Notes on Empire as an Environment

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Institutional Structure of Empire

Empire is the transnational capitalist state; the embodiment of the capital flows that move across the smooth surfaces of the globe, the elite figures whose class cannot truly be locked into a national framework, the subordination of state-function to things outside of itself, and the institutions whose limits exist beyond the lines marked off as borders.

What is the structure of Empire? As a matter of flows that encompass the world, structure would be too straightforward a term: there is no-overarching regulatory body or assemblage of bodies, no transnational super-state to oversee the management of such a complex system. At the same time, however, Empire is not a free-market dream in the truest sense of the word; management paradoxically does exist in limited yet powerful forms. Following Hardt and Negri, Empire is the production of multiple strands of influence and historical processes, each rooted in a variation of utopian dreaming of generations past. One such passage is the ideological exodus from the symbolic orders of domestic states that occurred in the 1960s and 70s, which demanded freedom and autonomy of the Fordist-Keynesian regime of accumulation and the family and factory-based discipline that it inherently engendered. Another passage could be seen in the currents of internationalism, the divisions of the elite whose financial interests existed outside domestic manufacturing bases, usually in the realm of international trade and finance. Manifesting political power through traditional pressure groups, think-tanks and summits, philanthropic foundations and mass social movements such as the United World Federalists, these individuals lobbied extensively for the creation of broad platforms for transnational cooperation and coordination: examples of these would include the failed League of Nations (founded in 1919), the Council on Foreign Relations (founded in 1921), the United Nations (founded in 1945), NATO (founded in 1949), the Trilateral Commission (founded in 1973), and a host of others.

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Humanitarian intervention in Kosovo

The characteristic of so many of these groups, despite their affiliations with global military action or international capital – or, usually, both – is that their aim that of a global equilibrium, a dream of peace. The League of Nations and its successor, the UN, formed directly as a reaction to the horrors wrought on the global people by the world wars; NATO too is aimed to assist in stabilization in zones that could potentially trigger such mass conflicts. The Council on Foreign Relations operates as a mega think-tank and discussion forum where many of these ideas have their genesis, and it continues to make itself one of the most highly-prized advisory organizations in operation today. The Trilateral Commission, likewise, was conceived as a space where transnational elites could assist in coordinating the transition from Fordist-Keynesianism to the global neoliberal form of capitalism. In each, the idea (however faulty it plays out in reality) is that openness and cooperation will establish a smooth peace – yet these peace can only happen through the strategic utilization of intervention, be it economic or militarized, when it comes to the variety of disturbances that could threaten the global order. Organizations like the International Monetary Fund constitute apparatuses of economic intervention, utilizing domestic crises to impose austerity measures on countries and to subsequently open up their markets. Justification for militarized intervention comes from the so-called “responsibility to protect,” a moral calling to defend the global people from authoritarian stateforms and humanitarian crises; the UN and NATO maintain the roles of the primary response agents in these situations. The police functions of domestic states themselves, however, often bridges the gap between military and economic mechanisms of intervention, as they seek to insulate the interests of the top-down transnational order from the bottom-up pressure for autonomy forming at the bottom.

Crackdown on anti-austerity protesters in Spain

Crackdown on anti-austerity protesters in Spain

With this in mind, its worthwhile to draw out a quote from A Thousand Plateaus that works as an excellent foreshadow to the Empire hypothesis:

This worldwide war machine, which in a way “reissuses” from the States, displays two successive figures: first, that of fascism, which makes war an unlimited movement with no other aim than itself; but fascism is only a rough sketch, and the second, postfascist, figure is that of a war machine that takes peace as its object directly, as the peace of Terror or Survival. The war machine reforms a smooth space that now claims to control, to surround the entire earth. The war machine has taken charge of the aim, worldwide order, and the States are now no more than the objects or means adapted to that machine.1

Hardt and Negri visualize this aspect of Empire’s structure as that of a pyramid. At the top they position the United States, given that at time in which work was written (throughout the 90s and published in 2000), the country was in a time of relative ‘stability’ and surplus under Clinton and the dot-com boom. However, with the subsequent War on Terror, financial crises, loss of faith in the governmental mechanisms, and the rise of other countries that could challenge the “sole superpower” claim, we could see that Empire, as an expression of capital flows, is like a snake eating its own tail, deterritorializing itself and reterritorializing in strange and unexpected ways.

Below the United States they place the series of nation-states that hold the dominant world economic power, and the institutions that they operate and coordinate through – G7, Davos, etc. Military and cultural power, they tell us, comes from these same zones. Again, however, we could perhaps challenge the cultural superiority of these nations when it comes to culture, particularly when we can consider the rise of aesthetic and musical forms like ‘global ghettotech’ and other expressions of subaltern existence that are rapidly trickling upwards (see my post, Super Hybridity for more on this). Continuing on, they position beneath this the actual flows generated by the actions of transnational capitalist corporations: “networks of capital flows, technology flows, population flows, and the like.”2 On this particular plane we also find the nation-states whose political power exists as a generalized servitude to the same corporations producing the transnational flows; as a mediator between the domestic people and the global plane, we can find here traces of Foucault’s disciplinary society even as the passage towards the control society continues unabated.

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Representations of the Multitude: UN General Assembly

At the bottom of the pyramid is the global people, the multitude itself. Unable to “be incorporated directly into the structures of global power,”3 the global people find themselves positioned indirectly into Empire through a variety of regimes of representation. These mechanisms of representation run the gamut of Empire’s hierarchy, be it through the representative forms of governance present in liberal stateform, or through these government’s own representation in the United Nations General Assembly. Representation is also mediated through the contagious virology of the media, with events and actors capable of being dispersed rapidly throughout the entirety of the transnational network. Adjacent to both the media spectrum and the vertical/horizontal intersections of representational power are NGOs, performing the important roles of drawing attention to humanitarian crises (often in preparation for ‘peaceful’ militarized intervention), alleviating poverty or other systemic crises, and acting as mediators between the power lines of Empire and the global civil society produced by the transnational multitude.

There a multiple problems with the pyramidal visualization of Empire. For starters, as addressed above, it may very well have been an accurate model based on the time and place in which Hardt and Negri first drafted their work; subsequent transformations through both crises, their ongoing reverberations, and increasing complexity and competition have shaken this structure, even if this paradigm is true to the structure’s internal workings. Second, Hardt and Negri reiterate the Deleuzeguattarian emphasis on the flows themselves – Empire is not solidity, it is a process, and the model must make this point clear. An alternative form, better equipped for an age in which corporate power is surpassing even the superpower of nation-states, comes from a visualization given in Graeme Chesters and Ian Walsh’s Complexity and Social Movements: Multitudes at the Edge of Chaos.4 Instead of positioning the United States as the narrow summit of global power, they speak of Empire’s “supra state institutional nexus” itself, composed of the various factions of the transnational capitalist class5 that operate through three generalized spheres: security, finance and development, and governance.

Each sphere operates through a series of elite-dominated institutions: under security, we can find organizations such as the UN, NATO, and regulatory bodies such as the IAEA. For finance and development we find the traditional vanguards of neoliberal theory, the economic interventionists of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and again, the UN. Governance, on the other hand, is not the representative power of the nation-state, but the dual power roles of the multinational corporation (MNC), which is situated in a single country with extensive operations outside of their home base, and the transnational corporation (TNC), which distributes its operations across a variety of countries without a domestic country in which it identifies itself with.

Beneath this exists the national elite factions, with the activities of the nation-states that they exist within subordinated to their power. Again, security and finance reproduce themselves here, with the notion of corporate governance shifting to domestic political power. Security on the national level operates through first the chiefs of staff, with the intelligence and armed forces operating under their gaze. Finance’s domestic power splits itself between two entities, capital and finance. Capital operates through businesses and the organizations that spring from domestic inter-capitalist interaction, while finance is reflected in merchant banks and stock markets. The political arena, by contrast, is the usual realm of ‘democratic’ representation: presidents and prime ministers, cabinets, congresses and parliaments, and civil services.

Continuing the downward trajectory, we reach regional and local forms of government, and the institutions that correspond directly to Hardt and Negri’s bottom rung of the pyramid: professional associations, trade unions, NGOs, media and social media, and the citizenry (forming domestic aspects of the global multitude) itself. Finally, at the bottom is everyday life; awash in both the transnational civil society and the intersecting lines of power that operate above it, we can visualize how this all operates not as structure but as ongoing process. Empire, and the institutional interfaces that its flows move through, is nothing more than the frame of everyday life itself – or more properly, the limits imposed, despite the utopian air it maintains, on the actions of an allegedly autonomous citizenry. These institutions may operate on macro-levels, but their primary focus and impact exists squarely in the domain of the micropolitical.

Empire and Environment: the 3 Regulators


“Imperial control,” writes Hardt and Negri, “operates through three global and absolute means: the bomb, money, and ether.”6 The Bomb, in their work, refers specifically to the atomic bomb, yet by this point could be expanded to include the variety of cybernetic smart bombs and drone technology deployed across the globe; for the time being, however, we’ll focus on just the atomic bomb and the legacy of the Cold War on the political and cultural landscape. Money is the flows that compose the market place, but Ether is the manner through which production that establishes these flows is conducted. Unlike the Fordist regime, where labor was real and material and directly correlated with notions of community-life, post-Fordism disperses the means of production into technologically-enhanced networks. “Cognitive capitalism” sees a shift towards immaterial labor in the dominant countries of the world with the material labor pushed to the margins; the networks are held together by a complex web of communicative technologies, horizontally organized corporate structures, offshoring, outsourcing, just-in-time production, and the replacement of workers by machines. This immaterialization is complimented by the rise of equally communicative “affective labor,” or “labor in the bodily mode”:7 physical and mental healthcare, entertainment, etc.

What is important to note about the category of the Bomb is not necessarily the physical aspects of the weapon itself, but the cold implications that emerge from it – Mutually Assured Destruction, a concept that would forever rework geopolitical organization across the globe. Atomic bombs are stockpiled in the dominant countries; when countries existing lower in the Imperial hierarchy or on the outright margins (Iran, for example), search for the means to produce the Bomb, the militarized apparatuses of intervention launch into position, with the role of the media frequently captured as a platform for the spectacle of propaganda. Irrevocably altered too is the nature of warfare itself. No longer will we see large, international conflicts as we have seen in the past; the Bomb’s ability as a silent police agent has shifted the focus of warfare to limited or regional conflicts, economic warfare (sanctions), proxy warfare – permanent forms of war that are easily adaptable to the network-structure of Empire itself, and are often utilized to advance power’s own interests. Thus, we can see how the atmosphere created by the Bomb can be indelibly linked to monetary power and the way in which Money and its flows are organized in terms of distribution across the globe. The Bomb is also relevant directly to the historic establishment of the Ether: it was the need for networked forms of communication, impervious to impacts on centralized structure in the event of an attack, that drove the portions of cybernetic research that produced the internet.

The Bomb has reshaped the contours of our everyday life; it has set the precedents and parameters for the architecture and geographical environment that we disperse ourselves within. Today, towns, cities, and larger metropolises – the decentralized hubs of commerce, population, and culture – are linked through the interconnected network of highway structures; these lines frame everyday existence, acting as symbolic dividers between regions of urbanity, and they are frequently the signposts for how we coordinate our daily travels. Furthermore, they help enable trade-able goods to flow across the landscape in a quick and smooth manner. At their onset, the official name of the American highway system was the National System of Interstate and Highway System – according to an issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists from the early 1950s, systems like the highway were necessary to avoid high population density in urban centers, thus rendering the event of an atomic attack less devastating than it could be.8 Through the highway and the fear of the Bomb, the city needed not be visioned as a vertical structure, like the dreams of utopian high modernists like Le Corbusier, but as a horizontal sprawl linked through networks. Thus the phenomena of suburbanization was born in the shadow of the Cold War, and with it came the flight of the middle class from the urban center: the entire financial and laborous landscape of America, reworked with all of the political implications shining forth.

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It is no mistake the internet is often rendered in terms that invoke the highway system: both were born from the Cold War and the Bomb, and each were preludes to the global shift to network form that is the hallmark of postmodernization. If the highway system helps shape the geographical and social landscapes of everyday life, then Ether, the environment radiating from the internet and its corollary information technologies, is doing the same. Under the new cognitive and information driven economy, where material labor jobs flow across the withered national border, the suburbans are now facing the same issues of escalating poverty that confronted the urban in the face of middle class flight. When the housing crisis struck, the suburban class bore much of the brunt of the destruction – from Los Angeles to Detroit, entire neighborhoods have disappeared, left as little more than ghost towns in the face of capital’s unapologetic flows. We’re starting to see a transition back to the city, but it will not be the centralized and vertical city of yesterday. Instead, it will be the full integration of digital infrastructure throughout the sprawl, the rise of technologically enhanced megacities built on the so-called ease of mobility and tailor-made for the fast-paced demands of post-Fordist capitalism. (For the relationship between this turn and the surveillance culture, particularly in the light of the Snowden revelations, see my post Urban Drifting)



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Just as the geophysical landscape is reworked by the Ether, so too is the psychical landscape. Brian Holmes has written of the “flexible personality,” a situation in which the advertising and other corporate firms, so dominant in the economy, have adapted to the 60s counterculture’s revolt against institutional hierarchy.9 Cognitive capitalism, in Deleuze’s early and timely analysis, is the Society of Control; at the same time, paradoxically, it requires above all things the positioning of human creativity as its adaptable center. In the 1980s we saw the privatization of the arts market, fueled by the newly minted class representing transnational capital interests, and in the 1990s it was the cannibalization of creative energies by the dotcom industry. Today, art students are funneled into advertising industries and other adjacent ‘flexible’ modes of labor. Yet this is not limited to the arts alone: management, programming, and all other forms of communicative labor depend entirely on the individual to tap into his or her creative energies, their desiring-flows, as the motor of the new economy. Despite the new mobile and nomadic sensibilities explicit in this kind of work, establishing it as a kind of horizontally-conducted labor, important vertical bureaucratic functions are retained. This management of flexible labor, which in turns conditions life outside labor time to rework itself to meet its demands, constitutes for Holmes a new type of postmodern alienation. It is an “alienation from political society, which in the democratic sense is not a profitable affair and cannot be endlessly recycled into the production of images and emotions. This new configuration of the flexible personality is a new form of social control…”10

The subjectivity built on flexibility for the immaterial labor force is matched by an equally amorphous subjectivity in the realm of consumption. This subjectivity, Jonah Peretti argues, is not so much one that is flexible, but is one that is schizophrenic in the clinical sense of the word. Drawing on Lacan and Frederic Jameson to argue that one of the hallmarks of the schizophrenic condition is the inability to comprehend a sense of continuity in time, he sees the cultural cartography of digital postmodernism as a nonspace where the individual’s “sense of temporal continuity” has grown stagnant.11 He bolsters this allegation by drawing, in a somewhat contradictory manner (yet entirely in keeping with the postmodern discourse he is attempting), on Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. For them, capitalism and the process described by the mental health profession as schizophrenia follows identical trajectories: both are a matter of decoding flows, unlocking them from the symbolic order which has appropriated and overcoded them for their own means. Capitalism is always cutting at what has fostered it; likewise, the schizophrenic is always trying to break away from the despotic social that attempts to assign his or body some role or affix them to a subjective grid. “Yet,” they tell us, “it would be a serious error to consider the capitalist flows and schizophrenic flows as identical… Our society produces schizos the same ways it produces Prell shampoo or Ford cars, the only difference being that the schizos are not salable.”12

Peretti returns to the Lacanian mirror stage to further draw out the implications of this for the new economy. The mirror stage, the theoretical site of the production of the ego, occurs when the infant, up to this point inhabiting an affective and quasi-schizophrenic pre-subjectivity, develops an understanding of his or her body as a unified form. This marks images (53)the beginnings of the entry into the symbolic, the linguistic order that will ultimately shape and direct the individual’s understanding of the self and its possibilities and limitations. In contemporary capitalism, we too are perpetually confronted with returns to the mirror stage: at the movies, in fashion magazines, in music, in the whole terrain of pop culture, we are given forms and essences with which to identify ourselves. Today, there is a profound sense of a heterogeneous market; “individuality” is not something to be conformed to on a mass level but instead something to be experienced as a play of differences. Experiment! the new economy demands of us. But here too even, the preformed experimental individualities given to us by the advertising companies, drawing on the creative energies of their cognitive workers, are presented as ideal forms to strive towards. These forms are transmitted to us through the ‘flickering’ of the media apparatuses, made possible on a mass scale and even accelerated by the Ether, establishing micro-continuities that exist only so long as they project it will take for the capital-accumulating effects to set it. For these flashes of time, we identify our body with the idealized form that we can never become, for it is not a human body but a representation of the body reworked and enhanced through digital technologies; we lose ourselves in a quest for the new identity, and this loss and act of regaining (through consumption in the monopolistic marketplace) must occur through the ever-increasing acceleration of images. Thus, “consumer capitalism needs subjects who continually reenact the infantile drama of mirror stage identifications. These subjects must oscillate quickly between schizophrenic consciousness and idealized ego formations.”13

In post-Fordist control, this abstracted psychical landscape and the networked and precarious physical landscape are wielded together in a unified yet disparate cartography. Hardt and Negri argue that the Imperial terrain operates its lines of controls through biopower, or the establishment of power atop the very mechanisms that constitute life itself. Time, language and communication, creativity, interpersonal relationships – these were the methods of struggle that drove the 60s counterculture into the exodus from the Fordist-Keynesian capital-state regime. At that time, power was disciplinary; it positioned itself top-down through the interlocking roles of “orange juice” (welfare) and “Agent Orange” (warfare).14 Now, biopower is horizontal – even if there exists the myriad of vertical structures that build Empire’s transnational hierarchy, as described in the first half of these notes – it is in the realm of the micropolitical, the everday life, that Empire’s impact is both most readily and subtly established and measured. Imperial biopower is a question of life: the Bomb makes life toil under the implications of the threat of annihilation; Money makes all other aspects of life a matter of survival. Ether marks the passage of life through time, and the way that life actualizes itself in terms of subjectivity.

Steve Shaviro wrote that “Postmodernity isn’t just an option or style or particular stance. It is the very air we breathe, the viscous substance of our internal organs.”15 We cannot qualify Empire, the structures of transnational capital and its governing institutions, in terms of the physical entities that inhabit it, but as these structures as well as the atmosphere that it generates. It is the whole (the globe itself) that is also a many (the multitude and the iron cage of capture that it exists within); the Society of Control is an environment.


1Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia University of Minnesota Press, 1987, pg. 421

2Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, pg. 310

3Ibid, pg. 311

4Graeme Chesters and Ian Walsh Complexity and Social Movements: Multitudes at the Edge of Chaos Routledge, 2006, pg. 153

5Chesters and Walsh deploy the term “global elites,” but I prefer the transnational capitalist class (TCC) theorized by William I. Robinson, which he describes as the “owners and managers of the TNCs” and the “transnational managerial elite.” William I. Robinson “Global Capitalism Theory and the Emergence of Transnational Elites” Critical Sociology, vol. 38, no. 3, May 2012, pgs. 349-363

6Hardt and Negri Empire, pg. 346

7Ibid., pg. 293

8Oliver Gillham The Limitless City: A Primer on the Urban Sprawl Debate Island Press, 2002, pg. 35

9Brian Holmes “The Flexible Personality: For a New Cultural Critique” European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, January, 2002,


11Jonah Peretti “Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Contemporary Visual Culture and the Acceleration of Identity Formation/Dissolution” Negations

12Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Penguin, 1977, pg. 245

13Peretti “Capitalism and Schizophrenia”

14Bruce Robbins “Orange Juice and Agent Orange” Occasion Vol. 2, December 2nd, 2010 (thanks to dmf for alerting me to this interesting discourse!)

15Steve Shaviro Doom Patrols: A Theoretical Fiction about Postmodernism Serpent’s Tail, 1996

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11 Responses to Notes on Empire as an Environment

  1. kai says:

    Thanks for this excellent post. I had totally forgotten about that later section of empire and the strange pyramidal structure, and will have to check out Chester and Walsh.
    I wonder – I’ve always attributed Empire as environment as one of Tiqqun’s unique refrains (they say it all over, even in the post tiqqun works like the talk excerpted in the Anarchist International, but what I have next to me is Intro to Civil War, #66, pp171. for Tiqqun, environment/milieu has at times a more post-heideggerian inflection…). anyway, IIRC you have posted about Tiqqun in the past, no? just wondering if I am misattributing this and it arises more generally out of (post)autonomism, from somewhere in negri, or from somewhere else.

    (of course, as you point out, D&G’s work on milieu is pretty much there, but they are not of course inventors of the concept of Empire)

    • edmundberger says:

      Hi Kai,

      You’re right that the analysis “Empire as an environment” is one of the signatures of Tiqqun, but to fully attribute it to them can be a little messy. They could have very well been the first to actually deploy the phraseology, but to me it seems like its always existing between the lines of post-autonomist thought (that to the best of my knowledge rarely connect with Tiqqun) – Bifo et. al.’s emphasis on contemporary capitalism as a semiocapitalism that engages with the participant’s dynamics of self, Holmes’ work on the appropriation of the countercultural object of nomadic freedom, etc. Of course, we can’t say that all post-autonomist thought follows the footsteps of Negri and Hardt, but the core of the Empire hypothesis is easily interchangeable with these various approaches. I think the roots stretch back to Deleuze and Guattari: for the most part, the embryo of so many of their ideas are present in ATP. Also pivotal is Deleuze’s essay on the Control Society, with its direct relevancy of how power’s operations slid form the macro and the micro thanks the rise of network form and information technology. Tiqqun of course deserves very special credit for the work that they have done in bringing together various threads and even advancing them forward; sadly, my reading of them to this has been pretty recent and not very extensive. (I have indeed, however, touched on them in past posts, particularly “The Cybernetic Hypothesis”)

      I’m pretty surprised that Negri and Hardt never came to the equation themselves (if they did indeed render Empire an environment, someone let me know!). Their brief discussion of Bomb, Money, and Ether is an excellent entry point to this terrain, but they somewhat paradoxically insist the page prior to this that “The guarantee that Empire offers to globalized capital does not involve a micropolitical and/or microadministrative managment of populations.” (pg. 344) Instead, they position Empire as “the general equilibria of the global system” – I would argue to the opposite, and maintain that this general equilibria requires a soft control system that works through micropolitcs, be it on the global, local, or individual level. This is one of the many instances that the first work of their trilogy exhibits a kind of political naivete and a rigidity of thought. At the same time, as I point on in the post above, much of this has to be attribute to the historical circumstances during which Empire was written – they too acknowledge this and ask us to situate the hypothesis in this time: pre-9/11, pre-burst of the dotcom bubble, pre-financial crisis, pre-Bush, etc. Hence the oudated nature of their pyramid model. Writing in the 90s, the thing they call Empire was still in the upswing, with the general confidence in liberal governing leadership and the acceleration of California Ideology capitalism through the growth of internet industries. Capital and the state was still in the process of reterritorializing the energies, if you will, of the countercultural exodus of previous generations; Negri and Hardt had yet to see how the system would soon be deterritorializing itself. There is no indication to the full implications of the very thing they were writing about!

      I dunno if this novel of a reply helps answer your question or not, but without a doubt we all need to keep in mind what kinds of mutations and transformations in “Empire” exist just around the corner!

      • kai says:

        thanks for the response! very helpful.
        It seems to me that H&N sometimes view Empire as a subject or a system of consistency that has multitude as its negation (especially in Empire, less so by Commonwealth..). But then again, I haven’t seen much discussion of ether in any secondary lit – so maybe it’s just been ignored. Ultimately the production of subjectivity SHOULD be about empire-as-environment, so H&N are at least partway there.

        The other place I just remembered this formulation coming out is in Foucault’s Birth of Biopolitics lectures, where he pinpoints it as a central feature in the transition between liberalism (takes the subject as its object) and neoliberalism (takes the environment as its object, creating the conditions for free subjectivity). Or something like that.

  2. Brian Holmes says:

    I love the format of “notes” where you just walk us through what seems to be a few days focused reading. Brilliant stuff and I always find something new to me. Let me continue with a couple things.
    –What’s called Empire seems basically to be the global market, its agents and its functionaries. Both Leslie Sklair and William Robinson have done a lot to help us understand it, via their concepts of the Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC). They fill in some more detailed sociology where Hardt and Negri leave off with theory.
    –The difficulty, though, is theorizing the global market society along with the persistence of nations. One important point that someone like Jacques Bidet brings out is that without structural inequalities – based both on national champions in industry and on national war machines – there would be no competitive tension and capitalism would just fade away into a pacified empire. The military-industrial complexes remain terribly national. The attempts to generate some kind of democracy also depend on the national scale. Harvey in The New Imperialism distinguishes between the territorial container – expressing the needs of social reproduction – and the global market. But that’s too clear-cut. Crucial capitalist sectors – arms, oil, engineering – depend simultaneously on the global market and on war for their continued profits. H&N hoped that the kind of coalition displayed in the first Gulf War would lead to the contradiction of imperial peace, in which some new activist potentials could be expressed. But along came 9-11 and the dual structure – Nations plus Empire – reasserted itself.
    –Finally, thinking environmentally is classic cybernetics: picture a machine in an environment, with feedback on its own actions via their effects on that environment. One way of managing this relation is to have the machine change the environment: shoot all the baddies down, for instance. But another way of managing it is to say: the proper environment, generating the proper kind of feedback, will simplify all its inhabitants and render them more predictable. There’s your control society. Maybe it’s because this thought is hard to think (demands so much paranoia) that the consciousness of the cybernated world comes in bursts: strong ones in the lates sixties and early seventies, then it recedes, then new strong bursts from 2001 onwards. In between those two great bursts, people used cybernetics itself to generate a paradoxical feeling of authenticity aka autonomy: Maturana and Varela’s autopoiesis is the most significant example. Now we feel weaker in relation to the environment. Tiqqun is the very style of this paranoia. The question is how to take the determinate nature of the environment seriously and not end up seeking apocalyptic exits?

    • edmundberger says:

      Hi Brian, thanks for the kind words! I find this manner of posting my notes from readings as the optimal way to digest everything, and think it through fully. I’m glad that others gleam things from it as well.

      As you point out, the base functions of Empire is the transnational market, and Hardt and Negri’s argument is bolstered by the sociological research done by Sklair and Robinson. To my knowledge, Sklair and Robinson have never really dealt with the Empire hypothesis, nor have Negri and Hardt made reference to them – but so often when reading “Empire” or the follow-ups, I find myself really wishing that Hardt and Negri would delve into the complexity of the sociological aspects of what they’re writing about. There are early passages in Empire, in particular, that discuss the integration Third World countries into globalization/Empire following successful left-wing revolts; Robinson has done extensive work on just this topic in his “Promoting Polyarchy,” which examines the US’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as a sort of neoliberal vanguard. The NED itself is interesting in this capacity, as it evolved in part from left-wing socialist currents emerging from the 1960s counterculture and civil rights movements (I put up a couple of posts recently about this, which came from a rough draft on an aborted piece on the NED, but I digress…) Things like this would help shed light on their discussions of Empire’s utilization of the global civil society as a control mechanism.

      You write that the “difficulty, though, is theorizing the global market society along with the persistence of nations.” I agree, as it seems that for all the rhetoric of the decline of the nations-state in globalization, there is in actuality a reemergence of the nation-state, albeit one whose functions have been altered in accordance with the market’s transition. But as you point out, 9/11 and the supremacy of the military-industrial complex alters this picture and points to a much higher function of the state than previously assumed. Hardt and Negri’s description of international police action in “Empire” is pretty spot on, in my opinion, but in “Multitude” (I think) they take criticism of people who point to the military-industrial complex as a driver of the current conflict.This is a terrible misstep, both from historical perspective and also for the validity of the form of their theory. We do need, however, to look at how the role of the military-industrial complex has shifted from Bush to Obama: has it still continued unabated as in the neoconservative mode, or have we transitioned back into the international police action and military-backed democracy promotion that was characteristic of the Clinton years? The rhetoric has changed, certainly, but what of the mechanics of the system itself? (Although I should mention that its clear that the surveillance-industrial complex is now something that deserves central scrutiny, though this has been known for quite some time)

      “…thinking environmentally is classic cybernetics: picture a machine in an environment, with feedback on its own actions via their effects on that environment.” I’ve been wondering if it would be too much of a leap to look at Hardt and Negri’s categories of Bomb, Money, and Ether from the vantage point of cybernetics. When considering Empire as an environment, I like to use this three little mentioned resonances as the best visualizer: keys on a map, if you will, due to their alterations of social/political/economic/etc dynamics and its subsequent impact on the subjective level. At the same time, all three are essentially related, in a historical sense and/or in a real world applicability, to cybernetics research: 1) the birth of cybernetics, in large part, from Bomb research, 2) the utilization of cybernetic technology in reworking both the management of Money and the way it operates, and 3) the central importance of cybernetics to the workings of Ether, the productive logic of post-Fordism. What do you think?

      I like your comments about the paranoia that comes with the cybernetically-enhanced control society. The discourse of Bomb, Money, and Ether doesn’t really touch on the role of surveillance, and Hardt and Negri in general, while using the term “Control Society” as times, don’t really touch on the relationship between surveillance and Empire. I can understand the prevalence of paranoia, though! Its near impossible not to feel weak in the relation to our environment, especially in light of the Snowden’s revelations on the NSA. I know so many people who, despite not being politically engaged in any major way, feel the sense of urgency and crisis that seems to be gliding over the landscape more and more. Is it a Control Society that live in, or have we slid across into a Crisis Society?

  3. Brian Holmes says:

    Your comments on NED are really interesting, I’m going to look for Robinson’s text. Now, is that Empire we’re talking about? People in Latin America would say, “Of course, it’s the US, the Empire.” They are right, and this is what makes the whole Empire discourse tough to make sense of.

    On the one hand, the US has been pursuing an imperial role since WWII. It is centrally commanded, and it aims at global security in the service of market expansion and resource grabs. BUT it is a liberal free-trading system, which continually tries to legitimate itself in the same way that the British free-trade system did: rule of law, “fair play,” global monetary order, and for the US, free elections, higher education, professionalization, hi-tech research and production as a norm, etc. The short version of what I think about it is here:

    So you say: “We do need, however, to look at how the role of the military-industrial complex has shifted from Bush to Obama: has it still continued unabated as in the neoconservative mode, or have we transitioned back into the international police action and military-backed democracy promotion that was characteristic of the Clinton years?” Well, these sorts of shifts are entirely characteristic of US politics since the later Roosevelt years, yet they are never exactly the same, there is no going back. Clinton/Blair was probably the last high point of a legitimacy discourse; Obama in my view is shifting toward a more Chinese-type regime. But, for sure, he does not want to launch another big war, there are no finances for it, it’s counter-productive, etc.

    Still with all that, Empire, the book, is extremely suggestive and I always return to it for that reason. What has happened, as far as I can make out, is on the one hand a vast expansion of the world market, and with it, a tremendous toolkit of concepts and practices intimately associated with the US legitimating thrust that was expressed so powerfully and brilliantly by Roosevelt and has been institutionalized ever since. So beyond the centrality of US imperialism there are global norms, all kinds of them. I think they were studied pretty successfully in the late 90s by David Held and his collaborators, who naturally enough associated them with a global legitimating discourse or “cosmopolitics.” The cosmopolitics doesn’t work; the global standards do. So, global standards of interoperability and a Transnational Capitalist Class hailing from just about everywhere produce something very much like what Toni and Michael described as Empire.

    As for the Bomb: you know, they intially DID describe it as the source and attribute of sovereignty, which is pretty realistic. I think your reflection on the links between the history of cybernetics and the Bomb, Money and Ether is just perfect. The last two are both emanations of second-order, ie self-reflexive cybernetics; they emerged together from the 70s onward and they have defined the period that I call Neoliberal Informationalism. Between them they have very much transformed US imperial centrality, once again in the directions decribed by Empire. The Obama administration’s current struggles are mostly about Money and Ether; both are huge threats to American sovereignty. How those struggles are resolved will probably define the next epoch of global history.

    In my view, btw, neoliberalism has always been a set of crisis-management strategies, ever since Nixon went off the Gold Standard in 1971. And the broad set of practices that we call the Control Society, both commercial/seductive and security-oriented/repressive, have gradually taken shape in order to manage the permanent socio-political crisis that emerged after 1968. What we used to imagine as a crisis can only happen when these crisis-management strategies don’t work, or when something new develops alongside and in spite of their continued functioning. The latter actually seems more likely.

  4. Pingback: Between the Transnational Capitalist Class and Global Civil Society: The Structures of Imperial Protocol | Deterritorial Investigations Unit

  5. Pingback: Empire, Biopower, Spectacle: Notes on Tiqqun | Deterritorial Investigations Unit

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