The Magazine

The Imperial Left

Why American academics love Hardt and Negri's "Empire."

Nov 12, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 09 • By FRED SIEGEL and JIM CHAPIN
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So, for example, one benefit of globalization is that it makes a worldwide anti-globalization movement possible. Asked about the violence during the World Trade Organization meetings in Genoa this past summer, Hardt responded, in an echo of Mussolini, that "all politics is violence."

Or, for an even better example, modern globalizing capitalism's attempt to penetrate the Islamic countries is precisely what allows Islamic radicalism to turn around and strike at the rest of the world in a welcome part of the coming revolution. In their second genuine insight, Hardt and Negri note that Islamism is not traditional Islam but a new ideology--not a premodern religion but a postmodern desire, like that of America's academic irrationalists, to escape modernity in all its forms. "Insofar as the Iranian revolution was a powerful rejection of the world market, we might think of it as the first postmodern revolution."

The closing paragraph of "Empire"--printed again entirely in italics--begins with a paean to St. Francis of Assisi as a man whose devotion to poverty "illustrates the future life of Communist militancy, . . . a joyous life, including all of being and nature, the animals, sister moon, brother sun, the birds of the field, the poor and exploited humans." Perhaps it is appropriate that the book closes as incoherently and as pretentiously as it began, with Negri, the unrepentant theorist of terror, explaining that the coming revolution will bring together "love, simplicity, and also innocence. This is the irrepressible lightness and joy of being Communist."

THE ORIGINAL APPEAL of "Empire" was that it used a grab bag of Marxist, fascist, democratic, and even Christian ideas both to justify the academic left and to connect it to an anti-globalist movement which seemed to be the major assault on the triumphant liberal capitalism of the last decade. Unfortunately, the book now exists in a world--after September 11--in which the greatest blows against that system have been struck by people who would cheerfully kill not only ordinary, bourgeois Americans, but the authors, anti-global demonstrators, and St. Francis of Assisi as well. What seemed, to many academic leftists this spring, a route out of the swamp of political futility has proved, this fall, to lead back into the same mire--and it has left them dirtier in the process.

Fred Siegel is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and a professor at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. Jim Chapin is a columnist for UPI.

November 12, 2001 - Volume 7, Number 9