Michael Hardt - The Collaborator and the Multitude
Michael Hardt, Caleb Smith, and Enrico Minardi. "The Collaborator and the Multitude: An Interview with Michael Hardt." The Minnesota Review. no. 61-62. 2004.
The Collaborator and the Multitude: An Interview with Michael Hardt
A major event in political and critical theory, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire (Harvard, 2000) turned orthodox thinking about imperialism around, proposing a decentered global network and redescribing capital, in the poststructuralist terms of Deleuze and Guattari, as a dynamic pattern of breaks and flows. The book is one fruit of the continuing collaboration of Hardt, a literature professor at Duke, and Negri, an Italian radical theorist; previously they co-authored Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of the State Form (Minnesota, 1994) and most recently they have written Multitude (Penguin, 2004), which develops a concept of cooperative resistance to the reimagined global order as an alternative to the idea of national liberation.
Before joining the faculty at Duke, Michael Hardt did his graduate work at the University of Washington. He is also the author of Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy (Minnesota, 1993) and numerous pieces of political journalism and criticism. In addition, he has translated Negri’s The Savage Anomaly (Minnesota, 1991) and coedited Radical Thought in Italy (with Paolo Virno; Minnesota, 1996) and The Jameson Reader (with Kathi Weeks; Blackwell, 2000). Relevant to this interview, see also Michael Hardt's essay "Prison Time" in the Yale Review 91 (1997): 64-79. This interview took place on 5 March 2004 in Hardt’s office at Duke. It was conducted by Caleb Smith, a doctoral student in English at Duke, and Enrico Minardi, a lecturer in Romance Studies.
Caleb Smith: Most people will know you as Antonio Negri's collaborator in the authorship of Empire. Your new project, again with Negri, grows out of that book and the promises made in its final chapters. Did you have the sense from the beginning that Empire was unfinished?
Michael Hardt: The project of writing Empire always seemed too large for us. We joked that the book was about everything. Obviously it couldn't do justice to all the topics it raised. What remained particularly pressing for us after finishing Empire was the proposition of an alternative. We felt reasonably satisfied with our description of the tendency of a new global order, but realized that the descriptions of the subject or form of an alternative remained at a poetic level. It's almost posed as hypothesis. That was the first thing we wanted to pursue.
Caleb Smith: How does Multitude move toward the completion of that project?
Michael Hardt: Well, insofar as Empire is oriented toward the structures of power, Multitude tries to talk about the possibilities of resistance. It has two general axes. One is a question about what democracy is today and what democracy could be in a global world, a genealogy of what democracy could mean in a space beyond the national space. But we quickly realized—and this is quite normal—that all of this political theorizing about democracy remains wishful thinking unless there's a subject that can fill it. For us, economic analysis, class analysis, analysis of the forms of labor and new forms of cooperation—those are what give the possibility to new notions of democracy. Those are the two future-oriented lines of the book. What other political forms could democracy take in a global world? Why is it possible today that we can fulfill them?
I like these kind of arguments, where it seems that democracy is no longer possible, but in fact democracy is today for the very first time possible. That's more or less the project. There had to be, unfortunately because of events, a long analysis of war, how war has changed, etc. One couldn't really deal with those other questions without dealing with war. But war is an obstacle, not an object, of the book.
Caleb Smith: Multitude is your name for what you just called a new subject of democracy. To me, the connections between this idea of a mobile collectivity and your early work with Deleuze are striking. Do you feel, more than most theorists, that you've pursued a continuous line of inquiry? Or that a single set of concepts has proved especially durable?
Michael Hardt: It might be true. It would be ironic because I've thought of myself as very disconnected in projects, but maybe one doesn't recognize the continuity of one's own thoughts. With some great thinkers around here, like Fred Jameson, it's very clear that he's got one framework. Books treat different aspects of it or different texts with regard to it, but he moves within it consistently. I had thought of myself as completely different from that, moving in different disciplines, addressing different kinds of problems, but maybe I don't recognize my own continuities.
Caleb Smith: Would it be fair to say that what you called the poetics of the multitude is a Deleuzian poetics?
Michael Hardt: It is. I think the concept of the multitude as it's being developed now—and by the way, I love the way concepts are sometimes developed collectively by a group of people, in their own ways and even in different directions, and several people I know are writing books and developing the concept of the multitude—all of us are drawing heavily from Deleuzian concepts. At the most basic level, when one thinks that Deleuze's philosophy has a politics, one can call it a non-liberal pluralism. It's non-liberal in the sense that it's a democratic pluralism.
Caleb Smith: There's a relation between that collaborative intellectual work and the very concept you're describing, of non-liberal pluralism and collectivity. I want to ask you more about that, but maybe thinking about Deleuze is an occasion for you to tell us about your own development. Enrico wants to ask you about devenir-philosophe [how you became a philosopher].
Enrico Minardi: Around here, you're a kind of myth, because you were not always a philosopher. You started out as an engineer.
Michael Hardt: My undergraduate degree is in Engineering, yeah.
Enrico Minardi: How did you get from there to philosophy? I heard somewhere that you were working in South America, and randomly you found one of Toni Negri's books, and you said, Wow! and left your job. That's the mythic version.
Michael Hardt: I'm not really sure about motivations anymore, but there's a certain narrative I've convinced myself of. It seems more or less true to me. I had a desire to find some way to be political, and I had a disgust with the kind of politics that seemed to be available. My various academic choices, even as a student, were perhaps often misguided choices to find a satisfying way to have a political life. At first, as an undergraduate, I thought that doing alternative energy engineering for third world countries would be a way of doing politics that would get out of all this campus political posing that I hated. It seemed that way, but I was quickly disabused. If was to try to tell the story, it would look like a series [of] naïve attempts, quickly becoming disabused. I mean, who would go into literature thinking it's the way you can effectively do politics?
There was a point when I began to read not only Toni's books from the seventies but also about various movements in Italy in the seventies. It seemed to me a way of doing politics that had more to do with our U.S. experience than other ones I had been involved in. Up until then, Central America was the one place I had found to do politics, and it felt like we could essentially observe someone else doing politics but couldn't really do it ourselves. And Toni in particular seemed to think, and he still seems to think, that he can have his political life and his intellectual life completely wedded together. I liked that idea. They seemed to me quite irreconcilable at the time, and sometimes still do.
Caleb Smith: How did he seem to reconcile them?
Michael Hardt: Well, there's a kind of theorizing with the movements, working at a rather high or sophisticated philosophical level with the concrete problems faced by present movements. There's also just a great force of will, even illusion, in it. I don't mean that in a bad way. I remember when I was translating his Spinoza book [The Savage Anomaly], and there's a line about the great tumult of the seventies. I thought, I'm sure he means the 1670s here, but it sounds like he means the 1970s. That kind of reading Spinoza's presentness, his actuality, seemed striking, and it still is. Thinking back on it, I probably am more successful now than I was as a twenty two-year-old at bringing the intellectual and political questions together.
Enrico Minardi: This summer I had a strange experience. I met two old friends from high school who used to hate Toni Negri. He was like a Public Enemy. One of my friends was a communist, the other was center-right and didn't care about anything except order. I said, "I'm in the U.S. now, teaching at Duke. Maybe you know Michael Hardt?" Both of them said, "Ah, I'm reading Empire, and it's wonderful." It was really strange. Twenty years had passed and they seemed to have undergone a political transformation.
Michael Hardt: I've often thought that the reason Empire could be so popular, or sell so many copies, is because it's not particularly original. I like the book a lot, but it's grasping something that many people have been thinking. In fact it's grasping many things that many people have been thinking, and connecting them. The success of the book has been in expressing clearly a number of these common recognitions. Also, in a certain way, Empire is not a very politically-defined book. Insofar as one is describing the new form of power, it can appeal to people with many different political orientations; it can support many different political tendencies. In the subsequent book, where we're talking about an alternative, that's where you divide ways.
There's a third answer, and I think this would be Slavoj Žižek's way. Žižek loves making this joke where he says, "I was riding on the French subway and I saw this yuppie and he was reading Deleuze-Guattari." Žižek goes on to say that essentially Deleuze-Guattari thinking is really yuppie, capitalist, consumer thinking. He could say the same thing about Empire, that it appeals to people like your high school friends because it really is about them and their world.
Caleb Smith: How did the actual collaboration between you and Negri come about?
Michael Hardt: I translated the Spinoza book in order to meet him. He wasn't exactly clandestine at the time, but I didn't know him. I couldn't imagine any reason to present myself to him. Then I got a contract for the translation. When I had finished most of it, I contacted him via someone else and went to Paris for a week to talk about translation problems. And we talked about translation problems, had dinner, had a great time. I decided that I would go back to the U.S., finish my exams, then move to Paris. Once I got there, from the beginning he was very generous in a way that didn't even make sense, often offering to write things together when I was not in the least equipped. Eventually I was able.
Caleb Smith: That's when you were working on Gilles Deleuze?
Michael Hardt: That was my dissertation for the U.S. degree.
Caleb Smith: Just this morning Enrico showed me the dedication page, and I was startled to see the name of my undergraduate advisor, Charles Altieri, along with Negri's name. It would have been really difficult for me to see his hand or his way of thinking in anything that you'd done. At least, I wouldn't have seen it until now. I might begin to see Deleuze, Negri, Altieri as a tripartite genealogical tree for you, Altieri being the one who's interested in poetics, and who brings you somewhere like the Duke Literature Program instead of a Political Science or Philosophy program. What do you remember about working with Altieri?
Michael Hardt: I'm extremely fond of him. He's one of these generous thinkers who's actually interested in other people's ideas. You find out, little by little, it's pretty rare for people to be interested in other people's ideas. He admires clear thinking. He was a wonderful advisor, in part because he let me do what I wanted. I was the kind of student who had my own criteria, and I wasn't as tied to the graduate student experience as some others. I was much more involved in political things, and then I went to Paris after the exams. I remember when I showed him the first chapter of what was going to be the dissertation, about Deleuze and Bergson, and his response was, "It's all wrong, it's completely all wrong, but it's very smart and that will be fine." I'm sure other people can better imitate his manner of speaking, of which I'm also extremely fond.
Caleb Smith: Collaboration is, in a sense, the perfectly appropriate method for writing about the multitude and cooperative production. How does the actual practice of collaboration work between you and Negri?
Michael Hardt: I'll start with the practical matters. When a project is ready, we sit together at a table to write outlines, sometimes really detailed outlines. We amuse each other with parallel architectures: Chapter 1.3 refers to 4.3, and 2.6 to 3.6. Quite a bit of the work gets done by that kind of mapping, before writing. Then we go back home, divide up sections and do first drafts. We exchange the first drafts and rewrite the other person's drafts, then often go back and do a second rewriting. He writes in Italian, I write in English, but it all ends up in English. By the time we're done, in general we don’t know who wrote what, who started what. It all gets mixed up enough that it's unclear, except the italicized sections that we call inserts. Those are more one person's voice than the other.
What interests me is partly a question about voice. I've noticed that when I write with Toni, or when he writes with me, one tends to write differently. The first way of describing it is that one tends to ventriloquize, even with the ideas of the other person. Each of you tries to write in the voice of the other. But I think that you're not really writing in the voice of the other; you're both writing in some third voice that's neither of your voices. I'm tempted to call it an anonymous voice, but if you want to connect it to multitude it would better if it were a kind of common voice.
Caleb Smith: The voice of the collaboration itself.
Michael Hardt: That would be a nice way of thinking about it. There's another way of approaching it, too. When Toni and I collaborate, part of it remains very internal to the two of us. We find something funny, or we convince each other that we're right, or we get enthusiastic. I say, "Well, he thinks it's right, and I think it's right, so it must be right." There's a kind of circularity. It leads to us using more exclamation points than we would otherwise.
Enrico Minardi: I think you are a kind of mediator, in a very rich way, between Deleuze and Negri. At the end of the seventies, Deleuze and Toni started to write about each other. Deleuze and Guattari, in Mille Plateaux, quoted Toni. And Toni, in Potere Costituente, quoted Mille Plateaux at the end. They come to each other from a distance, Toni from post-Marxism, Deleuze from poststructuralism and psychoanalysis. You always have the feeling that they are very good, but neither of them has everything. So it seems to us that you are mediating between the two positions.
Michael Hardt: I think, both intellectually and personally, Félix Guattari is the real mediator. Félix brought groups of different people together. He seemed to have that organizational ability. Also intellectually, when he made Deleuze think in a more inventive way, Félix seemed to be a great facilitator. Toni knew Félix in the seventies in Italy. Félix came many times and was very involved. As I understand it, Toni's real engagement with Deleuze’s thought came while writing the Spinoza book, so it came during those prison years, the early eighties.
Caleb Smith: In the 1990s you wrote several essays, some of which were eventually drawn into Empire. Maybe the best known is "The Withering of Civil Society," where you argued that the shift from modernity to postmodernity might be better understood as a shift from what you called civil to postcivil societies. This is a transition you've explored in a series of reconfigurations: modern to postmodern, civil to postcivil, Foucault's disciplinary societies to Deleuze's societies of control. Now you seem to have settled on the shift from imperialism to Empire. What is it about this periodizing structure that you find so intriguing? Or is it something about rupture?
Michael Hardt: This is another guide to how to write Empire. From different disciplinary perspectives, or looking at different social phenomena, there are all these different periodizations. In the cultural realm, from modernism to postmodernism. In labor practices, from the dominant paradigm of factory work to a postindustrial one. Different regimes of accumulation, in the economic sense. Different political regimes, like postcoloniality. The actual making of the book was lining up all these different paradigm shifts, all these different periodizations, treating them all as if each were a blind man touching the elephant. Maybe more is included in that metaphor than I want, but there's a coincidence of these various paradigm shifts from these different disciplinary perspectives. Each of them is touching a different part of some great historical shift. If you can gather them together, you can actually tell what's going on.
Does that mean that there’s something underlying all of them? What explains that coincidence? I think our hypothesis would be, yes, that there is some mega-paradigm shift of which these various ones are merely guises. It's not just me; a lot of people have been working with a paradigm shift between 1968 and 1973, maybe 1968-1989. I've felt this mandate toward an interdisciplinary perspective on such things, that one won't understand it if one looks at it merely as a cultural phenomenon, or an economic phenomenon, or a labor phenomenon. I can think of numerous other books. Giovanni Arrighi's The Long Twentieth Century poses it more or less as a shift of the regime of accumulation that happens in 1973. Bob Brenner's book, The Boom and the Bubble, is an economic reading of the trajectory of the U.S. hegemony over the global economy that shifts in the seventies.
Caleb Smith: You also wrote an essay on Genet, my favorite, called "Prison Time." It's the closest thing you've written to literary studies, and it's also written in what I think of as a literary voice. It also seems that Foucault, rather than Deleuze, is shaping the terms of engagement. Did that essay feel like a departure?
Michael Hardt: Definitely. I've often wanted to write differently. It's not so much because I hate the way I write, and not only that I would like to write better. It's that I would like to discover a different way of writing. That was very consciously the project. At the time it seemed like it was going to be an essay on Genet, an essay on Pasolini, and an essay on Francis Bacon, the painter. It hasn't quite materialized. Also, you're right, it's not just a matter of voice; it would be nice to be able to do more philosophical-aesthetic work. For the project of writing Empire I had to put all that aside.
Caleb Smith: You told me that you once taught in prison. What did you teach, and what were your students like?
Michael Hardt: There were three prisons. One was in California, where I taught ESL tutors. It was very uninteresting—I mean, the prison was interesting, but the teaching wasn't. In a Connecticut jail I taught a properly literary course, which you would have liked. I wanted them to read things that were close to their lives, but they wanted to read things that were far from their lives.
Caleb Smith: Like Jane Austen or something?
Michael Hardt: We read Whitman, and we had a long talk about onanism. Whitman and Shakespeare were, I think, all we read that semester. I had to use the books that were available in the jail. Then in North Carolina, at the Federal Prison in Butner, I taught for three or four years. I sort of taught them whatever I was teaching in a graduate seminar at the time, and it was fun.
One semester we had a joint meeting of the Duke students and the inmates. They prepared punch and cake for us, and we sat around and had a discussion about Foucault's Discipline and Punish. I found it very interesting. At the time, many of the Duke students really wanted to talk about sex, about masturbation, about sexuality, that kind of stuff. The inmates, though, were very reluctant. We read a whole series of books, like Goffman's Asylums and a number of philosophical books that lead up to Discipline and Punish. The inmates would insist, "Look, whatever the prison tries to do to you, whatever the officials try to do, if you're strong, you can always keep the real you hidden inside. You can create this ungraspable core that is you, that they can never touch. Strip-searches, humiliations, anything, they can't touch it." Goffman describes the recreation of an institutional subjectivity, and they say, "No. For weak people that might be true, but not me." They had this resistance to the idea of the production of subjectivity. It seemed to them like a threat, a personal threat. That was their last line of defense. For the Duke students, of course, their interest in Foucault was in the very complete production of subjectivity by the institutions of power. So I think it was good for the Duke students. The inmates were enormously grateful to have people take them seriously intellectually and to have a change from their normal lives.
Enrico Minardi: I just read Deleuze's book about Foucault, a wonderful book, and in the last pages, Deleuze is talking about Foucault's late work. Foucault is analyzing the production of subjectivity by institutions, but also saying that this production cannot be total. There is a kernel that cannot be manipulated or changed, from which resistance begins. The distinction is between assujettissement and subjectivité.
Michael Hardt: Maybe we should get the inmates to write it.
Caleb Smith: This raises the question of different sites of intellectual practice and intervention. Most of the time, you don't teach prisoners; you teach Duke students. How does this kind of university, or any university, become the right place for somebody like you? You’ve answered one really interesting question, what it's like teaching Foucault to prisoners. Another interesting question is, what's it like teaching Marx to Duke undergraduates?
Michael Hardt: Part of the first question is that we academics don't choose our jobs. I was certainly grateful to get one. And then one does what one can. I'm not sure about different institutions since I really only know Duke. I've often thought of myself as having a double career. I have an intellectual life and a political life, and they don't often coincide. You've got a day job, and then you go home and do your political work, in writing but also in regular political activities.
There was a line in Althusser's "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" where he says you can resist ideological state apparatuses in the classroom. That seemed like an enormous permission for a lot of people working in universities and schools, imagining revolutionary activity in the classroom and seeing what teachers do as revolutionary. I wouldn't want to minimize the good that one can do teaching, or the good that one can do working in health care or any number of places. But thinking of politics now as a project of social transformation on a large scale, I'm not at all convinced that political activity can come from the university. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't take our politics into everyday life, as teachers and as health care workers and as sales clerks and everything else. I don't mean to divorce politics from our daily life at all. Nonetheless, I continue to have the notion that the revolution won't start in the university.
Caleb Smith: In "Prison Time" you see Genet’s prisoners exercising their "power to accept the force of destiny in a state of divine abjection." That's the first kind of love you describe, where, by their willed affirmation of what's happening to them, they turn the form of their punishment into the form of their liberation. It's a tenuous reversal, and one about which even you seem suspicious. Then you go on to describe a "second moment, [where] love takes an active role, capable of... forging a new destiny." I wonder if the distinction between these two moments of love can help us to understand the multitude.
Michael Hardt: That's nice. I like that.
Caleb Smith: In Empire you began to explore "how the multitude can become a political subject," and described it as "an insurgent multitude against imperial power." The coming-into-subjectivity of the multitude may seem, to some readers, little more than an affirmation of the conditions of their suffering—statelessness, nomadism. Walter Benn Michaels, in a minnesota review interview, has called that whole section of the book a "paean to the poor, as if poverty were a culture," and he's probably not the only one to have accused you of romanticizing or aestheticizing what's happening to displaced people. How do you see the multitude's seizure of power as more than a conceptual reversal, more than a change of heart or an acceptance of their abjection?
Michael Hardt: And how is it a project of love? Maybe the only thing that it seems to me worth saying is that the first doesn't prohibit the second. If we recognize that global power is tending toward the form we describe as Empire, and that we're inside of that, and that we're all contaminated by it and part of it, and that there's no outside from which we could claim purity—that recognition doesn't have to be a resignation. It can be the basis of a project from within, posing something different.
The main model for this kind of thought is halfway between Marx and Deleuze-Guattari. When Marx looks for the subject capable of posing an alternative to capital, he doesn't look outside of capital. He doesn't look to parts of the earth that at that time didn't know capital, or subjects that existed prior to capital or were untouched by it. No, he looks to the subject that is created by capital. The proletariat only comes into being through capital, and it only lives in a kind of intimate and mutual relationship with capital. It's the proletariat, even though it is wholly inside capital, that can pose an alternative to it—maybe even because it's wholly inside.
And this is how we get to Deleuze and Guattari. The proletariat pushes capital further than it's willing to go with certain processes, certain kinds of freedom of movement, or creation of desires. It doesn't respond to capital's creation of desires with asceticism. It says, "Let's actually make real the promises of desire, or push capital further than it can go." That's a Deleuze and Guattarian reading of Marx, it seems to me. The two moments you're talking about in the Genet essay are comparable to the sixties Marxist slogan, "Within and Against"—the proletariat is within capital and against it. One moment is within, the other is against, but against in a way that is capable of pushing through and getting somewhere different.
My feeling is that September 11, and then the war on terrorism afterwards has been very comforting to a certain style of left theorists, or even left political thinkers. Prior to that it seemed like the old concepts didn't work and things were changing in the world, forming new kinds of power, and the old forms of political resistance didn't work. Then, post-September 11 and through Afghanistan and particularly with Iraq, it's as if all the old categories work again. What we have is U.S. imperialism, what we need is a national liberation struggle, etc. Which leads to a quite active debate: Should the anti-war movement be explicitly in support of the Iraqi national resistance? Of course, if it's imperialism, that's what you should do. That's what we did throughout the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies. The response to imperialism is national liberation struggle.
I'm quite skeptical about the efficacy of Iraqi national liberation struggle against the U.S. imperialist invader. If in fact we are within something new, we can recognize, not necessarily in an abject way, the novelty of our situation and its implications, the kinds of intellectual and political practices that have become habits that are no longer possible or useful or productive. That's the first moment. On that basis, then, one can construct a project.
Caleb Smith: Some people are interested in Empire for its political and economic diagnostics, and will be interested in the next book for political and economic strategies. What intrigues me, and I think many of us who come from literary studies, is that it theorizes human agency, the real power to act and produce, without the old models of the liberal subject or the psychoanalytic ego. The multitude can come into a collective agency, a kind of "subjectivity," but without the atomizing, isolating architecture of those older figurations. Do you see the concept of multitude as a way of theorizing or active and productive agency without the classical subject? I guess that may be what you mean by the phrase "non-liberal pluralism."
Michael Hardt: That seems good. I was thinking when you were saying it, it would be interesting to trace the isomorphic relationship between a philosophical conception of subjectivity and the political forms of sovereignty—think of sovereignty in terms of the subject, and then sovereignty in the political sense. From Descartes to Kant, let's say, we have a philosophical notion of a sovereign subject that might parallel the political notion from Hobbes to Frederick II, a sovereignty that functions through the model of the political body, which has a central ego, differentiated organs, etc. There's an isomorphic relationship among that conception of subjectivity, the conception of sovereignty, social institutions, penal institutions.
If one were to go with us and hypothesize this shift, what would be the diagram that would now define new forms of subjectivity and new forms of sovereignty? It's just an initial attempt, but Toni and I try to think about the decentralized network. That's the obvious form now. This isomorphism, in a real Foucauldian sense, is operating today. It's as if everything operates in networks. It's partly that organizations have changed, but also our understanding has changed. The brain today is not a single agent; the brain is a network of neurons. Criminal organizations are networks. Terrorist organizations are networks. Business organizations are networks. Now, one might have to think of subjectivity and also sovereignty in that new way. That would be history of ideas in Foucault's relentless fashion of recognizing isomorphisms across different social spaces.
Caleb Smith: One way of making interdisciplinary connections is to find these tropes that repeat themselves across the different discourses—
Michael Hardt: And seem to change, historically, in sync with one another. That's the fascinating part.
Caleb Smith: I want to ask you about a moment in Empire that surprised me when I first read it and still intrigues me: "The multitude must have the right to decide if, when, and where it moves. It must have the right also to stay still and enjoy one place rather than being forced constantly to be on the move." I just saw Sebastião Salgado's Migrations exhibit for the second time, here at Duke's Center for Documentary Studies. I was thinking about the relation between the stillness of the photographic image and these mass movements of humanity that are the subjects. In Salgado's images, where stateless, restless movement is becoming the dominant symptom of destruction or form of suffering, maybe stillness becomes the expression of freedom and joy. I'm interested in what stillness might mean for the multitude.
Michael Hardt: Clearly neither movement nor stillness, in itself, is liberatory. The power and right to choose what one does is liberatory. In certain circumstances, migration is liberation—one can think of many historical circumstances, even today. But, like you're saying, in other circumstances movement is torture. People are forced to move off their lands. You could think of the middle passage as the forced movement and slavery as the forced stasis. Neither one is liberatory. What's important is the freedom.
In much of postcolonial studies for a certain period, say the later nineties, the fact of hybridity and the fact of crossing borders and movement seemed to gain, in a lot of the theorizing, the sense that it was immediately liberatory. Some ungenerous critiques of many postcolonial fiction writers and theorists say, "Of course, migration, mobility is very nice for a very specific social class, but it's not so nice for the rest of us." I think it could be nice for all of us, in certain circumstances.
Enrico Minardi: Can you talk about the opposition between the concepts of "people" and "multitude"? It seems that the concept of the people is strongly related to the centralized nation-state and the national body. With the multitude, you're talking about networks not organized by the state in the traditional way. Does "multitude" lead toward a new form of political organization?
Michael Hardt: Eighteenth-century European political theory—Hobbes in particular, but also Rousseau and Spinoza and many others—used this distinction between people and multitude. One can recuperate it, and it’s relatively useful. They mean—and Hobbes says quite explicitly—that the people can be sovereign because the people is one, whereas the multitude is many and therefore, in his mind, disorganized. That's the primary distinction, but there are many implications one can follow. You were saying that the people is essentially the national body. The multitude might be thought of as a kind of flesh, inorganic flesh—inorganic in the sense that it doesn't form organs that fit hierarchically together. It's an available distinction that then has to be developed.
One thing I've recognized is that Toni and I use the term multitude in essentially two ways. They're in contradiction with one another. I like contradictions, personally, so that's not a problem. In one sense, and in Empire it was used more this way, the multitude is an always-existing social force that insists on its own freedom, refuses authority, breaks its chains. On the other hand, and this is our inclination in the new book, multitude is a political project. Multitude hasn't yet existed. Multitude could exist as a form of organizing, something that could be created today. There's one notion of multitude that's always-already, and there's another that’s not-yet.
Caleb Smith: Is it always-not-yet?
Michael Hardt: No, I think it's today not-yet. It would be clever that way. I can imagine such a formulation, but it's important to me that at least we act as if we could do it. Multitude is a possibility that could be organized, a form of organization that can take political forms.
Caleb Smith: You said earlier that there wasn't anything too novel about Empire. You're drawing from Marx and a whole Hegelian tradition, from eighteenth-century thinkers, often from much older sources, all the way back to the classical and Biblical periods. Yet the book was hailed as a paradigm-shifting event. It marked a shift from the state to the globe as the field of inquiry for a certain kind of theory, but is there also a methodological shift?
Michael Hardt: I don't know. I don’t think so. We thought that a variety of related and quite productive and rich theoretical traditions weren't speaking to each other. We thought that this heterodox Marxist tradition, Deleuze-style poststructuralism, and subaltern studies all had, in a way, a common mode of procedure and of recognizing elements of the contemporary world. Those three together formed not a new paradigm but a way of thinking. It's true that there were certain debates ten years ago, which seemed to be obstacles, no longer are. Not thanks to us; these obstacles go away. There were remnants of what seemed to me the quite useless modernism/postmodernism debate. The postmodernist side would say that the Enlightenment was the cause of all problems, and the modernist side would say that postmodernists are relativists in the sense of not believing in reality. Complete miscommunication.
I had some amusing experiences involving poststructuralism and Marxism. Soon after Empire came out, I had two book presentations in the space of a week. One was at Santa Cruz, in the History of Consciousness program, and one of the questions after the talk was, "All this poststructuralist stuff is really great, but why do you still have the Marx stuff in there?" Later that week I was at the Brecht forum in New York, and they said, "All this Marx stuff in the book is fine, but why this poststructuralism?" Both groups thought that the two discourses were completely contradictory. I sense that that's no longer really the case. You go to the Rethinking Marxism conference in Massachusetts, and the vast majority of people are talking about Deleuze or other poststructuralists. The notion that the French philosophical movement that came out of the sixties and seventies was in conflict with Marxism seems to have fallen away.
Caleb Smith: What came out of that French moment is what a lot of people call "theory," something for which various death knells have been sounded lately. Theory is going away in favor of historicism, or cultural studies, or whatever. Do you think about your books in relation to the life-cycle of theory, or does that not seem very interesting?
Michael Hardt: I'm sure it's interesting. I haven't found a way of positioning myself within that question, or even understanding it. I think that there was a period, probably the late eighties and early nineties, when the term "theory" covered a wide range of activities and had the feeling of coherence. And today that's no longer the case. The kind of philosophical investigation that was mixed with work in film, literature, architecture, politics, you name it—the term theory no longer functions for all that. If one wants to say that theory is dead, I could accept it in that regard. But the same kinds of investigations are going on. It's not like people aren't doing the same kind of work, interdisciplinary, philosophically-informed, conceptual work. That's going on at the same level, if not more. What's lacking is really a term that holds all these things together—which may not be a bad thing.
Caleb Smith: That's a characteristic response: we have dispersed networks, as opposed to a coherent structure. I want to ask you one last question, about love and joy. The "Prison Time" essay ends with a line about love, and you've written about the multitude "directing technologies and production toward its own joy." You seem to be reclaiming these terms for political conversation. I won't ask you to define them, but what's involved in restoring joy and love to a field which ordinarily concerns itself with quantifiable values and material production and cash interests?
Michael Hardt: And how can you get anyone to take you seriously when you use those terms? This is definitely an interest of mine, and I think of Toni's, too. We've said to each other for a while, but without finding a way to do it, that we would like to make love a properly political concept. One has to expand the concept of love beyond the limits of the couple, even the psychoanalytic limits of coupling. One good model is through Christian and Judaic traditions, where love means, in a way, a constitution of the community. Premodern notions of love have this political character. As it has gained in sentimentality, love has lost its political efficacy. That’s one project. It seems to me a summation of various things that interest me to think of politics as a project of love.
I started becoming interested in politics as an undergraduate, but I was repulsed by the political atmosphere, which seemed to me mostly an atmosphere of moralism and abnegation—a search for purity, but a search that meant we should feel guilty for the privileges we have and try to avoid them. Or we should maintain a kind of purity by not watching violent movies, eating certain things and not others. In Central America, a lot of the activists coming from Europe and North America were driven by guilt and acting for the good of others. But I learned from the Central Americans that there was another kind of activism which was not about our guilt but about our joy. It was not about going and doing politics because I need to give up something in order to help others—I'm getting something out of it. One group thought, I'm here to help them. The other group thought, I'm here so that they can teach me how to live better.
Helping others is not even in tension with making my life better. All of that is part of the same thing. To make the world better, I don't need to give up things, I need to gain things. I need to gain a more joyful life. I remember a lot of stifling discussions, "Well, you can never get people in the U.S. to do anything because they're all so comfortable, and you'll never get them to give up things." I remember thinking, Man, those in the U.S. are all so miserable; if you could just show them the joy of what a different life could be. I remember thinking about politics, rather than as an ascetic redistribution, as a collective project for the increase of joy. The younger generation of activists today seems to have learned this. If one traces the transformations of activism in the U.S., ACT UP and Queer Nation were a real hinge, making demonstrations fun, making them funny, great slogans. The relationship between a demonstration and a party becomes quite confused.
Caleb Smith: Or even a carnival.
Michael Hardt: Right. The whole talk now about movement as carnival is perfect for this. It may not be the only way of conducting politics, but it's the only politics I want. That might be an adequate definition of love: a politics of joy.