Literature Study GuidesEmpirePart 2 Chapter 5 Summary

Empire | Study Guide

Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri

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Empire | Part 2, Chapter 5 : Passages of Sovereignty (Network Power: U.S. Sovereignty and the New Empire) | Summary


Key Takeaways

  • The American Revolution marks a moment in history that disrupted modern sovereignty. The struggle for independence gave birth to the U.S. Constitution. Americans believed that only a republic could create order out of a democracy through checks and balances that took into consideration a central power and the multitude.
  • In a section subtitled "The American Revolution and the Model of Two Romes," the authors address the fact that contemporary historians link the development of the U.S. Constitution to the influence of Machiavellianism, which conceived of power as the product of the internal social dynamics of the multitude. Italian statesman Niccolò Machiavelli developed the ideals of Machiavellianism.
  • Another influence was imperial Rome as depicted through the writings of the Greek historian Polybius, who believed a combination of monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic powers composed the perfect form of power. In the U.S. Constitution, this translated into the three branches of government to maintain equilibrium and prevent corruption.
  • Yet the Constitution was also original in that its concept of sovereignty was based on people holding the power, rather than a monarch. Its focus on immanence rather than transcendence was based on the idea of productivity because it is the multitude that produces things and ideas. Sovereignty, then, is the result of this collective productivity.
  • In a section subtitled "Extensive Empire," the authors address the link between the American idea of productivity and the Protestant ethic, which connects productivity to God. Following this line of thinking, the multitude creates rather than serves power. The Declaration of Independence presents evidence of this thinking, in which power is grounded in the multitude's ability and right to create its own political institutions.
  • The notion of sovereignty as an expansive power made up of networks is part of the idea of Empire because it creates a universal republic through linked powers and counterpowers. It rejects imperial expansion that relies on genocide, slavery, and colonization. Peace is the foundation of developing and expanding Empire.
  • In a section subtitled "Open Frontiers," the authors explain how U.S. Constitutional history can be divided into four phases. The first phase begins at the signing of the Declaration of Independence and extends to the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Civil War took place between 1861 and 1865 and was fought between the North and the South over the issue of slavery. The Reconstruction Era lasted from 1865 to 1877 and was an important era for American civil rights.
  • The second phase corresponds with the Progressive Era, a time of widespread social activism from the 1890s to the 1920s. It aimed to solve issues involving industrialization and political corruption.
  • The third phase extends from the New Deal through the beginning of the Cold War. The New Deal was a series of public work projects and financial reforms created and implemented in the 1930s under the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The fourth phase ranges from the Cold War through the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Cold War lasted from 1947 to 1991 and marked a time of political tension between the Soviet Union and the United States.
  • In the first phase, a new idea about sovereignty was being formed as separate from European sovereignty. It was democratic and expansive. The notion of liberty was intertwined with America's new frontier and the potential for expansion, yet this expansion came at the cost of willfully ignoring that this land belonged to Native Americans. The U.S. Constitution declared liberty, yet excluded Native Americans.
  • Another source of contradiction was that African Americans were tied to the Constitution in a different way. Slavery stood in direct opposition to the concept of freedom. While the Constitution justified excluding Native Americans because the country did not depend on their labor, it included African Americans, but not on equal footing—they were counted as three-fifths of a free person. The authors note, "Black slavery was paradoxically both an exception to and a foundation of the Constitution."
  • Once slavery ended, class struggles emerged. One reason for this was that territorial expansion declined and was therefore no longer a solution to resolving conflicts.
  • In a section subtitled "The Closure of Imperial Space," the authors assert that presidential administrations had different ideas about how to deal with the "closing of space." President Theodore Roosevelt took a colonialist approach that led to the United States's involvement in the Philippines, using the familiar rationale of "bringing civilization."
  • President Woodrow Wilson created an international extension of space through the League of Nations, though it was vetoed in Congress and derided in Europe.
  • In a section subtitled "American Imperialism" the authors discuss how during the passage of the New Deal, the United States's role in imperialist projects became increasingly evident. Internally, the exploitation of black labor well beyond the end of slavery provides an example of this imperialism. Externally, although the United States often cast itself in the role of the "protector" of vulnerable nations, its numerous military interventions only increased European colonialist aggressions.
  • In a section subtitled "Beyond the Cold War," the authors point out that the line between the role of protector and oppressor for the United States became even more pronounced during the Cold War. The United States took up the mantle to protect the world from communism, which it saw as Soviet imperialism, but the country's role in the Vietnam War from 1954 to 1975 marked its last gasp of imperialist tendencies.
  • After the Cold War, the United States took on the responsibility of creating an international police power, as evidenced by the Gulf War, which took place from 1990 to 1991 and was a response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The justification for the Gulf War was that Iraq had broken international laws and the United States presented itself as the only nation powerful enough to administer justice. This established a new world order as the international community increasingly called upon the United States to intervene in regional conflicts thereafter.
  • The U.S. Constitution can still be considered imperial—but not imperialist—because it is constructed in such a way that it encourages reinvention of open space and the networks and relations that characterize it. Empire is a direct result of this kind of global expansionist thinking.
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