56 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 2001
Hardt and Negri have a gut feeling about the future of global capitalism, one perhaps giving the town-criers of defeat among today's Left at least pause for thought. Neo-Marxists with gut feelings? It could not be otherwise. It is hard to believe there was ever a half-century of such whirlwind change and it is maybe all mortals are entitled to given especially the awesome complexiety of the impact of future science. Chiming with a spate of warnings of ever greater corporate might (most recently, Hertz,Klein and Monbiot), the authors, challenging along the way numerous Left orthodoxies, undertake to reveal its meaning in a far wider historical and philosophical context. There is in the world a new source of authority, a new category by which global politics and culture are understood. Supplanting imperialism is 'empire', which, though no less rapacious, is the creature of the major powers no longer. There is no 'inside' of metropolitan Capital and an 'outside' of its expansion. It has become territorially unhooked, supervenient, engulfing global social life in its entirety. The gut feeling - "the telos we can feel pulsing" - is that the modulation of imperialism into 'empire' is however just the condition of its vulnerability.
This is a powerfully synthesising, scholarly, impassioned, and for many no doubt an uplifting work. It is of the genre of Fukuyama's The End of History, which in its conservative politics and bad philosophy gets much wrong but whose basic point we fret might ultimately be right. The object of Empire, however, is to show not the improbability of anything beyond unversal capitalism, but the immanence of its opposite, namely, Marx's famous 'the end of pre-history', marked by peoples' collective control over lives hitherto entrapped in the service of private profit.
Whether it will convince is another matter. Flattering some but intimidating others, an obstacle will be its cosmic abstractions and prose in places suggesting its authors also harbour something against the English language; heavy weather is made of ideas clear enough without their post-structuralist trappings and there are passages, the more where portents of postmodernism are read into classical literatures, likewise risking the stock Anglo-Saxon complaint of Contintental pretension. Fashionable and widely debated it will be, and of a book exuding analytical verve, moral optimism and sustained political intelligence, making the reader - agreeing or not - appreciatively grin, thankfully so much the better. Its shortcoming will be found in imprecision exactly what it wishes to convince us of.
Begin this taxing book, this reader suggests, in the middle (Section 3.4), with its eloquent synopsis - the anchor of the argument - of the profundity of changes being wrought by post-industrialization. What follows is that received, more especially Marxist, categories must adapt accordingly. The industrial proletariat, while by no means gone, is in a sphere subordinate to now vastly enlarged 'immaterial' labour - labour whose produce is essentially mental and/or affective. What Empire sees in its underpinning 'informatization' - elaborating Marx's forecast of a 'general intellect' - is just that socialization of labour which, for the authors as for Marx, anticipates a society rid of capitalism and which now augers to be its subversive agent. Enveloping 'empire' is premised on the widest diffusion of knowledge and competencies; it markets visions of heavenly possibilities; it tends to the flattening of geographic, racial, ethnic, sexual and linguistic boundaries; it forces or draws great numbers into mobility and migrations; it globalizs communications and founds dense networks of mass interrelationships; it jumbles - 'hybridizes' - cultural, national, occupational and life-style identities; its values seep into every corner. What Empire compresses into changed 'subjectivities' are consequences rightly in the centre of its case, and it lucidly argues that, at bottom, they brought the downfall of Soviet communism.
These new 'subjectivities' indeed point to a different future. But that 'empire' should be conceived as an alternative paradigm to imperialism remains doubtful and may in the end prove politically unhelpful. Both are emanations of capitalism and, not impossibly, history may see them not as colliding but mutually reinforcing. Empire seems too unconscious of the now kaleidoscopic ways of 'desiring' and looking at the world, i.e., of just those unrevolutionary mentalities of which capitalism is its author and 'empire' its illuminating description.
However, no fantasy is proposed of a coming abrupt transfer from capitalist to worker. Empire's focus is on movements in real world productive capacities and what they appear to necessitate for the breakdown of national and cultural barriers and for increased possibilities of loci of instabilities, of mass rejection, refusal, rebellion and solidarities. For all but ultra-revolutionaries, the world, notwithstanding the horrors we daily witness, is a better place; better on the one side that capitalism is - what Marx foresaw - an engine of wealth creation without precedent; better on the other only because the cruel logic of accumulation has been thwarted, re-directed, paradoxically enhanced, by the myriad struggles and skilled labours of poeople, in metropolis and dominions, at once it beneficiaries and victims.
Too little pointed-up perhaps is the massive extent to which, even allowing for bulk and politically sanctioned theft, corporate business, transnational or otherwise, is already in the domain of the public - administered and ministered to - and thereby moot whether capitalism is less constitutive of post-industrial society than that it is clamped, heavily cocooned and the more irrelevantly on top. Empire is absolutely right in its aside that boardroom opponents of Big Government should be on their knees praying for its perpetuation. For Hardt and Negri the public - the 'multitude' -is already Emperor and doesn't yet know it, and their optimism is in their implication of how little it might take to push the corporate fatcats finally off the hill.
9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 26 June 2012
Hardt and Negri assert that the new Empire of globalisation is essentially a process of emancipation. But it is superficial to see globalisation as basically a political process. It is also a ridiculous prettification of the political processes actually occurring in the world. Is the partition of Iraq part of a process of emancipation? The coups in Honduras and Paraguay? The destruction of Yugoslavia? The `ever closer union' of the EU?
According to Mark Thwaite's review, Negri and Hardt's new Empire "is the result of the transformation of modern capitalism into a set of power relationships we endlessly replicate that transcend the nation state (so anti-imperialism is out as a progressive politics)." Thwaite claims this book is `a key post-Marxist text'. All it shows is that post-Marxism is really just anti-Marxism.
So anti-imperialism is `out' - very comforting for the empire's owners. This is to fetishise empire and to make it impossible to transcend. Hardt and Negri's ultra-leftism comes full circle. Full of revolutionary rhetoric, they end up worshipping the empire they claim to oppose.
Hardt and Negri use the work of French post-structuralist theorists such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari and Jacques Derrida. A reviewer from France wrote, "There is no 'inside' of metropolitan Capital and an 'outside' of its expansion. It has become territorially unhooked, supervenient, engulfing global social life in its entirety. The gut feeling - "the telos we can feel pulsing" - is that the modulation of imperialism into 'empire' is however just the condition of its vulnerability." This proves all too well the uselessness of the French post-structuralist theorists.
In reality, globalisation is just the liberals' word for imperialism. Countries are right to assert their sovereignty against imperialism.
4 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2012
How ever much you dress it up, this is still a communist tract. Go to Gapminder and run the main animation that shows global development, ie Capitalism, since 1800 to see how humanity has progressed over the last 200 years. Communism has given the human race precisely nothing, apart from famine, economic chaos and conflict. Is the current "system" perfect? Of course not, but it is a hell of a lot better than the alternative. But strangely enough these neo communists just moan on about the current system but offer very little in the way of this alternative, because they know that most people will recoil at their suggestions.