Literature Study GuidesEmpirePart 2 Chapter 4 Summary

Empire | Study Guide

Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri

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Empire | Part 2, Chapter 4 : Passages of Sovereignty (Symptoms of Passage) | Summary


Key Takeaways

  • Now that colonialism has ended and the powers of the nation are wane, the model of modern sovereignty shifts toward a model of imperial sovereignty. Since the 1980s, postmodern theories have begun to emerge. Yet for something to be "post" means that it remains in dialogue with what came before.
  • The authors believe postmodern and postcolonial theories do not recognize the real "enemy" of today, given that they focus on critiquing the past. Power leaves the institutions of modernity, and the authors claim that "theorists thus find themselves pushing against an open door."
  • In a section subtitled "Politics of Difference," the authors say that postmodernist thinking challenges the binary nature of modern sovereignty. The world can be divided into Self and Other, white and black, ruler and subject. Postmodernism is interested above all else in deconstructing these boundaries, as can be seen in women's and antiracist movements.
  • If modernity could be categorized as deriving its power from white, male, and European sources, then postmodernity can be categorized as non-white, non-male, and non-European. According to the authors, quoting American author and activist bell hooks, postmodernity investigates "the values and voices of the displaced, the marginalized, the exploited, and the oppressed."
  • Yet postmodernist thinkers seem confused about how to go about the potential freedom from modern sovereignty because they cannot clearly see the structures of power that have already replaced it.
  • In a section subtitled "The Liberation of Hybridities, or Beyond Colonial Binaries," the authors assert that while postmodernity and postcolonialism seem to share a common enemy, postmodernism is more post-Eurocentric. To dismantle the binary structures of modernity creates a new kind of community. This shift also signals the passage of the world into Empire. Yet the strategies suggested by postcolonialist perspectives could only be effective in the past, not within the structures of the present. Empire is a new form of power.
  • In a section subtitled "Fundamentalism and/or Postmodernism," the authors discuss the rise of fundamentalism at the end of the 20th century, which also signals the shift to Empire. Many contemporary theorists believe fundamentalism most greatly endangers global stability. Fundamentalism is not just anti-modern but also resistant to accepting the present.
  • Fundamentalist movements such as those within Islam and Christianity present themselves as against social modernization. Yet the desire to return to the past bases itself on historical illusions, such as the Christian fundamentalist belief in the heterosexual nuclear family. This desire reflects contemporary fears and is actually a modern invention grounded in politics.
  • The Iranian Revolution can be considered the first postmodern revolution, given its basis on the rejection of the world market. It took place in 1978–79 as an uprising that gave way to the toppling of its monarch and the founding of an Islamic Republic. Although postmodernism and fundamentalism seem at odds, they arose in response to the same situation, albeit with opposing ideals.
  • In a section subtitled "The Ideology of the World Market," the authors posit that the current world market and state of capitalism embrace the concepts of postmodernism: mobility and diversity. The world market also deconstructs the boundaries of the nation-state. Factors such as technology, factories, and equipment move across borders.
  • Capitalist marketing also embraces postmodernism because of the lack of boundaries. Postmodern marketing acknowledges and caters to the differences in populations. It sees those differences as marketing opportunities.
  • Transnational corporations have adopted postmodernist ideals, creating diverse and fluid company cultures.
  • In a section subtitled "Truth Commissions," the authors stress that mobility is not just a positive thing in postmodern discourse. Many populations equate mobility with suffering because of the displacement of worker migrations or because of famine or war. For them, mobility is not an upward direction.
  • In a section subtitled "The Poor," the authors claim the one social subject consistently identified in every historical period is that of the poor, and it is often seen as "the common denominator of life" that makes up the multitude. Yet the authors note that postmodern thinkers rarely address the poor, an unusual oversight because the poor make up a large part of capitalist production.
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