Literature Study GuidesEmpirePart 2 Chapter 6 Summary

Empire | Study Guide

Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri

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Empire | Part 2, Chapter 6 : Passages of Sovereignty (Imperial Sovereignty) | Summary


Key Takeaways

  • Many philosophical thinkers have discussed the notion of an "inside" and "outside" of modernism as a duality. Yet the authors posit that in the passage from modern to postmodern and from imperialism to Empire, the distinction between inside and outside has lessened.
  • Territory is one example of something that is considered to have an inside and outside given the concept of boundaries. The authors write, "The process of modernization ... is the internalization of the outside, that is, the civilization of nature." Boundaries become blurred and cease to exist within modernization, as imperialism and expansion leave little that can be considered truly wild and lacking civilization in its wake.
  • In a section subtitled "There is No More Outside," the authors claim that public and private present another kind of inside and outside that constitutes modern society. Yet the public spaces have begun to disappear in the postmodern world as individuals come to increasingly inhabit private spaces and consider the public spaces as "outside." Just as well, public spaces become more privatized.
  • With the decline of common squares, now people are more likely to encounter each other in shopping malls, highways, or gated communities. As a result, diverse populations encounter one another less and less.
  • Another issue arises when "outside" can also be considered a virtual place because it has been universalized through the monitoring of safety cameras. A natural consequence of this privatization of the outside is the decrease of liberal politics.
  • The way of conducting wars has also changed according to the definitions of inside and outside in a military sense. Now, sovereign powers expand their boundaries to contain the entire globe rather than try to dominate one territory, which results in an increase in internal conflicts.
  • The fact of the decline of an outside in modern conflicts makes it that more difficult for sovereignty to be bound or to declare a single unified enemy. Rather, enemies become diffuse and elusive.
  • In the ideal form, capitalism also has no outside because it sees the entire world as inside its domain.
  • In a section subtitled "Imperial Racism," the authors posit that racism has not receded in the contemporary world but has in fact increased. It has merely changed into a postmodern form.
  • At one time, racism was based on the concept of biological differences. However, this concept has been usurped by an emphasis on sociological and cultural differences between races that stoke hatred and fear.
  • Although culture is seen as something fluid and open to change, imperial racist theory believes that some cultures are rigidly incompatible and their differences are insurmountable. Acknowledging and reinforcing cultural differences also serves to preserve ideas about race.
  • In a section subtitled "On the Generation and Corruption of Subjectivity," the authors claim that the increasing lack of division between inside and outside has impacted social subjectivity, which is a constant generative process. Social institutions such as the family unit, factories, and schools help enact this subjectivity because they serve to "form" the individual.
  • In postmodernism, however, subjectivity is seen is artificial, as the divide between the inside and outside of these kinds of institutions is blurred.
  • In a section subtitled "The Triple Imperative of Empire," the authors consider the inclusive nature of Empire—all are welcome within its boundaries, regardless of differences. Setting aside differences also means doing away with subjectivities.
  • At the same time, differences are celebrated in Empire and seen as non-conflicting. Differences are also seen as cultural rather than political, meaning they should, in theory, emphasize peaceful regional identities rather than lead to conflicts.
  • Labor management finds a way to exploit differences, however, by using them as an element of control.
  • In a section subtitled "From Crisis to Corruption," the authors show how imperial sovereignty is organized around a network of "microconflicts," rather than the more central conflict seen in modern sovereignty. Imperial sovereignty contains a plethora of contradictions and corruption—though not from a moral standpoint. The authors define corruption as merely a decomposition or mutation. In this sense corruption is objectively necessary.
  • The distinctions that mark the passage from modern to imperial sovereignty are the distinction between the people and the multitude, from seeing the "Other" to managing hybrid identities, from territories to the "non-place," and from managing crisis to embracing corruption.
  • In a section subtitled "Refusal," the authors take famous examples from literature to show the appeal of refusing authority and work as "liberatory politics," which means freedom from control by an oppressive government. Yet refusal is also a kind of social suicide, and the authors posit that what is needed is a new social body that goes beyond refusal.
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