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Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire Hardcover – 27 Jan 2005
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Complex, ambitious, disquieting, and ultimately hopeful, Multitude is the work of a couple of writers and thinkers who dare to address the great issues of our time from a truly alternative perspective. The sequel to 2001's equally bold and demanding Empire continues in the vein of the earlier tome. Where Empire's central premise was that the time of nation-state power grabs was passing as a new global order made up of "a new form of sovereignty" consisting of corporations, global-wide institutions, and other command centers is in ascendancy, Multitude focuses on the masses within the empire, except that, where academics Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are concerned, this body is defined by its diversity rather than its commonalities. The challenge for the multitude in this new era is "for the social multiplicity to manage to communicate and act in common while remaining internally different." Empire isn't breezy reading, but for those aren't afraid of diving into a knotty philosophical and political discourse of uncommon breadth, Multitude offers many rewards. --Steven Stolder, Amazon.com
This timely book brings together myriad loose strands of far left thinking with clarity, measured reasoning and humor. ("Publishers Weekly", starred) Impressive? a rare and exciting work of synthesis. ("Booklist", starred review) Brilliant. ("The Village Voice") An inspiring marriage of realism and idealism. (Naomi Klein, author of "No Logo")
"This timely book brings together myriad loose strands of far left thinking with clarity, measured reasoning and humor." Publishers Weekly, starred
"Impressive a rare and exciting work of synthesis." Booklist, starred review
"Brilliant." The Village Voice
"An inspiring marriage of realism and idealism." Naomi Klein, author of No Logo" --This text refers to the Paperback edition. See all Product description
Top customer reviews
Stylistically the book is an improvement on Empire - it flows better, is divided into clear sections, and includes a lot of empirical examples which back up the arguments. Politically and analytically it is basically the same points repeated in different ways or in a different context. The main exception is the first section on war, which includes a lot of new discussions of distributed network forms and their importance for resistance and power. Indeed, the appropriation of the network model is the biggest step forward they make from Empire.
The book also has fundamental problems, however. Basically, Hardt and Negri have taken an orthodox Marxist ontology and tried to impose it on a perspective of the social world which bears little resemblance to Marx's. The result is an attempt to fit square empirical pegs into round analytical holes - for instance, to portray the masses of excluded poor as really included but exploited. If you don't find persuasive the initial premises (such as that correct forms of resistance necessarily follow from dominant forms of production), chances are you won't find the conclusions persuasive either. And for all the empirical detail, the basic analytical perspective is extremely broad - the thesis of "biopolitics" (the multitude as productive of life as a whole, so that every social act is now "productive") conflates social-constructivist truisms with Marxist system-theories in an untenable way, wrongly assuming that the "productivity" of social construction necessarily involves belonging to a common productive system and being useful for capital.
This is a creditable attempt to construct a new theory, however, and well worth a read for anyone interested in continental philosophy, radical politics or contemporary social movements.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
"Multitude" appears to have been written in part as a response to the criticisms of "Empire" as presented in the excellent book, "Empire's New Clothes: Reading Hardt and Negri" edited by Passavant and Dean. For example, "Multitude" takes a slightly different approach to the themes of U.S. exceptionalism, network power structures, violence and the politics of identity; all of these topics were critiqued at length in "Empire's New Clothes". Consequently, it appears that Hardt and Negri may have profited from this dialogue and it may also explain why "Multitude" is a more substantive and less theoretical book than "Empire".
Section One of "Multitude" is entitled "War". Hardt and Negri discuss the perpetual state of war as a means to maintain the capitalist world order and social hierarchy. Interestingly, the authors show how insurgencies and counterinsurgencies have both taken on the characteristics of flexible, postmodern production networks. Importantly, the anti-globalization movement is lauded as an example of how such decentralized and distributed networks can support an "absolutely democratic organization" whose emerging strength might yet constitute the "most powerful weapon against the ruling power structure."
Section Two is about "Multitude". The multitude is both plural and multiple, wherein people maintain their individualities but act based on common interests. Hardt and Negri posit that global production is made possible by "the commons" of language and communications and information networks. Patents, licenses and other tools to control the commons and appropriate wealth for private investors has hampered the productivity of the multitude, the authors believe, thereby creating a tension that might lead to revolution. To that end, recent events in Argentina are held out as examples of how new forms of collaborative democracy might emerge.
Section Three is entitled "Democracy". Hardt and Negri explain how the ecological and economic grievances of the multitude are routinely suppressed in favor of corporate interests. The authors endorse a number of reforms that might alleviate some of the worst excesses -- such as the Tobin Tax on currency trades, the easing of copyright laws and the forgiveness of third world debt -- but they go much further, suggesting that the time may be ripe for a "new Magna Carta", or a fundamental restructuring of relations between capital and labor. To that end, the authors envision an "open-source society" of collaboration characterized by the self-rule of the multitude and using the commons as the basis of social and economic production.
In my view, one of the key attributes of "Multitude" is its convincing analysis and description of today's post-democracy world. Hardt and Negri describe how the three major tenets of U.S. democracy -- the media, the separation of powers, and representation -- have been irreparably coopted by corporate power. This, of course, is an observation that has been made elsewhere but rarely with the penetrating analysis and skill that these intelligent authors bring to bear on the subject. If "Multitude" does nothing else than to serve to widen the discussion on this critically important topic, it will have made an important and lasting contribution.
However, I am less convinced that the open-source community envisioned by Hardt and Negri will spontaneously emerge as they have suggested. The disconnect between the aspirations of the multitude for shared peace and prosperity on the one hand and the brutal realities of hierarchical power structures on the other has existed for centuries. While one is certainly hopeful that the historic moment has changed and has made a revolution in human relations possible, the authors provide little in the way of guidance as to how the multitude might cross the divide. Still, "Multitude" serves as a thought-provoking and inspirational work that helps us understand the reasons why we need to move forward to a more peaceful and humane world, if not how to get there, and easily deserves a five-star rating. I highly recommend it to all.
If you want to have a better perspective on what has been going on in the world, especially the events that have started in middle east to the one in Wall Street then you need to read this book.