War and Democracy in the Age of Empire

This "thought provoker" presents views on political philosophy and democracy from Hardt and Negri's "Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire" (2004). Some have criticized the book as lacking concrete data to support its claims, however it is essentially a work of philosophy, and thus that is necessarily expected of it. For those interest in democracy and democratic processes, this book is an important one to read.

On the multitude and political action:

  • "Political action aimed at transformation and liberation today can only be conducted on the basis of the multitude. To understand the concept of the multitude in its most general and abstract form, let us contrast it first with that of the people. The people is one. The population, of course, is composed of numerous different individuals and classes, but the people synthesizes or reduces these social differences into one identity. The multitude, by contrast, is not unified but remains plural and multiple. This is why, according to the dominant tradition of political philosophy, the people can rule as a sovereign power and the multitude cannot. The multitude is composed of a set of singularities – and by singularity here we mean a social subject whose difference cannot be reduced to sameness, a difference that remains different. The component parts of the people are indifferent in their unity; they become an identity by negating or setting aside their differences. The plural singularities of the multitude thus stand in contrast to the undifferentiated unity of the people." (p. 99)

Proliferating proliferation of war…

  • "The tradition of tragic drama, from Aeschylus to Shakespeare, has continually emphasized the interminable and proliferating nature of war. Today, however, was tends to extend much farther, becoming a permanent social relation. Some contemporary authors try to express this novelty by reversing the Clausewitz formula that we cited earlier: it may be that war is a continuation of politics by other means, but politics itself is increasingly becoming war conducted by other means. War, that is to say, is becoming the primary organizing principle of society, and politics merely one of its means or guises." (p. 12)
  • "…war against a concept or set of practices, somewhat like a war of religion, has no definite spatial or temporal boundaries. Such wars can potentially extend anywhere for any period of time. Indeed, when the U.S. leaders announced the "war against terrorism" they emphasized that it would have to extend throughout the world and continue for an indefinite period, perhaps decades or even generations. A war to create and maintain social order can have no end. It must involve the continuous, uninterrupted exercise of power and violence.In other words, one cannot win such a war, or, rather, it has to be won again every day. War has thus become virtually indistinguishable from police activity." (p. 14)
  • "We are living in a system of global apartheid. We should be clear, however, that apartheid is not simply a system of exclusion, as if subordinated populations were simply cut off, worthless, and disposable. In the global Empire today, as it was before in South Africa, apartheid is a productive system of hierarchical inclusion that perpetuates the wealth of the few through the labor and poverty of the many. The global political body is in this way also an economic body defined by the global divisions of labor and power." (p. 166-167)

To reform or revolt?

  • "There is no conflict here between reform and revolution. We say this not because we think that reform and revolution are the same thing, but that in today's conditions they cannot be separated. Today the historical processes of transformation are so radical that even reformist proposals can lead to revolutionary change. And when democratic reforms of the global system prove incapable of providing the bases of a real democracy, they demonstrate even more forcefully that a revolutionary change is needed and make it ever more possible. It is useless to rack our brains over whether a proposal is reformist or revolutionary; what matters is that it enters into the constituent process." (p. 289)

On sovereignty and democracy:

  • "Sovereignty, although it was based on the myth of the one, has always been a relationship grounded in the consent and obedience of the ruled. As the balance of this relationship has tipped on the side of the ruled, and as they have gained the capacity to produce social relations autonomously and emerge as a multitude, the unitary sovereign become ever more superfluous. The autonomy of the multitude and its capacities for economic, political, and social self-organization take away any role for sovereignty. Not only is sovereignty no longer the exclusive terrain of the political, the multitude banishes sovereignty from politics. When the multitude is finally able to rule itself, democracy becomes possible." (p. 340)
  • "We need to create weapons that are not merely destructive but are themselves forms of constituent power, weapons capable of constructing democracy and defeating the armies of Empire. These biopolitical weapons will probably be more similar to Lysistrata to overcome the Athenian men's decision to go to war than those put in circulation by ideologues and politicians today." (p. 347)
Post-doc: Migration (Netherlands)
Post-doc: Sociology of Markets (Germany)

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