"Empire's New Clothes" is a scholarly collection of essays that critique and comment on Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's influential book "Empire". The analysis is consistently incisive, penetrating and thought-provoking; many of the contributors offer their own theories and challenge Hardt and Negri's interpretation of the works of Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, Marx, Spinoza and others. The result is a book that pushes the debate about "Empire" to a new level of philosophical sophistication.
Interestingly, each chapter focuses on a particular theme found in Hardt and Negri's "Empire". For example, "Immanence", "Transcendence" and the "Market" comprise the subtitles of the first three chapters, respectively. I found this helpful as it provides value when using the book as a research tool.
In several essays, Hardt and Negri's concept of the 'multitude' is critiqued. Instead of a multitudinous and spontaneous 'being-against' Empire as envisioned by Hardt and Negri, Ernesto Laclau argues that "any 'multitude' is constructed through political action - which presupposes antagonism". Because Laclau believes that "political articulation" will be needed to coordinate struggles among diverse groups to achieve liberation, he concludes that "Empire" offers "incoherence" between mobilizing the multitude and achieving specific political objectives.
Peter Fitzpatrick points out inconsistencies in Hardt and Negri's theory of U.S. exceptionalism. The assertion that the U.S. serves as the vital center of global economics clashes with Hardt and Negri's claim that the U.S. 'is not [Empire's] center'. Fitzpatrick goes on to highlight the imperialistic and exclusionary history of U.S. conquest and expansion to contend that the U.S. record has not been substantially different from past and present European empires, in turn implying that historical circumstances have not changed significantly enough to suppose that Hardt and Negri's revolution might occur anytime soon.
Kevin Dunn contributed a very interesting essay about Africa's ambiguous relation to Empire. Challenging Hardt and Negri's assertion that there is no 'outside' to Empire, Dunn describes African power relations to show that the continent does not conform to the Western development model. The militarization of borders in Africa and elsewhere argues against Hardt and Negri's 'smooth space' of Empire. The embrace of a uniquely conservative brand of Christianity among many in Africa also suggests that differences within the multitude pose problems for mobilization as envisioned by Hardt and Negri but may suggest alternative strategies for organizing resistance against Empire.
However, my favorite essay was the feminist critique penned by Lee Quinby, who compares the millennial rhetoric found in "Empire" with the use of dualities (such as good versus evil) in the Christian Bible. Quinby finds fault with the assertion that the revolt against Empire will be an us-against-them event as depicted by Hardt and Negri. Quinby also critiques Hardt and Negri for overlooking Foucault's lesson that resistance against power manifests in many forms and for different reasons. This point leads Quinby to a discussion of Hardt and Negri's failure to locate gender as the predominant source of power, violence and poverty. Ultimately, Quinby cites Amartya Sen's work about women's struggles as offering greater insight into the "intricate gendered relations between sovereign power and biopwer" when compared with "Empire".
Jodi Dean's article about "communicative capitalism" was also informative. Dean addresses the problem of articulating politics in a communications media dominated by large corporations that mainly produce what Hardt and Negri term 'spectacle'. Dean believes that Hardt and Negri offer "hope" but little concrete evidence that the multitude might be successful in constructing a language of liberation in the face of such overwhelming oppositional power.
In a key section, Michael Hardt answers some of the critics in an interview with Thomas Dumm. Hardt states that he and Negri recognize the need to develop a more comprehensive theory of the multitude and its possibility of realizing a political form, which he believes is the book's greatest shortcoming. Hardt also responds to some who objected to the "eclecticism" found in "Empire", contending that "dogmatism" stifles understanding and that communist thought does not necessarilly begin and end with Marx. Hardt defends the idea that the nation-state must be overcome to achieve "absolute democracy"; elsewhere, he explains why he and Negri reformulated Foucault's top-down conception of "biopower" into a bottom-up theory of emancipation.
Other noteworthy articles include Malcolm Bull, who stresses the importance of politics that are founded in hybrid cultural identities; William Chaloupka, who faults "Empire" for offering a weak environmental critique of capitalism; Saskia Sassen, who finds in many political struggles identifications with particular urban locales and disadvantaged populations; Ruth Buchanan and Sundhya Pahuja, who discuss the role of the World Bank and the nation-state in controlling and enforcing the world market system; Slavoj Zizek, who contends that the state is exercising power in the "strongest" terms yet, as evidenced by the war on terror; Kam Shapiro, who envisions a politics of diversity that is "experimental, tactical and provisional", as opposed to uniform; and Paul Passavant and Jodi Dean's concluding essay on the need to resurrect a politics that values life and non-capitalist values in a manner that provides "a more adequate response" to the threat of terrorism than surveillance, oppression and war.
I highly recommend this outstanding book to everyone who has read "Empire" and may want to further their understanding of its key themes and ideas.