Literature Study GuidesEmpirePart 1 Chapter 2 Summary

Empire | Study Guide

Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri

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Empire | Part 1, Chapter 2 : The Political Constitution of the Present (Biopolitical Production) | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • The authors provide a quote by French philosopher Michel Foucault to help define what they mean by the term "police." In Foucault's terms, police is an administration at the head of the state, one that is deeply involved with the law, finance, and the military.
  • While the previous chapter investigated the juridical, or related to the law and administration of justice, roots of Empire, this chapter aims to look at the material transformation of Empire.
  • In a section titled "Biopower in the Society of Control," the authors posit that society has transformed from a "disciplinary society"—one in which a vast network of prisons, factories, schools, etc., regulates customs and habits—into a "society of control." The institutions within a disciplinary society dictated correct and incorrect behaviors.
  • At first, capitalism functioned as part of a disciplinary society. Yet the society of control sees power exercised through machines and bodies—computers, communication systems, welfare systems, etc. It extends beyond the institutions of a disciplinary society and is flexible and constantly fluctuating.
  • According to Foucault, the new model of power is also biopolitical, meaning that technology is increasingly capable of managing and controlling humans in large groups. It is effective because individuals embrace it as an integral function in their lives. Conversely, disciplinary society was fixed and static in its relationship with individuals. The society of control and biopolitics form central aspects of Empire.
  • A section subtitled "The Production of Life," discusses social production as another aspect in relation to the roles of biopower and the society of control. Production is related to capitalism, and the authors point to the work of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Pierre-Félix Guattari to highlight how biopower drives materialism. This relationship between biopower and materialism can take the form of creative production, production of values, or social relations. Other philosophers refer to these productions as "mass intellectuality" and "immaterial labor." By these concepts, they mean that labor has become less concrete—where once there were factories, now there are computers and communication systems that produce a different kind of labor. There is also a new social dimension to this kind of labor, one that creates new social values.
  • The three primary kinds of immaterial labor are communicative labor that uses information networks, interactive labor of analysis and problem solving, and labor of production and manipulation. Communicative labor uses information networks to relay content that can't necessarily be quantified, making it immaterial. Interactive labor is also immaterial because analysis and problem solving don't necessarily result in products that are concrete and tangible. Similarly, the labor of production and manipulation does not always take place inside factory walls. Here, the authors demonstrate that immaterial labor still produces things of value that contribute to capitalism, but Empire has created industries that don't just rely on material labor and goods.
  • In a section subtitled "Corporations and Communication," the authors point out the role of corporations in the biopolitical world. Although capitalism has always sought globalism, it is only in the second half of the 20th century that corporations have organized themselves on a more global scale. To corporations, nation-states seem merely "instruments" through which to record the flow of commodities and money.
  • Money is what creates value and distribution in the capitalism of Empire, and nothing can escape it. In this sense, financial power produces needs and social relations. Production is the end goal and what is produced is made to work in a continuous loop.
  • The production of communication is another aspect of biopolitics. The development of communications networks has created entire industries. Communication networks also produce the new world order, making it both product and producer. The authors write, "Power, as it produces, organizes; as it organizes, it speaks and expresses itself as authority."
  • In a section subtitled "Intervention," the authors explain how Empire's enemies today are considered less a military threat and more of an ideological threat. Yet intervention is still a tactic being deployed, although it has expanded to include moral and legal intervention. The authors argue that Empire's powers of intervention begin not with lethal weapons but "rather with its moral instruments." Moral intervention includes the news media, religious organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Amnesty International. NGOs seek to identify universal needs and defend human rights.
  • The authors caution that "moral intervention often serves as the first act that prepares the stage for military intervention." This military intervention is often internationally sanctioned and is often dictated by the United States and aided by its allies.
  • Yet the authors point to the factual relationship between prevention and repression, particularly in the instances of intervening in ethnic conflicts. These conflicts and restructurings produce "a more malleable material for control in which both prevention and repression are options for those in power. This is because intervention can be rationalized through a moral excuse, in which control is exerted less by might and more by offering reasoning. Because morality can be nebulous, it allows for degrees of control.
  • In instances where the excuse is to control ethnic terrorists or drug mafias, the "moral police" are seen as justified in their support of what is considered a "just war." In this way intervention becomes an effective tactic in creating the moral and institutional order of Empire.
  • In a section subtitled "Royal Prerogatives," the authors compare Empire to a "very high tech machine" because it is in essence virtual, built to control, organized to dominate, and able to intervene in any breakdowns in its system. Although it may be hard to grasp the origins of Empire because of its virtual nature, there is a rationality to its evolution.
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