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A prophetic and utopian concept which attempts to theorize in philosophical terms the nature of the new paradigm of power and right that emerged alongside globalization in the latter half of the 20th century. Conceived by Italian Marxist Antonio Negri and American Marxist Michael Hardt in their bestselling book Empire (2000), Empire is in effect a new form of sovereignty, which is at once a brutal new power-regime bathed in blood and a new set of possibilities for liberation. Hardt and Negri claim that the sovereign authority of nation-states has declined absolutely in the post World War II era. Taking its place is a new logic of rule or governmentality, Empire, which yokes together multinational corporations and supranational organizations (e.g. the International Monetary Fund) to produce not only a new form of subjectivity, but also a new form of value as well. Proof of its existence, they say, is to be found in the fact that no nation, not even the USA, is capable by itself of controlling the whole world in all its facets. Similarly, the fact that all nations are at the mercy of global trends in finance capital (as the sub-prime loan meltdown in 2007 made apparent) is symptomatic of their relative lack of authority in the postmodern world. In contrast to the nation-state model of sovereignty, Empire is a decentred and deterritorialized apparatus of rule, which has no history, no fixed centre and no boundary lines demarcating its territory. Contra Lyotard, it endlessly espouses a master narrative in which it presents itself as universal and all-inclusive, as having always been there and encompassing the entire world right down to its ganglia. The acknowledged inspirations for the concept of Empire are Foucault's notion of biopower and Deleuze and Guattari's concept of desiring-production, but Hardt and Negri tax Foucault with failing to grasp biopower's true dynamism and Deleuze and Guattari with spoiling their concept by rendering power too chaotic. Although it appears bleak in that it is a form of power that, as Foucault argued with respect to biopower, is interested in populations rather than people, Empire has its affirmative dimensions too. Its modification of sovereignty has created a new political constituency, which Hardt and Negri refer to as the multitude, which in their view is destined to invent new forms of democracy that will take us beyond Empire's uninviting landscape toward a more hopeful and egalitarian space. Empire has provoked fierce debate. The Right dismiss it out of hand as fanciful, while the Left demand more rigour in its empirical analyses.

Further Reading:

G. Balakrishnan (ed.)Debating Empire (2003).A. Boron Empire and Imperialism: A Critical Reading of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2005).M. Hardt and A. Negri Empire (2000).M. Hardt and A. Negri Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (2004).A. Negri Empire and Beyond (2008).P. Passavant and J. Dean The Empire's New Clothes: Reading Hardt and Negri (2003).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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