Literature Study GuidesEmpirePart 4 Chapter 1 Summary

Empire | Study Guide

Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri

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Empire | Part 4, Chapter 1 : The Decline and Fall of Empire (Virtualities) | Summary


Key Takeaways

  • This chapter finds the authors investigating that which is immeasurable in Empire. The authors highlight that there is no such thing as subjectivity outside of Empire, as everything has been subsumed by it. Because of this, an ontological lens—through the nature of being—is required to understand Empire further.
  • In a section subtitled "Outside Measure (The Immeasurable)," the authors say that to deal with political theory ontologically means acknowledging that the constructs of politics do not originate from "the outside." They are not created from external logic. Another reason political theory should be understood through the lens of ontology is because the ways in which people determine values of power have disappeared, such as hierarchies. Empire instead orders laws and peace through mobile, fluid, and more localized ways, hybridizing power.
  • Much of western philosophy denies the immeasurable, yet within Empire, the world involves "outside measure." The continuous construction and infinitely shifting nature of relationships and segments of power insure such an outside measure because relationships and segments of power are continuously being constructed and shifting in infinite ways. Additionally, threat of destruction, judgment, and fear are the basis of the powers that create order.
  • The authors argue, however, that value and justice can still be found in an immeasurable world. They can be found only through the ongoing innovations and creations of humanity.
  • In a section subtitled "Beyond Measure (The Virtual)," the authors posit that if value is no longer fixed, it is still everywhere, and it is still powerful. The authors state, "In Empire, the construction of value takes place beyond measure." Outside measure and beyond measure differ insofar as "beyond measure" refers to production and labor in the virtual realm.
  • The power of virtual labor lends itself to a constituent power—the common actions of labor, intelligence, and passion. It also lends itself to expansive power by creating new values.
  • In a section subtitled "Parasite," the authors reveal that even though the multitude wields enormous power, Empire still commands it. In relation to the multitude, however, imperial government resembles a parasite.
  • The actions of Empire have effectiveness only insofar as the reaction of the multitude's resistance against imperial government drives those actions. Imperial government draws its power from the multitude's ability to create new energy and value. Yet as a parasite, it depletes the energy of the "host" multitude, and thereby places its own existence in danger.
  • In a section subtitled "Nomadism and Miscegenation," the authors suggest that in Empire, the multitude enjoys mobility and constitutes a global citizenship. Its resistance to bondage to any one nation or identity is positive insofar as its nomadism and mixing of races are considered a virtue.
  • The end of the Third World—in which its liberation was partly based on the flow of emigrants that eradicated boundaries—provides one example of this. It put an end to localism, in contrast to the ways in which imperial command kept populations isolated and in poverty.
  • The Third World was created out of colonialism and imperialism, and so it crumbled when that kind of rule began to lose power. Where once its inhabitants were considered "the most wretched of the earth," now their nomadic nature sparks liberation.
  • In a section subtitled "General Intellect and Biopower," the authors state that during the history of capitalist development, labor was supported by science, communication, and language. Marx referred to this collective social intelligence as "general intellect" that was created by the accumulation of knowledge and skill. He predicted this would occur in the future, which is now taking root in the current era. Labor and production have been transformed by it.
  • One aspect of this transformation is the relationship between production and life. Life used to be produced in cycles of reproduction in relation to the workday. Today, it is life that dominates production.
  • A new kind of exodus emerges from this transformation—an exodus toward the machine. Throughout history, humans and machines have hybridized, but the path is no longer a linear trajectory. In Empire, there is a struggle between the virtual and the real, which opens a path for future transformations in labor that will need to be controlled.
  • In a section subtitled "Res Gestae/Machinae," the authors convey that in contemporary times people attempt to create a division between what they call "the end of history," while the present state of the world is seen as eternal. By this they mean that seeing the world in terms of history does not lend itself to understanding the present or future, because Empire has shifted the lens through which people move in and understand the world. Throughout modernity, capitalism and the institutions of sovereignty influenced history a great deal. Yet, in the current postmodern era, the virtual powers of the multitude indicate that this influence has disappeared.
  • This division invites inquiry into how and when the virtual powers of the multitude leave the realm of possibility and become a concrete reality. What is revealed is that the virtual and the possible come together as a kind of innovation that can also function as a revolutionary machine.
  • The authors claim that "Today there is no history, only historicity." By this, they are referring to the notion of historical authenticity.
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