The Immanence of Empire

Today’s topic was supposed to be the immanence of Empire (Hardt and Negri’s), or maybe lack thereof, but for some reason, I have trouble (re)thinking about it, and coming up with things to say. It may be because I feel like I would be writing a response to a question nobody would ask, or because I don’t want to go into any kind of negative critique (not right now, at least). Whatever the reason, because I promised myself I would do my best to keep entering something every day (unless I absolutely can’t), I will paste some passages from my previous notes on Empire in the hope of being in the mood to collate them and turn them into something more sensible some other day.

“The multitude is the real productive force of our social world, whereas Empire is a mere apparatus of capture that lives only off the vitality of the multitude – as Marx would say, a vampire regime of accumulated dead labor that survives only by sucking off the blood of the living” (Hardt and Negri 62). In the introduction to Empire, Empire constitutes an overarching new type of sovereignty reaching deep into every nook of social, political, and economic life through biopower (the management/administration of human life), a new notion of right, and a constant state of exception. When juxtaposed to the multitude, however, Empire becomes something petty and small (even if only metaphorically): “a mere apparatus of capture that lives only off the vitality of the multitude.” This incongruity suggests one of the basic problems of H&N’s monumental endeavour: the desire to bring the notion of immanence developed by Deleuze and Guattari to bear on a heavily Marxist paradigm whose alternative resides in a type of revolution of the multitude.

I may be responding to a question that nobody would ask, but I think I need to talk about how my idea of corporate immanence is different than what Hardt and Negri consider the immanence of Empire. In other words, at a higher level of generality, how’s corporatism different from Empire? Firstly, I think out aims are different: I’m trying to describe an existing situation in the way it presents itself in popular culture, literature, non-fiction, etc., while also trying to inscribe it into a conceptual paradigm that describes it accurately in the abstract. Hardt and Negri are out shopping for the best vehicle for their “Communist Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century,” as Slavoj Žižek put it in a response essay to Empire: “Is this choice of the field of immanence, however, enough to define a manifesto form that would be a mode of political discourse adequate to the insurgent subject of postmodernity?” (64).

While I couldn’t critique the idea of “choosing” the adequate conceptual paradigm, the previous quote clearly displays H&N’s hierarchy of priorities. It shows that rather than starting from the contemporary situation, their aim is rather to produce a manifesto, a way of providing the oppressed but revolutionary postmodern subject with empowering language to dismantle her/his oppressor. Again, a very admirable aim. However, it goes back to the core problem, of fabricating a theory that would rather lend itself to the preset solution – a revolution of the new proletariat, the multitude – rather than a theory that originates in the contemporary social, political, and economic experience that leads to its own solution, which may or may not differ from a revolution.

It would seem as if I was taking issue with Hardt and Negri’s methodology more than with the content of their book, but, in fact, this methodological fallacy (in my view) leads to multiple incongruities throughout Empire, just like the one with which I’ve started this rant. Another example is the graphic description of Empire’s power structure. They figure the constitution of Empire (E) as a three-tiered pyramid of distributed power: first US hegemony and G7 on top, then an articulation of the network of TNCs with a subordinated set of sovereign nation-states, and, finally, on the bottom, a system of popular representation primarily comprised of NGOs (“any organization that purports to represent the People and operate in its interest, separate from (and often against) the structures of the state” (312)).

H&N work form the imperial model devised by Polybius about the Roman Empire, and assert that the present E is not much different from the former, which takes the tripartite model of cooperation between monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy to a trifunctional model of the executive, the judiciary, and the representative. Today’s E’s role is of “rule over the unity of the world market, and thus it is called on to guarantee the circulation of goods, technologies, and labor power – to guarantee, in effect, the collective dimension of the market” (317). The leap from world market and circulation to collectivity is rather confusing; as is the stubbornness with which H&N want to apply Marx to E: “The processes of real subsumption, of subsuming labor under capital and absorbing global society within Empire, force the figures of power to destroy the spatial measure and distance that had defined their relationship, merging the figures in hybrid forms” (317). Marxism always appears as assumption, not as conclusion, i.e., they start out from Marxist presuppositions, rather than from contemporary situations that would lead them to Marxist conclusions.

Moreover, the trifunctional model corresponds more to the executive-judiciary-legislative organization of modern nation-states than it would (should?) to the postmodern E. In addition, immanence, especially of the D&G kind can hardly be figured in a pyramid model, where anything is on top of anything else. The pyramid metaphor itself points directly to a base-superstructure model, to Marxism, to the connection with real subsumption (yet another hierarchical system where capital is above everything else rather than operating rhizomatically and unpredicatably, yet not randomly, through a wide network), than to any kind of immanence.

Well, so much for my reluctance to negative critique… 😉


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