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World: Authors Of 'Empire' Defend Globalization With Marxist Theory

  • Don Hill

Anti-globalization activists seeking to disrupt international meetings in Genoa and elsewhere describe themselves as leftists and so, often, do the news reporters who cover them. Now two neo-Marxist political philosophers from different sides of the Atlantic say in a talked-about new book that Marxist theory demonstrates that globalization is a desirable development. RFE/RL correspondent Don Hill talks to one of the authors of "Empire" -- Duke University professor Michael Hardt -- about the book's remarkable analyses.

Prague, 30 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Two committed neo-Marxists say in a talked-about new book that globalization is, at least for now, a benign development. They also say that leftists who consider the United States a world center of imperialism are just flat wrong.

Equally remarkable as these assertion by authors Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri is the fact that "Empire" -- their weighty book of dense political philosophy -- is a major seller in the United States and is gaining notice around the world. "Time" magazine calls it a "hot new book."

Hardt is a Duke University professor of literature, and Negri an Italian political philosopher who was jailed in Italy for culpability in left-wing excesses in the 1970s.

They contend that world sovereignty has escaped the imperialism of nation-states and now is vested in a decentralized host of international and supranational institutions and groups -- from the United Nations and the World Bank to non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

In a telephone interview, Hardt tells our correspondent that the old imperialism of European nation-states and colonial powers has lost its force.

"Imperialism, by which we understand a form of expansive rule by which the nation-state exerts its power over foreign territories, is no longer the model of sovereignty that rules global affairs."

Hardt says that he and Negri conclude from their analyses that neither the United States or any other nation can be a world leader in the way that modern European nations once were.

"One of the things we are intending to argue against is the notion -- which is somewhat common on the left -- that contemporary global order is defined by U.S. imperialism. We think that is not true."

Hardt and Negri disagree with Francis Fukuyama, the author of "The End of History" and "The Great Disruption," who argues that liberal democracy history finally has reached the highest form of political governance. But they agree that mankind has entered a new phase of history -- however fleeting -- based on the hegemony of supranational organizations.

"Today we do not have several competing powers, but, in fact, one power within which the nation-states function. And that single power, in philosophical terms, constitutes a new form of sovereignty."

"Empire" is the name they give to this new sovereignty. It is not, Hardt says, a bad thing. Empire, as he and his co-author put it in the book, "wields enormous powers of oppression and destruction, but that fact should not make us nostalgic in any way for the old forms of domination. The passage to Empire and its processes of globalization offer new possibilities to the forces of liberation."

They say that's because Empire is free of territorial boundaries, is decentralized, and pursues its essentially pacifistic aims throughout the world.

In order to understand the Hardt-Negri logic, readers of "Empire" must accept that the authors present the Marxist framework on which it rests as true believers. For instance, in one passage, they explain the health of capitalism in 2001 against all Marxist predictions by calling it "miraculous." They suggest that it is not that capitalism has succeeded -- it simply is that it has not yet failed.

What about the hypothesis that free markets and liberal democracies have remained healthy because they have a built-in capacity for self-criticism and regenerating themselves? Or what about still another possibility, that Marxist theory is just plain wrong?

In the interview, Hardt's answers speak mainly to others of the faith he and Negri share. He says capitalistic ability to self-correct ultimately will prove temporal and transitive. As for Marxist theory having been proved wrong, he says, in effect, that it was the Soviet Union that collapsed in 1991, not communism.

"Communism [was tried in the Soviet Union and] in many other ways that are not part of the Soviet experience. And most of them have been defeated. But defeat of an idea, defeat in practical terms, is in no way invalidation. The communist experience is full of defeats."

Hardt says "Empire" strives only to be an analysis of the new world order, not a recipe for change, not an identification of alternatives, and certainly not a prediction of what is to come.

The book begins with approving philosophical analyses of globalization and its effects, and ends with a song of what the authors call "the irrepressible lightness and joy of being a communist."

It holds up St. Francis of Assisi and the saint's ability to rise above production and material desires to find a joyous life in nature, animals, and humankind's poor. St. Francis was perhaps a living denial of the classic capitalist view that it is human nature to compete, to seek to accumulate wealth and to pursue self-interest.

But wasn't Saint Francis defined by his faith in a Roman Catholic god, something not generally part of the communist credo? Hardt's reply: "Right. Well, everyone believes in something."

Hardt says that he and Negri wrote their book both for fellow philosophers and academics and for the general public. But even they reportedly have been astonished by the breadth of the public response so far.

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