multitude = singularity plus cooperation = autonomy plus association (Michael Hardt)
Political concept taken from Spinoza and re-developed and popularized by Toni Negri and Michael Hardt in their book Empire and Multitudes. The concept is opposed to both the classic notion of the People-in-need-of-representation and the marxist notion of the working class.
The concept of the multitude summarized:
" we can summarize the contemporary concept of the multitude as follows: The multitude is positioned between the individual and the group; it is a "multiplicity of singularities" The multitude operates through relationality and cooperation, which establishes "the common" or a set of partially-overlapping common affects, issues, and experiences. The multitude positions itself against the social contract tradition, and therefore against the inevitability of modern sovereignty and the "state of exception" The central problematic of the multitude is the "problem of the political decision," or how the common can be constituted while fostering difference. The question the multitude asks of itself is "can the multitude self-govern?" rather than the question asked of the multitude -- "is the multitude governable?"" (http://www.ctheory.net/text_file.asp?pick=423)
Y. Ichida, summarizing the concept of the "Multitude" on the Multitudes mailing list:
“In immaterial production, the products are longer material objects but new social (interpersonal) relations themselves. It was already Marx who emphasized how material production is always also the (re)production of the social relation within which it occurs; with today’s capitalism, however, the production of social relations is the immediate end/goal of production. The wager of Hardt and Negri is that this directly socialized, immaterial production not only renders owners progressively superfluous (who needs them when production is directly social, formally and as to its content ?); the producers also master the regulation of social space, since social relations (politics) is the stuff of their works. The way is thus open for ‘absolute democracy’, for the producers directly regulating their social relations without even the detour of democratic representation."
"The thought of “community” carries a basic defect: it neglects the principle of individualization, that is, the process of the formation of singularities from something all its elements share. The logic of multiplicity and singularity is not sufficient, and we need to clarify the premise, or the condition of possibility, of a multitude of singularities. Enouncing it as a provocation: we need to say something about the One that allows the existence of many unrepeatable individuals. The discourse about the “community” prudishly eludes the discourse about the One. Yet, the political existence of the “many” as “many” is rooted in a homogeneous and shared ambit; it is hacked out of an impersonal background.
It is with respect to the One that the opposition between the categories of “people” and “multitude” clearly emerges. Most importantly, there is a reversion in the order of things: while the people tend to the One, the multitude derives from the One. For the people, the One is a promise; for the “many,” it is a premise.
Furthermore, it also mutes the definition of what is common or shared. The One around which the people gravitate is the State, the sovereign, the volonté générale. Instead, the One carried on the backs of the multitude consists of the language, the intellect as a public or interpsychical resource, of the generic faculties of the species. If the multitude shuns the unity of the State, this is simply because the former is related to a completely different One, which is preliminary instead of being conclusive. We could say: the One of the multitude collimates in many ways with that transindividual reality that Marx called the “general intellect” or the “social brain.” The general intellect corresponds to the moment in which the banal human capacity of thinking with words becomes the main productive force of matured capitalism. However, it can also constitute the foundations of a republic that has lost the characteristics of Stately sovereignty.
In conclusion, the thought of the “community,” even if laudable in many respects, is an impolitic thought. It takes into account only some emotional and existential aspects of the multitude: in short, a lifestyle. It is obviously important, but what it is fundamental to understand the work and the days of the multitude as the raw matter to define a well-rounded political model that moves away from that mediocre artefact of the modern State, which is at once rudimentary (regarding the social cooperation) and ferocious. What is fundamental is to conceive the relation between the One and the Many in a radically different way from that of Hobbes, Rousseau, Lenin or Carl Schmitt." ()
"Early modern philosophers used the term ‘multitude’ to describe the unruly masses, a populace that needed to be governed by the monarchy or state, or some combination of the two. In an England wracked by civil war and religious strife, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), a conservative philosopher, decided that the problem with the multitude was its disunity, the fact that it was divided against itself. For Hobbes and a continuing tradition of political philosophers, the question is how to transform the multitude into a cohesive political unit. In Hobbes’ vision of the social contract, the multitude becomes a unified people.
England in the 1640s was stricken by factionalism and war. Hobbes, a monarchist, fled to France, where he wrote his masterwork, Leviathan (1651), outlining his theory of the state. Hobbes offers a legislative solution to the problem of the multitude. He argues that the members of the multitude must forge a ‘social contract’ with the sovereign for the sake of security, prosperity, and civil order. The sovereign guarantees security for the members of the multitude, so that they may go about their business as they may. The members of the multitude, meanwhile, must give up certain ‘natural rights’ to the sovereign, firstly the right to take life – a right which we possessed in the so-called ‘state of nature’, but which we must give up in order to enter society.
This is how a multitude becomes a people. Unified under a sovereign with a monopoly on violence, the masses concede that security is better than war and hand in their weapons. The sovereign is thereafter a universal strongman with the task of looking after each individual’s rights and well being. Hobbes’ theory of the state and ‘civil society’ is embedded today in our legal institutions. Signing away our right to do as we please, we, the members of the multitude, have become organized if less-than-unified peoples. If you study liberal political theory, you have inherited a tradition that begins with Hobbes and centers on the unifying power of the social contract.
But the social contract never took place. It does not exist. Why do we think in this way, when we know that the idea is false?
The seventeenth century Dutch philosopher Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677) rejected Hobbes’ theory of the state. In his final work, the Political Treatise, Spinoza outlines a theory of the state that doesn’t require us to posit a social contract. No such contract had been signed in the Mennonite and Anabaptist communities that Spinoza admired, yet the members of these communities were more than happy to make sacrifices and collaborate for the common good.
The problem with Hobbes’ theory, Spinoza decided, was that Hobbes had misrepresented the nature of the multitude.
What if the multitude were not a fractious, unruly force that needed to be domesticated by law, but a collective entity that emerged in the process of collaboration and struggle – an entity geared towards common empowerment and mutual reward? Working-up this intuition, Spinoza developed a new theory of the multitude as a collective agent. Spinoza’s multitude is a complex entity comprised of the actions of numerous agents who, through unity of aspiration, forge a ‘common mind’ and sense of advantage. Combining their powers, members of a multitude forge a unity-in-disunity, a provisional consensus sustained through fraternity and goodwill.
The consensus that is created by a multitude does not require sanctioning by a sovereign. It is a living material consensus, which can withdrawn by the multitude at any time, thus holding open the possibility of insurrection against the unjust state. Spinoza argues that in democratic states, the sovereign will be bound by the will of the multitude, ‘which is led, as it were, by one mind’. He cautions that ‘[t]his unity of mind can only be achieved if the commonwealth pursues the interest of all’. No doubt part of the reason why we have such divided societies today is because states no longer pursue the interests of all. Our societies are full of struggling individuals. It is only at protest rallies that we see multitudes.
Spinoza’s multitude is different from a society or people. A multitude is a living event. A multitude can be as intimate as a group of friends or as sprawling as a transnational movement. It takes shape when a group of people grasp that together they could be more than just a team or network, but a collective power. Individuals gravitate towards the collaborative activity as a source of empowerment, and they participate for the hit or experience.
This, Spinoza argues, is how societies are born. It is an intrinsic law of social networks in the offline and online worlds." (http://philosophyforchange.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/how-many-is-a-multitude/)
The multitude in classical political theory
The ‘anti-utopian aspect of Spinoza’s thought’ is well-known, as Filippo del Lucchese (2009, 3) points out – ‘as is Machiavelli’s influence’ upon the early-modern philosopher in this regard. Yet both, he demonstrates in his brilliant study of the two, are simultaneously opposed to ‘the ideology of the conservation of power’ normally associated with ‘realist’ political theory (del Lucchese 2009, 4). What I would like to suggest is that, as such, Spinoza (and his theorisation of the multitude, particularly in the way it has been taken up within Operaismo) provides a framework for thinking (following Weeks’ [2011, 195] definition of the term) a very concrete utopian project of political organisation and transformation, which is to say: one that is also realist or materialist. It is one that might prove useful in terms of thinking how, not only the ‘precariat’ – as a discreet sociologically defined group, identified by Standing (2011) and others – but also the broader spectrum of heterogeneous ‘precaratised’ social subjects (set out in Part One), may become for-itself, initiating ‘a politics of paradise’.
Del Lucchese’s (2009, 117) study shows that, although the concept of multitude predates Spinoza’s usage, his theorisation lends it a new and revolutionary meaning. The distinction with Thomas Hobbes’ understanding is instructive. In both, it refers to a body of the population that exists as a multiplicity rather than a unity, unruled by a sovereign.
‘The multitude is a multiplicity,’ Hardt and Negri (2001, 103) explain in Empire, ‘a plane of singularities, an open set of relations, which is not homogenous or identical with itself and bears an indistinct, inclusive relation to those outside of it’. This is part of what distinguishes it from traditional understandings of a ‘people’, which is said to tend ‘towards identity and homogeneity internally while posing its difference from and excluding what remains outside of it’ (Hardt and Negri 2001, 103).20 For Hobbes, one of the key functions of the sovereign is to make One – a people, a unity – out of the very multiplicity of the multitude. ‘A Multitude of men, are made One Person,’ he explains, ‘when they are by one man, or one Person, Represented; so that it be done with the consent of every one of that Multitude in particular. For it is the Unity of the Representer, not the Unity of the Represented, that maketh the Person One... And because the Multitude naturally is not One, but Many; they cannot be understood for one’ (Hobbes 1985 , 220).21 In contrast, del Lucchese (2009, 119) cites Hobbes as arguing, ‘[t]he People’ however ‘is somewhat that is one, having one will, and to whom one action may be attributed; none of these can properly be said of a Multitude’.
The multitude, for Hobbes, then, as Balibar (1994, 16) has shown, is the ‘always already decomposed’ people, ‘reduced in advance (preventatively) to the sum of its constituent atoms (people in the state of nature), and capable of entering one by one, through the contract, into the new institutional relationship of civil society’. With Spinoza, however, this is by no means the case. Indeed, the novelty of Spinoza’s multitude lies precisely in how – in his Political Treatise (2000 ) – it allows him to reject what del Lucchese (2009, 117) calls ‘the contractualist fiction’, bringing ‘the idea of an irreducible multiplicity in politics to the fore’. As another Spinoza scholar, Warren Montag (1999, 70), has shown, ‘[i]n his sole direct comment on Hobbes, Spinoza argues: ‘With regard to political theory, the difference between Hobbes and myself... consists in this, that I always preserve natural right in its entirety, and I hold that the sovereign power in a State has right over a subject only in proportion to the excess of its power over that of the subject’. Indeed, ‘the political plane’ of Spinoza’s thought is founded ‘on the immanent power of... the multitude rather than on the idea of a transcendent reason of state’ (del Lucchese 2009, 4). ‘[T]he multitude’, for Spinoza, in other words, as Virno (2004, 21) points out, is always ‘a plurality that persists as such’. However, despite, in both the Hobbesian and the Spinozian conception, the multitude being opposed to the sovereign as ‘a monopoly of decision-making’, Spinoza’s notion ‘is based... on the premise that not only the one but also the many can make political decisions’ (Hardt and Virno 2009, 2369, my emphasis). ‘[A]lthough it remains multiple and internally different,’ the multitude ‘is able to act in common and thus rule itself’ – at least potentially (Hardt and Negri 2004, 100). It is partly on the basis of this decision-making capacity of the Spinozian multitude that the concept is distinguished from that of the masses, the crowd, and the mob (Hardt and Virno 2009, 2369)." (http://p2pfoundation.net/From_the_Precariat_to_the_Multitude)
Paolo Virno on a political strategy for the multitudes
From Gene Ray :
"Virno is careful to acknowledge the emotional “ambivalence” of the multitude. There is nothing in the structure of the “emotional situation” created by post-Fordism to indicate that the multitude will necessarily be inclined to use its opportunities to enlighten and liberate itself, let alone develop into a revolutionary force. The “‘neutral core”’ of its emotional register can manifest the “‘bad”’ sentiments of opportunism, cynicism, and resignation just as easily as the “‘better”’ sentiments of generosity, solidarity, and the courage to change and take risks. Virtuosity can develop either into “servile” forms, tending toward the negation of autonomy and the proliferation of hierarchies in contexts dominated by the “hypertrophic growth” of state administrative apparatuses; or else into “non-servile” forms that tend toward the construction of non-state public spheres as a shared field for political cooperation and experiments in radical, non-representational democracy. For Virno, the character of the multitude does favour two forms of politicised struggle. “Exit” — or as he puts it elsewhere, “exodus” — is a practice of active flight and “‘unrestrained invention which alters the rules of the game and throws the adversary completely off balance.” And the “right to resistance” is a resolve to defend those traditional or de facto rights and prerogatives that were won through struggle or installed through the use of constituent power.
For Virno, the non-servile form that the virtuosity of the multitude can take tends toward the formation of a non-state public sphere. Virno’s public sphere is not identical to the bourgeois or liberal public sphere theorised by Jürgen Habermas. Like the bourgeois public sphere, Virno’s is a “political space in which the many can tend to common affairs” and which is characterised by its autonomy from the state. It is a “non-public public sphere,” a “non-governmental public sphere, far from the myths and rituals of sovereignty.” Sometimes he even calls it a “republic”: “The general intellect, or public intellect, if it does not become a republic, a public sphere, a political community, drastically increases forms of submission.” The general intellect and virtuosity of the multitude are always at risk of becoming servile or submissive if these do not appear and unfold in the right kind of “publicness.” A “publicness without a public sphere” produces “terrifying effects”: personal dependence and the “unchecked proliferation of hierarchies.”
Unlike the bourgeois or liberal public sphere, however, Virno’s is also defined by its opposition to wage labour. It forms “‘outside”’ the wage relation and “in opposition to it”.
“The general intellect asserts itself as an autonomous public sphere only if the juncture that ties it to the production of goods and wage labor is severed.”
What Virno has in mind here is the sharing of the capacity for communication and cooperation for the purpose of tending to “common affairs.” As post-Fordist modes of production are now directly exploiting this capacity and bringing it under the wage relation (a form of publicness without a public sphere), it is necessary to reclaim the general intellect by giving it a de-commodifying form of publicness. In Hardt and Negri, this oppositional publicness is also called [real] “democracy.”
Conceived as a space beyond the state and liberal representational politics but also beyond the relentless commodification of social life, Virno’s public sphere is a “republic” where the multitude meets to discover what it has in common and to reach decisions about that commonality. It is also a space of creation and construction, in which skills and capacities are shared and developed collectively in common projects of invention. In Hardt and Negri, the common-republic is both the basis of cooperation and collective action, and their result: “The production of the multitude launches the common in an expanding, virtuous circle.” The radical republic is the sphere of constituent power and it “appears” every time the multitude reclaims this power to cooperate and invent on its own terms, for its own ends, and each time the multitude generalises autonomy by giving the general intellect this special kind of publicness.
Here Virno and Negri are reflecting their experience of Autonomia, a robust movement of workplace militants, precarious and unemployed workers, women, students, and cultural “marginals.” From the early 1970s to its repression by the Italian state in 1979, the militants of Autonomia invented new forms of anti-capitalist culture and struggle, including “proletarian shopping” and the organised “auto-reduction” of prices, rents, transportation fares, and concert and cinema admissions, as well as pirate radio and squatted social and cultural centres. During this combative period, similar pockets and bases of radical culture were created and defended in cities across the world. In its tenacity and duration, however, Autonomia is a perhaps unequalled historical example of a republic based on non-servile virtuosity." (http://info.interactivist.net/print.pl?sid=06/12/21/0125223)
Gene Ray's comments on actualizing Virno's vision
"As the techno-material basis of networked connectivity, the Internet puts the multitude in touch with itself. Let us grant that the multitude is in the process of learning what it can do with this connectivity. The Internet raises well-marked problems of access and the condensed, hierarchical divisions of labour embedded in information technologies. But assuming the trends toward universal access continue and assuming that the common core of communicative capacities is to some degree directly translatable into digital literacy, we can also grant that the Internet is basically a politically neutral technology. Everything depends on concrete uses and situations. Provided the autonomy it now enjoys can be defended against the encroachments of administration that surely are coming, the Internet can be a virtual space for a radical, anti-capitalist public sphere — for all the communicative forms and cooperative practices possible in and appropriate to cyberspace. And cyberspatial events can certainly produce effects in the “real world.” Still, virtual bodies and real bodies are not the same. Politics and struggle are, at the end of the day, an affair of real bodies in real places.
The circulation of counter-images is already an indispensable critical function of the Internet. Today the lying images and utterances of Empire are immediately answered by ad hoc networks of autonomous media. This de-reifying circulation is what Retort points to — and Rumsfeld wrings his hands at. But it needs to be matched by networks of organised practice, actualisations of Negri’s constituent power. The Internet as counter-spectacle would have to be more than a circulation that merely reproduces existing structures of passive and isolated spectatorship. It would need to be not a liberal, but a radical public sphere, in Virno’s sense: a means of production of new forms of organisation and militant action eventually capable of reaching the critical mass of anti-systemic agency. Here, Peoples’ Global Action, the Noborder network, the Anti-G8 Dissent! network, regional social forums and Euromayday are beginnings that go in the right direction." (http://info.interactivist.net/print.pl?sid=06/12/21/0125223)
Toni Negri on the Multitudes, Difference, and the Common:
“Cet ennemi de l’Empire, que nous avons appelé « multitude », est un ennemi qui, sur tous les terrains, cultive ses différences. Or, ces différences ont une base commune, qui est d’abord le refus du commandement et de l’exploitation par le capital collectif au niveau impérial. Ce contenu de rébellions, de révoltes, d’essais de réappropriation du pouvoir vient de différents côtés, et surtout des travailleurs. La véritable opposition reste les travailleurs : le concept de multitude reste donc un concept de classe, même s’il est beaucoup plus étendu que le concept de classe ouvrière. C’est une chose que le pouvoir n’arrive pas à appréhender, car elle se transforme constamment selon les singularités qui la composent, et qu’on ne peut définir ni comme classe, ni comme masse, ni comme peuple : elle se renouvelle sans cesse..." (original article, not fully available online, at http://www.politis.fr/article1115.html)
Definition in French by Toni Negri at http://multitudes.samizdat.net/Pour-une-definition-ontologique-de.html
Elicio, on the political philosophy of the multitudes
«Cette complexité sociale, nous l’appelons la « multitude « , car nous essayons d’utiliser une expression capable d’indiquer une complexité non synthétisable de la structure de la société post moderne et ses acteurs multiples. La multitude, que nous définissons comme l’expression de l’ensemble de toutes les figures de l’assujettissement de la société post moderne, a bouleversé la théorie politique et la théorie de l’organisation sociale. En effet, la multitude a comme caractéristique de ne s’identifier à aucun programme commun, à aucune « synthèse stratégique « politique. Le concept de « synthèse « est plus vécu comme une réduction de la complexité de ses expressions sociales et culturelles, comme une certaine hybridation politique, un processus de réduction de sa forcede subjectivité. Le concept de « synthèse « est vécu aussi comme un acte politique de la « perte d’identité « . La perte d’identité est considérée par la multitude, comme le commencement de l’introduction des mécanismes des modifications de ses besoins réels. Dans ce cadre conceptuel, la multitude fonctionne dans la construction des processus d’organisations autonomes. Cette forme d’organisation a comme caractéristique de se déployer autour et par des micro-actions au quotidien et cherche à répondre aux besoins de la vie de tous les jours. C’est dans cette démarche que la multitude produit ses revendications et ses négociations. Pour la multitude, le quotidien est considéré comme le lieu privilégié de lutte, le lieu de vérification de l’efficacité de son action politique, le lieu du changement. L’action politique ou sociale a un sens pour la multitude si elle est capable de modifier « le quotidien« , « le présent « . La lutte et l’engagement sont considérés comme des instruments pratiquespour essayer de réaliser des modifications concrètes dans la vie de tous les jours, dans un souci permanent d’élargissement de sa superficie sociale, d’hégémonie sur les pratiques socioculturelles de la vie de tous les jours. Approfondissons ce thème pour mieux comprendre l’idée de ce qu’est le « changement dans le quotidien « . Commençons avec la définition de ce que sont unrapportsocial ou un acte politique.
Pour la multitude, il n’y a pas d’acte politiquesans modification du présent. Donc, l’acte politique, devient la forme collective et personnelle de définition d’un espace social à conquérir et la définition d’une démarche à adopter pour la modification du présent. Le présent est considéré commeune fractionde la vie. Dans cette démarche le programme politique devient la construction d’un projet concret de transformation d’une fraction de la vie, c’est-à-dire de la modification du présent.
Pour la multitude le processus de transition d’un rapport social à un autre est le « remplacement « d’un acte de vie (vie économique et sociale) par des gestes de liberté au quotidien. Ces gestes représentent des espaces de liberté.Desgesteset desespacespour la construction d’un micro projet personnel : la réalisation de ses rêves. Rêves en tant que réalisation d’un désir personnel et /ou avec d’autres pour un rêve collectif (projets de transition) pour affirmer sa liberté de vivre comme on le désire. Ces actes, « la construction d’un rêve « , sont des premiers filaments (de vie autonome) qui se super posent et étouffent une fraction des micro pouvoirs de la représentation impériale. Dans cette démarche, le concept de lutte est conjugué au présent sans « futur « , « l’idée de futur « est vécue comme un concept dépassé, obsolète. Concept assimilé dans un sens de défaite.....de l’auto exploitation : l’histoire du socialisme réel ! Pour la multitude, il n’y a pas de victoire si la vie de tous les jours n’a pas été modifiée, élargie, enrichie. Si cette condition n’est pas réalisée « le rapport social « restera le même. C’est dans cette définition que la multitude considère les « partis politiques « comme des institutions de la négociation sociale, les conçoit plutôt comme les représentants des « courants d’un pouvoir unique « et en aucun cas comme une expression populaire de souveraineté. La multitude est la représentation de l’expression philosophique et sociale de la complexité du monde réel qui produit richesse et sens. Elle ne croit pas aux mécanismes de la représentation, à la délégation de ses volontés, à une représentation nationale d’élus professionnels, elle croit fermement au concept de participation. La participation est considérée comme l’antithèse de la représentation classique et s’il devait avoir une délégation de pouvoir elle serait plutôt sous la forme d’une démarche d’application d’une volonté déjà prise, donc non modifiable. Ici, le concept de délégation ou de représentation n’est pas seulement traduit sous forme négative vers les formes traditionnelles de la démocratie (député-fonctionnaire-professionnel) mais aussi sous la forme de la « délégation de la pensée « aux intellectuels. En effet, pour la multitude, un des pièges le plus redoutable est la « perte « d’autonomie dans les processus de construction de sa « pensée « . Il s’agit de contrôler « sa production de sens « , sa philosophie, car une des formes les plus redoutables du pouvoir en place est la stérilisation de ses expressions culturelles. Paradoxalement, si dans le passé, pour le prolétariat révolutionnaire, l’appropriation des moyens de production était un des objectifs fondamentaux, aujourd’hui pour la multitude, l’objectif fondamental est l’appropriation de « sa production de sens et de valeur « .Cet objectif se traduit par la nécessité de s’approprier des moyens de la communication sociale.
See also: Philosophie politique des Multitudes- Revu Multitudes N°9 mai/juin 2002, Exils, Paris . http://listes.samizdat.net/wws/info/multitudes-infos
Toni Negri on the Ontology of the Multitudes, at http://info.interactivist.net/article.pl?sid=02/11/13/100202&mode=nested&tid=9
Editorial, on the 'theory of the multitude', at http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-3/4-3editorial.pdf ; From Capital-labour to Capital-life, by Maurizio Lazzarato, at http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-3/4-3lazzarato.pdf ; The Entrance of the Multitude in Production, at http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-3/4-3virtanen.pdf ; Controlling the Multitude, at http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-3/4-3vahamaki.pdf; On the valorisation of informatic labour, at http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-3/4-3vann.pdf
Key Books to Read
Multitude. By Tony Negri and Michael Hardt.
Paolo Virno in his book Grammar of the Multitudes:
URL = http://www.ctheory.net/text_file.asp?pick=465 (text empty when we last checked 2/2006)
A presentation of Paolo Virno's Grammar of the Multitude and his genealogy on the concept of the Multitude.
"Virno's challenge is to imagine a form of unity and a kind of agency that does not work by collapsing the distinctions between individuals. After all, as Foucault makes clear, these distinctions emerge relationally: the relation will therefore serve as a kind of base or unity. Thus, against the modern, Hobbesian concept of "the people," Hardt, Negri, and Virno propose a collective, perhaps even pre-conceptual, form of life they call "the multitude." The multitude, Virno declares, "does not clash with the One; rather, it redefines it." In effect, Virno turns Hobbes on his head: the One or the unity is no longer a promised point of convergence in the figure of the Sovereign or the State, as it is for Hobbes. The movement is not from some imagined "state of nature" toward "civilization." Instead, for Virno, the multitude is a premise, a kind of origin, which does not transfer rights to the Sovereign. In a Marxian vein, he calls it "the base"; it is "the universal," "the generic," "the shared experience." And it is in the shared commonality of the multitude that we can imagine a new kind of unity, an agency for social and political transformation that emerges from creative and mobile relations -- an agency that does not have its source in an outmoded subject or in the sovereignty of the State. The multitude is a bio-social collectivity, a life form that is irreducible to its contents, which is to say, a form of life implicit in the form itself, in its expression, in its shifting rhetorical dimensions, and not in some abstract content or concept. The implications for us are legion, not just as potential political agents, but as those whose political lives unfold in a networked world that lacks the traditional moorings of subjectivity and political identity. And by "network," here we must consider not just web environments, new electric modes of communication and activism, but also myriad others, such as terrorist networks. These latter have proven very effective against an ageing and lumbering State Leviathan, for these networks enact an agency and yet they have no true centralized locus of control -- a reality that States are slow to recognize and at a loss to combat in traditional terms. The so-called "War on Terror" is a case in point, since State efforts to combat terrorism have relied on a redoubling of centralized governmental control and surveillance -- a strategy that clearly misses the mark. Like it or not, the terrorist network is a new model of political agency that has a multitudinous force. And in a similar vein, so too do ordinary citizens when they gather to protest the WTO, or the U.S. war in Iraq, or more recently to publicly grieve and protest the terrorist train bombings in Madrid and London. While it is impossible to quantify what kind of global political impact will result from these demonstrations, in them there is undoubtedly some form of subjective emergence, some shared understanding of life that enters the social and political field of play.
The title of Virno's book is A Grammar of the Multitude. And Virno does offer us a grammar of sorts, though to be sure, it is neither a fundamental nor a fundamentalist grammar, not a divine Logos, not language in the "common-sense" sense. Virno will not collapse speaking and being, but will find in their difference a productive tension, a creative and expressive voice, a temporary and mobile site for political agency. His argument is itself "multitudinous," that is, it is a kaleidoscope of argumentational fragments, a bricolage, employing key terms from "Hobbes, Kant, Heidegger, Aristotle..., Marx and Freud," and drawing equally on the vastly disparate insights of "Hannah Arendt, Glenn Gould, the novelist Luciano Bianciardi, Saussure, Guy Debord...." And this long list is by no means complete. Of course, the trajectory of his small book, comprising three lectures, is impossible to duplicate here, all the more so because his argument is implicitly inductive, rather than deductive. But it has the force of the multitude. The book bears as its subtitle, "For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life," and it is here, with the life form, and with the emergence of a kind of life itself, that I find him at his most persuasive. If the multitude offers us a "grammar," a language that Virno characterizes as "pre-individual," this suggests a preliminary strategy, at least, for reading how contemporary forms of life are emerging."