Debating Empire

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  • Book: Debating Empire. NLR Books.


A series of critical essays on Negri's landmark book, i.e. Empire.


From the reading notes of Michel Bauwens, 2004:

Antinomies in Negri. Michael Rustin

- Transcendental Sovereignty vs Immanent Sovereignty

   - Negri distinguishes a radical modernity, incarnated by Spinoza,  but which was defeated, and so sovereignty was transferred from one transcendent order (divine order) to 
another (the Hobbesian state). But revolutionary humanism can be reclaimed.

- The Westphalian order of nation states vs the Kantian cosmopolitanism of global rules (the Perpetual Peace essay)

   - Negri supports the latter and takes a constructive view of human nature, based on unrepressed desire (as expressed by Deleuze in his critiques of Freud and Lacan) vs. 
taking into account the destructive side of human nature.
   - Author Michael Rustin claims that in order to do this, political theory must take into account the findings of Melanie Klein, and her discovery of dual drives, i.e. love 
and hate: "It is necessary to take into account both the negative and destructive potential of human nature, as well as its positive and creative potentials, in considering the 
systems of social organization that could bring about a better human existence."

- The dichotomy between 'bad, oppressive' external authorities and 'the good multitude'

   - Negri fails to recognize the difference between 'positive barbarians' and 'negative barbarians' such as Al Qaeda

Leo Panich

Leo Panich makes an interesting distinction between seeing imperial developments as reflecting a reaction towards the autonomous actions of the multitude (Tronti and Negri), and by contrast Robert Brenner, who sees these same developments as resulting from inter-capitalist rivalry.

Ellen Meiskens Wood

Ellen Meiskens Wood, author of Empire of Capital, sees Empire as a panegyric of globalization, very confused in its lack of analysis of power. Though capitalism is the first system where the economic is separated from the political, and where capital therefore can rely on economic processes for its exploitation, it nevertheless still needs 'extra-economic' coercion. For this, it has to rely on a system of nation-states, who, rather than having lost their function, now take on the extra role of the protectors of global capital. They are still the essential locus of sovereignty. And the only way for such a large number of states to be controlled, is through the massive military might of the US. The Bush II doctrine was no aberration.

Timothy Brennan

Timothy Brennan considers Empire to be a dangerous fraud that disables any possibility of organizing a counterforce. The also states that the left has to defend the State against corporate sovereignty.

Alex Callinicos

According to Callinicos, if Althusser objectifies Marxism (eliminating the subject), Negri does the opposite, he subjectifies, seeing everything in terms of power, i.e the unified capital and its state vs the work. He changes Negri with a language game which hides the concrete defeat of labour, within a generalized optimism. His idea of the multitude as an absolute subject that has to realize its will to power and transfer its potenza (puissance) into power (pouvoir), probably comes from the 'second Foucault', in his 'History of Sexuality'.

   - " 'Man' as Foucault describes him appears as a totality of resistances which deliver of capacity of absolute liberation. It is life that liberates itself in man, which 
opposes itself to everything that limits and imprisons it."

This is also a form of vitalism, which is derived from Deleuze (and ultimately from Bergson), who conceived desire as an expression of life that, though constantly confined and stratified in historically specific constellations of power, equally constantly subverts and outflanks them. Deleuze counterposes the state, which wants to 'territorialize' desire, against the nomad, who constantly outflanks it.

Empire in fact proposes a 'mysticism without transcendence' and totally lacks - because it believes Empire is characterized by smooth space where power is diffused everywhere -the use of strategic reason to identify the enemy's strength and weaknesses.