘natural rights.’ rights are not natural but generated and supported by a sociopolitical arrangement.

    not sure how i feel about his depiction of societal totalization as the minimization of risk, but so far i think i like it.

    this couple of lines i think is key:

    “Their response to globalisation is to maintain that since we have not contracted into global society, we still have all the power we need to change it. The alternative is to argue that a geographically boundless society must also be a totally inclusive society.”

    we could add ‘otherwise, it’s not actually a society at all.’

    in terms of political action this would mean that we have to work with the institutions that are available to us, strengthening and extending those we like and struggling to eliminate those we don’t. we can’t detach ourselves (become autonomous) from it without installing our own institutional mechanisms, which are unlikely to be as powerful as those of the U.S. and its client states. hence, the actually existing u.s. has to be a central concern in any serious political struggle. this seems to involve taking stock of what the u.s. wants to do (i.e. create a total society), and then forcibly reminding it which practices are incompatible with that goal (i.e. immiseration, no social welfare, neoliberal foreign policy, the power of wall street, etc.).


    Comment by traxus4420 — 4 December 2007 @ 2:57 pm

  2. which he argues is ultimately more ‘marxist’ than H&N’s deterritorializing autonomism


    Comment by traxus4420 — 4 December 2007 @ 2:58 pm

  3. Bull says that H&N’s emphasis on releasing the immanent creative power of workers is indistinguishable from the libertarian freeing of the individual from the constraints imposed by governmental regulation. But for H&N the active creating subject isn’t the individual worker but the multitude, the accumulated vectors of large numbers of workers congealing into a kind of critical mass that can combat Empire. Nonetheless, H&N don’t really elaborate on how this collectivity will emerge, nor what distinguishes it from the distributed capitalist multitude that continually produces the present Empire.

    Bull doesn’t trust potentia to produce a just society in which the weak are assured a place. He also doesn’t seem to believe that a minimal governmental regulatory body is enough to keep a generally benevolent movement toward collectivity from reproducing the current situation. He seems to be saying that only some form of totalitarianism can be relied on to ensure the desired social order, but that it can’t be the sort of restrictive conformist totalizing force it’s been in prior attempts. Bull hasn’t written a book here so he can’t really elaborate any one idea at length; however, this call for a benevolent and freeing totalized society seems to be the key distinguishing feature of Bull’s counterproposal. What might it be like? Why isn’t it inimical to the free flows of potentia? It seems to me that Bull believes potentia to be an intrinsically individuating force rather than a force that brings the multitude together in mutually beneficial ways. If so, then it would be hard for any totalizing potestas to penetrate deeply enough into the workers’ individual psyches to counteract their intrinsic tendencies toward individual gain. A system that works only by operating contrary to the natural tendencies of those who participate in the system seems unlikely to succeed. Maybe Bull believes that Empire turns an intrinsically directionless worker potentia toward individuation, and that the potestas must remove that antisocial programming before a good society can emerge. If that’s what he thinks, he doesn’t say it clearly here.

    Bull’s routing of the multitudinous anti-Empire through the USA seems to run contrary to the idea of building alliances that can combat America and so bring down the Empire. If that’s the case — if the revolutionary total society has to take shape on the Mothership if it’s going to succeed globally — then I have to wonder how Bull thinks this is going to happen. No one on the inside is likely to lead a violent overthrow. If H&N’s potentia project isn’t going to do the trick, what is?


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 December 2007 @ 3:05 pm

  4. […] and Negri’s much-hyped manifesto against contemporary global capital, Empire, to be found here at ktismatic’s […]


    Pingback by The Action is Elsewhere « American Stranger — 4 December 2007 @ 3:09 pm

  5. While I was writing my comment you posted yours. So you’re saying that Bull is saying that America already wants to build a total society, and that in effect it already has established one in sort of outline form. So then for Bull the task is to persuade the American multitude that certain kinds of actions are more compatible with what they already want to create but that haven’t been actualized yet; e.g., minimum wage on a global scale, free movement of workers. In effect this would amount to activating an already-widespread virtual will to justice and society that’s been suppressed or repressed in Empire. This approach seems very compatible with H&N, and less so with Bull’s insistence on the necessity of a totalitarian potestas.

    Thanks for the additional link — I think I’ll eventually work through them all. I see also that you’ve linked here from your blog — excellent.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 December 2007 @ 3:14 pm

  6. this is a non-sequitur to you, but i thought i should add that in reading ‘multitude’ (and having read ’empire’ a while ago) one of my biggest problems with the books is how they deal with marxist concepts. if ‘production’ is no longer ‘directly productive of capital’ but ‘productive of society in general’ then we lose a useful analytical tool just because it’s not PC enough (instead we get ‘the multitude’ which is compelling rhetorically but doesn’t seem to have any use for analysis). this is where bull’s critique of their use of potestas/potentia comes in. potentiality is a different thing altogether from actuality, and this is obviously a huge problem with the left in general.

    for me there seems to be this weird reversal: they want to include as much as possible into their analytic concepts, without considering how to include actual people in the functioning of actual politics. this dulls the edge of those concepts at the same time as it directs attention elsewhere from where i think it needs to be.


    Comment by traxus4420 — 4 December 2007 @ 3:19 pm

  7. “In effect this would amount to activating an already-widespread virtual will to justice and society that’s been suppressed or repressed in Empire. This approach seems very compatible with H&N, and less so with Bull’s insistence on the necessity of a totalitarian potestas.”

    no, the activation has to occur on the level of ‘potestas’ — ok i’m not going to use those terms anymore, they make me feel silly.

    the activation has to occur within the existing institutions, not just within the ‘general will.’ bull is doing a bit of psycho-political analysis on the U.S. state here, though his observations seem pretty obvious and true to me. bull’s view is that the u.s. state wants hegenomy, but is not aware of what that must entail.


    Comment by traxus4420 — 4 December 2007 @ 3:24 pm

  8. Yes, I think I see that. It seems that H&N contend, though, that the potentias actualizes itself continuously in the form of the Empiric society, which is an emergent phenomenon of this vast distributed actualization of work. Capital too is actualized from work as part of this total societal emergence. So if potentias spontaneously turns into Empire, what would it take to redirect it toward anti-Empire? Or must potentias be held in check by totalitarian governmental potestas?

    Though H&N speak of multitude, it is an emergent collectivity. So I’m with you: how does potentia work itself outward from within and among real people?


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 December 2007 @ 3:28 pm

  9. “bull’s view is that the u.s. state wants hegenomy, but is not aware of what that must entail.”

    Okay, so that would jibe with Bull’s insistence on strong controlling potestas. So instead of infiltrating the multitude to shift the aim of its worker-energy, Bull would focus on changing the way US governmental leaders understand their responsibilities in building the society they already apparently want to put in place?


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 December 2007 @ 3:30 pm

  10. “So if potentias spontaneously turns into Empire, what would it take to redirect it toward anti-Empire? Or must potentias be held in check by totalitarian governmental potestas?”

    this is the problem with these terms — if used by themselves they lead to this kind of simple opposition, where one ‘conditions’ or ‘dominates’ the other. bull is dialecticizing the two but it tends to just shift the opposition from ‘simple’ into ‘confusing.’ i think his point can be grasped just as well from the other things he says.

    “So instead of infiltrating the multitude to shift the aim of its worker-energy, Bull would focus on changing the way US governmental leaders understand their responsibilities in building the society they already apparently want to put in place?”

    i would depersonalize this more — bull isn’t focused necessarily on changing the minds of leaders, more like struggling to change institutions (which may or may not involve the former).

    but this is the difference between anarchists/libertarians and marxists – how far they believe the state should be ‘dissolved.’


    Comment by traxus4420 — 4 December 2007 @ 3:47 pm

  11. got to get back to work – won’t be back on until later.


    Comment by traxus4420 — 4 December 2007 @ 3:47 pm

  12. “bull isn’t focused necessarily on changing the minds of leaders, more like struggling to change institutions (which may or may not involve the former).”

    But if he wants to do this in American he’s just whistling Dixie, as the idiom goes, unless he expects the institutions to betransformed from the bottom up by redirecting biopower (I like potentia better personally), which would then spontaneously generate different sorts of institutions. It seems like it’d be more efficient to work at the level of the institutional management, somehow persuading them that they’re not just there to facilitate immanence but to direct and channel it into more socially responsive directions.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 December 2007 @ 6:40 pm

  13. There does seem to be a fundamental difference between H&N, who see institutional authority emerging from and expressive of the immanent generative forces working through the multitude, and Bull, who sees authority as a restraining counterforce to this immanent generativity and thus a qualitatively different sort of power. This would mean that, for Bull, the institutions would need to be changed by the exercise of some force that counteracts the spontaneous outflow produced by the workers. It would thus have to be kind of an anti-worker transformation of the institutions, no?


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 December 2007 @ 10:53 pm

  14. “But if he wants to do this in American he’s just whistling Dixie, as the idiom goes”

    but the article says: “The international Left’s few successes of the past fifty years – decolonisation, anti-racism, the women’s movement, cultural anti-authoritarianism – have all had proper (and often official) backing from within the United States.”

    it’s vague but true. in sort of an obvious way, maybe — the u.s. changed over time in these directions, it did not generate autonomic splinter states (which is not to say there aren’t ‘alternative communities’ — but they are not independent states).

    again though i think this binary you keep setting up between energy and force (potentia/potestas) obscures the fact that it’s not about choosing between the two. ‘engaging existing institutions’ can take multiple forms – voting, protests, lobbying, running alternate candidates, counterpropaganda, etc. what is generally called ‘political pressure.’ some tactics are more effective than others at different moments.

    the question is more where to direct these activities.

    basically bull is arguing h&n give us nowhere and nothing in particular at which to direct them, he wants more consideration of realpolitik on the part of the left.

    “This would mean that, for Bull, the institutions would need to be changed by the exercise of some force that counteracts the spontaneous outflow produced by the workers. It would thus have to be kind of an anti-worker transformation of the institutions, no?”

    No! the point of both h&n and bull is that there is no spontaneous outflow, some kind of structure is always required (i.e. in refuting free market ideology h&n remind the reader that ‘free markets’ were made that way and are not ‘natural’ or spontaneous). though h&n stress the infinite potential of the multitude, it’s not something that can simply be ‘released.’ bull is just saying h&n don’t offer any realistic direction for political action, and gives historical reasons why that might be the case.

    as i’ve said before i’m skeptical about the options for progressivism within the u.s. but as i think i also said i am as of yet strictly ARMCHAIR when it comes to these ‘big issues’ and can only reliably comment on h&n’s analytical usefulness, which leads me to side more with their critics.


    Comment by traxus4420 — 5 December 2007 @ 1:41 am

  15. this is a sloppy analogy, but one can maybe read this essay in this context, with the following cast:

    orwell = bull

    wells = h&n

    hitler/germany/fascism = bush/u.s./’terror’

    nationalism = nationalism

    it’s a damn good essay, anyway.


    Comment by traxus4420 — 5 December 2007 @ 1:47 am

  16. one more

    science = the internet


    Comment by traxus4420 — 5 December 2007 @ 1:50 am

  17. and england = the EU

    ok, this is too much fun, i’ll stop now


    Comment by traxus4420 — 5 December 2007 @ 1:53 am

  18. I’ll go back to H&N to see if I can understand where institutions come from in their treatment. It sure sounded to me that they call for a release of worker energy, that the various institutional forces of Empire emerge continuously from this energy, that if the workers would just realize this and do something different then the whole apparatus of Empire would morph from within.

    Just because an order arises spontaneously doesn’t mean it’s inevitable or natural: change certain environmental conditions or orientations of the productive forces and the emergent outcomes turn out differently. It’s a Deleuze & Guattari story that institutions can arise spontaneously from schizzes and flows but then they tend to become reified and block further generative forces pushing up from underneath. The motivation for removing them is that they’re in the way, blocking other virtualities from becoming actual, not that they’re serving as a countervailing corrective force to these virtualities. So maybe in my haste I’m reading H&N through a D&G lens.

    The successes of the left to which Bull alludes: official institutional backing tended to follow and respond to popular pressure. However, there’s no reason it has to work that way in a republic that institutionalizes a set of principles assuring participation in society by all sectors. Do these principles constitute a sort of ideal toward which the multitude directs its energies, or an institutionalized deterritorializing mechanism to prevent societal stratification, or a set of mutually agreed-upon guidelines or even values that every worker internalizes as a way of directing their separate and collective energies?

    It seems that Bull sets up the binary between energy and force, such that the latter has to restrain the former — that’s why toward the end of his essay he acknowledges that some sort of totalitarian force must be installed if justice is to prevail. I can see that the institutionalized centers of force also generate their own energy, which may attempt either to enable or to counteract the generativity of the worker multitude. But it seems to me that Bull regards institutional forces as the main corrective for any multitudinous tendencies toward mob tyranny. Maybe this is actually a point of agreement with H&N, via something like a constitutional republic that keeps government from degenerating into demagoguery and fascism. Maybe also changing corporate law so that corporate management isn’t obligated to put the interests of the shareholders first.

    Back to H&N for awhile…


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 December 2007 @ 5:40 am

  19. But before I get back to reading… I’m thinking about the relationship between environmental conditions and emergent order. If you’re playing straight poker all the players are trying to get the highest hand, but if you change to lowball everyone tries to get the worst hand. Same general skills and motivations are called for, but how they manifest themselves changes at the level of individual goals and outcomes, as well as at the collective level of winners and loses.

    Think about pharmaceutical companies. They’re in the business of inventing drugs that cure or ameliorate diseases, and so they have substantial R&D capabilities. Still, they spend 4 times as much on marketing as they do on R&D. Why? Because each pharma is in the business of maximizing investor profits. Management installs “aligned incentives” to ensure that everyone’s creative energies are directed toward this corporate/collective goal of maximizing profit. There’s a lot of freedom at all levels — individual, department, product team, etc. — to figure out ways of achieving the corporate profitability objectives. This channeling of energy does lead to the invention of better drugs, but it also gets directed toward beating competitors’ drugs, which may be virtually identical to or better than their own, by shaping preferences and behaviors of consumers, doctors and insurers. If instead the pharmas aimed themselves at maximizing population health, then management objectives change and alignment of incentives from top to bottom would shift what the workers direct their energy toward. There would be no need to specify at the microlevel what everyone works on — the alignment of goals and incentives would be enough for workers from top to bottom to redirect their productive energies.

    But this is precisely where something at the macrolevel has to change. All the pharmas are playing the same game. It’s not “realistic” to expect any single pharma to decide that it’s going to start playing a different game. Like poker players, pharmas are playing a competitive game TOGETHER, requiring each of them simultaneously to optimize its own hand and to beat the other players’ hands. A single pharma that decided unilaterally to optimize health rather than profits would still be sitting at the table with all the other pharmas that are still trying to maximize their own profits. The outlier firm would almost surely get beaten down by the other competitive firms in what is in effect the spontaneous manifestation of collective energies directed jointly and severally to beat down the outlier firm. Similarly, it’s nearly impossible for any one department in a single firm to decide it’s playing a different game, or even any one individual worker to play an idiosyncratic game. They might survive for awhile, but they won’t be optimizing their hands relative to the agreed-upon game that everyone else is playing. Eventually they’ll be deemed not good enough players to sit at the table any more.

    This is where it gets hard to see how things could possibly change. There’s nothing inevitable about a marketplace economy where collective firms are competing against each other in an effort to maximize their own profits. But once that game emerges and all the players understand the game and perpetuate it indefinitely merely by playing, it’s hard to change the name of the game to something else and redirect the players’ energies.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 December 2007 @ 6:13 am

  20. This is related to our prior discussions of language. Just because all humans are biologically capable of using language doesn’t mean we can all communicate with each other, because this innate capability doesn’t invariably lead to everyone speaking the same language. English emerged incrementally through use, arbitrarily in a sense, but now that it’s here in America it’s the common linguistic structure or medium in which we participate. No one needs to mandate English as the official language because it’s what people spontaneously speak. It’s possible for e.g. Spanish-speakers to establish enclaves within America, but these alternative linguistic communities are excluded from mainstream American culture not by mandate but by everyday practice distributed across the individuals participating in the larger linguistic medium. The American multitude continuously generates the cultural artifact that is the English language through the power of everyday communication. Mandate can reify an already-existing linguistic dominance, but that dominance would exist anyhow. But if you or I were to go to Spain the zapato would be on the other foot, because some other language happened to evolve and establish its dominance in that society.

    I understand that it’s distracting in a sense to embed economics in broader cultural forces, but there is a parallel.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 December 2007 @ 7:36 am

  21. In the pharma co scenario, there are a number of barriers to change, the first being, as you point out, the need to get more profit, more market share or whatever will generate the most excess income without ruining the marketplace. I’m wondering what happens when the end user, in this case the patient says NO. Take Celebrex for an example. Many people now know that this is dangerous, vaguely at least. There have been quite a few media reports and stuff about court cases etc. to alert the general public. If a doctor now prescribes the drug anyway, the patient will certainly question the decision and may even decide that the doctor is no0 good.

    What would happen if something like a Consumer Report would be available to any buyer of anything at anytime. You walk down the supermarket aisle and see something new, whip out your Blackberry and ask the question, perhaps the next gen blackberry may even incorporate a barcode reader, so swipe it and get the instant report. I think this would give the marketing companies the collective willies and it can’t be very far off either…

    If ‘the people’ decide to support only the products of the one drug company that is seeking the patient’s best interest, the co0mpany gets the profit and the market share and all other companies will now have to start to compete for market share on a whole new playing field!


    Comment by ponnvandu — 5 December 2007 @ 8:36 am

  22. This is the angriest:

    Nowadays Hardt and Negri oppose the multitude to a unified global Empire. And, once again, the night in which all cows are black allows for operations which would be far more difficult in the light of day. In theory, the “multitude” is called to destroy “Empire” in its entirety; in fact, the principal target of Hardt and Negri’s polemioc is “the last chauvinists of nationality”, that is those who insist on defending national sovereignty against pretensions to universal interventionism of Washington. Not by chance, Hardt justified the war against Yugoslavia: “We have to realise that this is not an act of American imperialism.In fact its an international ( or rather, supranational) operation. And its objectives are not guided by the narrow national interests of the United States; indeed it is effectively geared to protect human rights (or in truth, human life).” (Il Manifesto, May 15 1999). Apart from this or that particular position in it, Empire is an outright apology for the US.

    Among the many criticisms launched at Hardt and Negri, this is the heaviest criticism, or rather accusation. Is it really justified?

    Nowadays, authoritative American scholars of the US of a liberal orientation tell the history of their country as a history of a Herrenvolk democracy, that is, a democracy of the overlords (to use the languagte dear to Hitler) and which did not hesitate to enslave black people and wipe native americans off the face of the earth. Hardt and Negri, on the other hand, speak consistently in a reverent tone of “American democracy” which broke with the “transcendant” vision of power characteristic of the European tradition. And the apology doesn’t end there. Let’s consider a central figure of the history of American imperialism, that is President Wilson. At the time when he began his political career, the South, where he was from, saw the unleasing of the KKK against black people – lynchings, often after prolonged and brutal torture, became a popular spectacle, announced in advance in the local papers and at which even children attended. But the future President of the USA, in an article in Atlantic Monthly in 1901, took the opportunity to discourse against the victimes: black people – rather “negros” – as they were disdainfully called – were “excited by a freedom they did not understand”, were “insolent and aggressive, dissatisfied and desirous of pleasures”! To this ideological and political platform Wilson remaind forever faithful. Once he had become President, while intensifying military interventions in Latin America, having been elected for promising to keep the American people out of the massacre unfolding in Europe, he entered the first World War in the name of the universal democratic mission of the United States and silenced with an iron fist every attenpt at pacifist propaganda. So exalted was the notion of the mission and duty of the US, that the war it waged was literally dubbed a “crusade”, a “holy war”: thus domestic dissidents were more than traitors, they were infidels, instruments of Satan. But today we read Hardt and Negri: characterising Wilson as “an ideological pacifist internationalist”, very far from “imperialist ideology in the european style”! Ideologues of the unique and global mission of the United States always insisted on the moral and political supremacy of americans, on the exception or rather “exceptionalism” represented by a country, which is the only island of liberty in a vast ocean of despotism: this is also the point of view of Hardt and Negri.

    But then how to explain the success of the book with the left?

    In truth, their success was consecrated in the first place by publications like the NYT and Time. As far as the left is concerned, one can consider: in the last few years, in Italy, the books that have elicited the most attention and enthusiasm are Beyond the Twentieth Century (Marco Revelli), and now Empire. The two books complement one another: the first tells the history beginning with the conquest of power by the bolsheviks as a criminal history: the second celebrates the history of the United States as a story of liberty.


    Comment by chabert — 5 December 2007 @ 10:22 am

  23. It’s interesting your putting forward this idea about pharmaceutical consumer reports, Sam, inasmuch as I spent several years laboring in that particular vineyard. It could be done: have an expert panel agree on the most salient outcome measures, collect the data, do appropriate adjustments for risk and severity differences between patient populations, etc. Interpreting the results would require considerably more sophistication that is the case with things like perceived clarity of image on a TV set or noisiness of vacuum cleaners. Also, results are probabilistic: on average, people who meet your particular profile have the following results on relieving various symptoms, likelihood of side effects, etc. Ultimately the doctors have to do the prescribing, so maybe they could master the interpretation of the reports and explain the pros and cons to their patients. The Food & Drug Administration would make sense as an agency to administer such a program, though it could conceivably be done privately.

    Even in ordinary consumer decisions this sort of information isn’t usually taken into consideration. People, including doctors, are persuaded by advertising and word of mouth and other less rational ways of deciding these things. For example, patient satisfaction with doctors is more a factor of the doctor’s pleasantness and appearance and communication skills than by the results s/he obtains. Further, access to specific RX brands is usually limited by the health plan, which arranges deals with pharmas based on some combination of effectiveness, price, and kickbacks. I wonder how single-payer government-administered health plans decide which brands of drugs they’re willing to reimburse.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 December 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  24. Thanks for more material to review, Chabert. Did you translate this from the Italian?

    It is difficult for me to discern any radical difference between Empire and anti-Empire in H&N. That’s not necessarily a condemnation if they can describe what the differences are and how the one can be transformed into the other. It seems that H&N propose to install a combination of juridical and ethical adjustments to the existing republic that would do the trick, inasmuch as they deem the worker-engine to be sound and powerful.

    Is this just a retrofitting of the neoliberal system, where the job of government is to remove barriers? If so, then Wilson should come under indictment from H&N for not adequately performing his responsibilities on behalf of black Americans. I think the other question of positive liberties remains to be addressed, since libertarians have no interest in that particular agenda or with any other sort of collective endeavor. H&N want to assure protection of the powerless and a universal minimum wage, which would qualify as positive aims. Are there any societal aims toward which worker power can and should be directed via the juridical and ethical one-two punch? They don’t leap out at me from H&N, but they wouldn’t be incompatible with H&N’s argument or with their republicanism. There’s no intrinsic reason why a republic can’t specify positive aims of the society and establish institutional means for pursuing them. I think, though, that the government could even enforce these aims through legislation, even without controlling the means by which the aims are achieved. But an ethical buy-in by the multitude to achieving societal good would sure make the juridical task a lot easier and its enforcement a lot less painful.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 December 2007 @ 12:56 pm

  25. Pharma was just one idea that sprang out of what you said, but seriously, if ‘the consumer’ started to really exercise choice and take on a decision making role independent of advertising, perhaps preferring advise by select experts in each field, what would the result be?

    For one thing the experts would have to keep demonstrating their objectivity and independence creating a whole new class of Advisers. For another, suddenly marketing departments would be up a creek. Perhaps consumerism can undergo the needed changes and suddenly grow teeth!

    It’s a delicious thought.


    Comment by samlcarr — 5 December 2007 @ 2:14 pm

  26. Institutionalizing mechanisms for informing the consumer might be the sort of thing that H&N could install in the anti-Empire’s governmental apparatus, and educating the multitude about its value and use might augment the anti-Empire ethic. If buyers of goods and services weren’t motivated by lack and mimetic desire, and if they had information that would allow them to evaluate the pros and cons of what the marketplace had on offer, maybe the consumer side of the Empire’s power to produce itself would move in a dramatically different direction. Of course there remains the illusion that choice among an array of possibly superfluous products to buy constitutes real choice, and that buying power is the reward for work rather than the intrinsic merits of the work itself. And our PoMo and subjectivist buddies would denigrate this empirical method as part of the Modernist hegemony we need to escape. Still, from an incrementalist perspective operating within Empire I agree with you that it could make the market economy less fetishistic.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 December 2007 @ 3:28 pm

  27. “Did you translate this from the Italian?”

    yes, so the original english quotes from H and N will not be verbatim, they are my trans back from the italian trans.

    “That’s not necessarily a condemnation if they can describe what the differences are and how the one can be transformed into the other. ”

    Losurdo is a Marxist: he’s not taking issue with their recommendations, which are of no consequence, but with their analysis, and exposing its ideology. It’s Clintonian neolib end of history. This became more evident when Hardt interviewed in 2002 or 2003 urged European capital to try to maintain Empire in the face of the US’ renewed – and unignorable – nationalist rhetoric and unilateralism. It turns out for Hardt Empire switched back to old fascioned imperialism overnight, suggesting it was only an image and a pr campaign, a protean discursive nietzschean substitute for reality, the kind of thing which can in fact change overnight.


    Comment by chabert — 5 December 2007 @ 6:57 pm

  28. nb: the wilson quotes aren’t the original english either.


    Comment by chabert — 5 December 2007 @ 7:01 pm

  29. Is there something fundamentally corrupt about the structures and processes that H&N identify, the immanent force of worker energy guided by ethics and channeled by principled legislation? I don’t think so. I agree that the book only gestures vaguely toward what sort of resistance can be mounted from within the existing Empire, as well as what positive social agenda can and should be incorporated into the republic. It becomes a bizarre overcommitment to inverting the system from within if that means actively sustaining the system against outside resistance that’s consistent with the aims of anti-Empire. At that point it does become difficult to discern whether the advocates of such a program are deluding themselves or consciously deluding their audience.


    Comment by ktismatics — 5 December 2007 @ 10:22 pm

  30. Samir Amin on Empire and Multitude


    Comment by chabert — 6 December 2007 @ 4:07 am

  31. oops



    Comment by chabert — 6 December 2007 @ 4:07 am

  32. If you don’t mind Chabert I’m going to see what comes to mind rereading a couple of the other pieces Traxus linked me to before looking closely at this one you just sent me. Next up is I believe an old post from Lenin’s Tomb.


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 December 2007 @ 8:23 am

  33. Don’t wait too long though, Clysmatics – she’s been scanning the text furiously since this morning, while swallowing a fist full of tranquilizers and trying to upset me on the issue of Kosovo!


    Comment by parodycenter — 6 December 2007 @ 11:53 am

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