Seeking the Multitudes
Four years ago, Michael Hardt, associate professor of literature, discussed with Duke Magazine the book that established him, according to The New York Times, as "the latest contender for academia's next master theorist."
Empire, published by Harvard University Press in 2000, is "an analysis of the contemporary global situation," he explained. In it, he and co-author Antonio Negri sought to portray the workings of an emerging "network power," an empire controlled not by a single central entity such as the United States, but through the collaboration of nation-states and multinational corporations. This empire of globalization, exploitative and repressive, they argued, thrives on a constant state of conflict.
Now, in the midst of conflict, and with a sense of urgency, Hardt and Negri turn their attention to another sort of network, "an open and expansive network" with the capacity for an "unlimited number of encounters." In their new book, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire--the title refers to this network, to everyone on the planet connected through globalization--the authors offer the antidote to Empire. The one and only cure for a world in which war and fear are endemic, they maintain, is "democracy on a global scale" attained through discovery, by the multitude, of a "commonality that allows everyone to communicate and act together." Never, they warn, has such a movement been more necessary.
And, perhaps, never has the concept of democracy been re-imagined in such sweeping proportions. It is, in part, the scale of the theories--their all-unifying, all-synthesizing, world-ordering quality--that for academics and a general audience alike harbors much of the allure of these books. Indeed, Empire, a volume geared to scholars and not, as Hardt said, to the restless masses, sold so well among those masses (more than 40,000 copies to date) that the sequel was written with a broader audience in mind: the multitude itself.
"We have made every effort to write this in a language that everyone can understand," reads the preface. "You will undoubtedly at some point find the meaning of a sentence not immediately clear. Please be patient. Keep reading.... Think of the book as a mosaic from which the general design gradually emerges."