File spoon-archives/postanarchism.archive/postanarchism_2004/postanarchism.0403, message 81

Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2004 11:48:12 -0800 (PST)
Subject: [postanarchism] Angus: "Empire, Borders, Place: A Critique of Hardt and Negri's Concept of Empire"

Empire, Borders, Place: A Critique of Hardt and
Negri’s Concept of Empire

by Ian Angus

Department of Humanities
Simon Fraser University

To appear in Theory and Event, Vol. 7.

It is now almost a commonplace to note that after the
Seattle 1999 protests against the neo-liberal
market-oriented version of globalization a new
coalition against global market hegemony is struggling
to emerge. While this emergence may seem to have been
derailed by the more recent U.S. and British
intervention in Iraq, it is more likely that it has
entered into the global peace movement that sprang
into existence simultaneously. New developments are
bound to follow. This recent history has had the
advantage of demonstrating the mutual relation between
neo-liberal economics and the military and political
imperatives of empire which has been popularly
expressed in the slogan “No blood for oil!”.
Theorizing these components and their relationship
will clearly become important to the thinking of the
new global opposition.

It is perhaps because of its appearance in the middle
of these significant transformations (2000) that
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s book Empire has
become a major point of reference for contemporary
radical thought. Also, its attempt to synthesize a
large number of developments previously called
postmodernism, postcolonialism, autonomism, etc. and
earlier radical theories such as Marxism, anarchism
and syndicalism within a long historical narrative
gives the book a scope that focusses many diverse and
compelling issues. At times, the book appears to claim
a status for contemporary struggles such as that
occupied by Capital in the nineteenth century. Despite
the merit of the book to have brought the concept of
empire into international currency again, I will argue
that its concept of empire is thoroughly misguided on
both theoretical and political grounds.1

The key theoretical nexus of Empire is the close
relation between lack of boundaries and the production
of subjectivities (or, as they are more often called
nowadays, identities). Whereas one previously moved
from one institution to another, “the production of
subjectivity in imperial society tends not to be
limited to any specific places. One is always still in
the family, always still in school, always still in
prison, and so forth. … The indefiniteness of the
place of the production corresponds to the
indeterminacy of the form of the subjectivities
produced.”2 The continuous overflowing of boundaries
generates new subjectivities from which political
opposition to empire can be expected. “Here is where
the primary site of struggle seems to emerge, on the
terrain of the production and regulation of
subjectivities” (321).

This analysis is based on the use of two theoretical
terms that function throughout the text. One, the
distinction between inside and outside and, two, the
notion of history as overcoming the regulation and
stability required by empire. Hardt and Negri’s claim
that contemporary empire “has no limits” (xiv) is
butressed by a historical argument that links
capitalist expansion to the necessity to look outside
itself because “the capitalist market is one machine
that has always run counter to any division between
inside and outside” (190). Postmodern capitalist
production thus eliminates its outside such that
contemporary empire is distinct from classical
imperialism precisely because “the dialectic of
sovereignty between the civil order and the natural
order has come to an end” and “the modern dialectic of
inside and outside has been replaced by a play of
degrees and intensities, of hybridity and
artificiality” (187-8). History is thus understood as
this process of elimination of the outside that comes
to an apogee in contemporary empire and which prepares
the ground for overcoming the limits imposed upon
subjectivity by imperial sovereignty. Empire is a
“non-place” because power is “both everywhere and
nowhere” even though it is “criss-crossed by so many
fault lines that it only appears as a continuous,
uniform space” (190). These fault lines are
constituted by the “deterritorializing power of the
multitude” which both “sustains Empire and at the same
time [is] the force that calls for and makes necessary
its destruction” (61). Understood in this way, as a
non-place that has annihilated its outside, it is no
wonder that it does not matter to Hardt and Negri from
where the critique of empire is articulated.

The inside-outside distinction and the related notion
of history as the surpassing of limitations is the
theoretical core of Hardt and Negri’s account of
contemporary empire. My critique will address both of
these components from an appropriation of the more
productive concept of empire in Canadian social and
political thought.

(for the rest visit Ian Angus' website at )

===="Being at one is god-like and good, but human, too human, the 
     Which insists there is only the One, one country, one truth and
         one way."

- Friedrich Hölderlin, 1799

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