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<nettime> Libertarians for Empire (was: The best defence is to give no o
Brian Holmes on Thu, 4 Oct 2001 04:21:05 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Libertarians for Empire (was: The best defence is to give no offence)

Declan McCullagh wrote:

"I'm not sure what you mean by "neoliberal" -- Cato is in fact

Europeans call them "neo-liberals," which means laissez-faire capitalists,
Americans don't understand and say no, they're liberatarians, which to
Europeans sounds like anarchists! Could there be a reason for this
ideology mix?

The curious can find out in a review of "Empire" at
http://slash.autonomedia.org. The big question is: can you be an
autonomist against neoliberalism? Malcom Bull doesn't think so. It's a
polemic, overstated to make a point, but it would be interesting to see
how a hard-core autonomist refutes him. Since the article is way too long,
I cut out all the blah blah:

"You can't build a new society with a Stanley knife"
by Malcom Bull

...Since the end of the Cold War, Neoliberalism has become so
ideologically dominant that it is no longer clear whether the real
Neoliberals are the leaders of the G8 or the people outside in the
balaclavas and the overalls. Take Ya Basta!... their two key political
demands, free migration and the right to a guaranteed basic income, are
policies that were once largely the preserve of Neoliberal think-tanks in
the United States... For Neoliberals one of the attractions of these
policies was their incompatibility with the welfare state. Basic income
was the cheap alternative to welfare... free migration, which would make a
nation's welfare benefits accessible to everyone in the world, would
quickly make the hard-won achievements of the welfare system

Although it originated from a Marxist analysis of the class struggle, the
conception of autonomy autonomy which inspired the Autonomia movement in
Italy and the Autonomen of Germany and Northern Europe has come
substantially to overlap with the Neoliberal ideal of negative liberty.
The initial move looked revolutionary:  ... the class struggle could be
waged more effectively if the working class disengaged from waged labour
and sought autonomy for itself. ...autonomous action, independent of
unions and party, would sever the working class from capitalism, and
without labour to sustain it capitalism would collapse...

Negri's rediscovery of republican thought in the early 1980s paralleled
that of Quentin Skinner in Britain, and the retrieval of Anti-Federalism
by libertarians in the United States. In no case did this involve
repudiation of the idea of negative liberty, just a renewed emphasis on
the point that people can be free only if they also have an ongoing
capacity for self-government. For Skinner this meant a call to active
citizenship, while for Negri it involved a reaffirmation of the
Anti-Federalist view that the constituent power of the citizen is not
irretrievably transferred to the sovereign through some contract or
constitution. The constituent power of the multitude is inalienable; it
remains, as Negri writes in Insurgencies, 'an irresistible provocation to
imbalance, restlessness and historical ruptures'...

Empire, like other forms of sovereignty (imperium in Spinoza), is only the
power of the people writ large. In globalisation, alternatives to
capitalism are not defeated so much as given new opportunity to work on a
global scale: 'The creative forces of the multitude that sustain Empire
are also capable of autonomously constructing a counter-Empire, an
alternative political organisation of global flows and exchange.' ... By
simultaneously redefining globalisation as a form of sovereignty and
recasting the autonomist project in the republican tradition, Hardt and
Negri offer an exceptionally optimistic analysis of the problem: remote as
it may seem, sovereignty is nothing that a few like-minded people cannot
create for themselves... In reply to Machiavelli's observation that the
project of constructing a new society needs arms and money, [Negri and
Hardt] cite Spinoza and ask: 'Don't we already possess them? Don't the
necessary weapons reside precisely within the creative and prophetic power
of the multitude?' No one is powerless; even the old, the sick and the
unemployed are engaged in the 'immaterial labour' that produces 'total
social capital'. Sounding a bit like Ali G, they conclude: 'The poor
itself is power. There is World Poverty, but there is above all World
Possibility, and only the poor is capable of this.'

It is difficult to see how this analysis comprehends the reality of
powerlessness. You may be able to threaten the world with a Stanley knife,
but you cannot build a new society with one. Insofar as the problems of
the powerless have been addressed in recent years it is often through a
dynamic that works in the opposite direction to the one Hardt and Negri
suggest. Their response to globalisation is to maintain that since we have
not contracted into global society, we still have all the power we need to
change it. The alternative is to argue that a geographically boundless
society must also be a totally inclusive society. The latter is an
extension of what used to be called the politics of recognition.
Globalisation may have replaced multiculturalism as the focus of
contemporary political debate, but there is an underlying continuity: the
concern of anti-globalisation protesters with remote regions of the world,
with the lives of people unlike themselves, and with species of animals
and plants that most have seen only on TV is predicated on an unparalleled
imaginative identification with the Other. This totalisation of the
politics of recognition from the local to the global is what has given
momentum to campaigns such as the one for African Aids victims; here, it
is a question of sympathy rather than sovereignty, of justice rather than
power. In many cases, unless the powerful recognised some kinship with
them, the powerless would just die. Capitalism has no need for the
'immaterial labour' of millions now living. For powerless human beings, as
for other species, autonomy leads to extinction.

The conflict at the centre of the movement against global capitalism is
the tension between its libertarian stance and the demand for global
justice. Although Hardt and Negri are pro-globalisation and
anti-capitalism they belong firmly in the libertarian camp. The
'postmodern republicanism' they advocate expresses the 'multitude's desire
for liberation' through 'desertion, exodus and nomadism'.

For [Hannah] Arendt, it was the other sort of revolution, motivated by
compassion rather than the desire for freedom, that led inexorably to
terror and totalitarianism. She may not have been altogether wrong. All
those do-gooders are more dangerous than they look. Even the much-touted
idea of a tax on currency speculation (designed to reduce market
volatility and provide resources for sustainable development) would
require worldwide ideological consensus for its enactment. ... Effective
environmental regulation would restrict the movement, fertility and
consumption patterns of individuals all over the planet. The ideological
alternative to Neoliberalism is, as Neoliberals never tire of saying, some
form of totalitarianism.

But that can only be a reason for people to start thinking about what new
forms of totalitarianism might be possible, and, indeed,desirable. In the
United States, the discussion has been kick-started by the recent
hijackings. Globalisation appears to have created a world of unlimited
risk, without a corresponding totalisation of the means of social control.
... Hardt and Negri have no interest in the control of risk - a world of
unlimited risk is a world of unlimited constituent power - and they
dismiss the totalitarian understanding of society as one in which
'community is not a dynamic collective creation but a primordial founding
myth.' But the debate about social control prompted by the hijackings is
one that others on the Left should hurry to join. ...without yet realising
it, the world's only superpower wants to achieve something that
presupposes greater economic and social justice. Current US policy may be
unacceptable, but the long-term project holds an unexpected promise.

If the 'war against terrorism' is going to be less of a fiasco than the
'war on drugs', it requires global social inclusivity and reciprocity.
Total social control involves a degree of microregulation with which
individuals have to co-operate. One way totalitarian societies have
differed from those that are merely authoritarian is in their provision of
work and healthcare. ... If the US wants to make the world a safer place,
it will eventually have to offer, or force other governments to provide,
the population of the entire world with the means to participate in global

The totalitarian regimes of the 20th century got a bad name less because
of their monopolistic control of everyday life than on account of their
stifling insistence on a maxim of shared values, and their draconian
punishments for nonconformity. They were, in Durkheimian terms, attempts
to create total communities rather than total societies. The US offers a
model for a different type of totalitarianism. Within a total society - a
world of universal anomie populated by the hybridised subjects of mutual
recognition - monopolistic microregulation need not be concerned with
conformity. Of course, a global United States is not a total society, but
total society is rapidly becoming more imaginable than the state of nature
from which political theorising has traditionally started. In this
situation, we need to start thinking in new ways. Negri's version of what
Althusser called 'totality without closure' is a politics without a social
contract, 'a constituent power without limitations'. But in a total
society, it is not the social that needs a contract but the individual -
an anti-social contract that creates individual spaces in a world totally
regulated by meaningless mutuality.

Originally from:

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