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Michael Hardt - Biography

Michael Hardt, Ph.D., born in Washington DC in 1960, is a political philosopher and literary theorist currently based at Duke University, North Carolina. After graduating with a degree in engineering, Michael Hardt pursued a career working for solar energy companies in Latin America, believing that providing alternative energy for third world countries was the best way for political activism. Nevertheless, after working for various NGOs in Central America, Michael Hardt decided to move back to the United States and pursue the study of possibilities for fundamental social and political changes in his own country. He received an MA in 1986 and a Ph.D. in 1990 in comparative literature at the University of Washington.

Michael Hardt's recent writings focus primarily on deciphering various aspects of globalization through the style of writing he defines as eclecticism – or bringing together in one place and connecting the ideas of various thinkers such as Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Antonio Gramsci and Thomas Jefferson. His most famous works, Empire (2000) and Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (2004) were written in collaboration with Antonio Negri and, according to some, became major events in political and critical theory. In 2009, these two works will be accompanied by the next part of the trilogy entitled Commonwealth. Michael Hardt is also the author of Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy (1993), Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of the State Form (co-written with Antonio Negri, 1994), Radical Thought in Italy (coedited with Paolo Virno, 1996), and The Jameson Reader (with Kathi Weeks, 2000).

In Empire, Hardt and Negri offered the analysis of the functioning of current global power structures due to the transformation of imperialism and American dominance which happened after the Vietnam war. In this new state of affairs, the sovereignty of the nation state has declined and a new form of sovereignty was created, which they name the 'empire'. Following the poststructuralist model set by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, the empire is seen as being characterized by flexible, mobile boundaries and hybrid identities, as a decentered global network and a dynamic pattern of breaks and flows. In this network of coordinated collaboration, no nation state is really sovereign anymore and even the most powerful nation is not able to control the global order.

Therefore, the main question Hardt and Negri were interested in was to try to define the new authority that guarantees the long-term survival of capital after the demise of the nation state which functioned as its main guarantee of sustainability. According to them, this authority is the empire, with no center or the binary opposition of the outside and inside. Further on, Hardt and Negri formulate the most relevant task today to be the mapping of the geography of global power divisions where power is seen as transcendental and not transcendent. Only through this we might reach some of the possible answers to the question, 'what forms of contestation of power are possible today?' As Hardt and Negri remind us, the most dangerous thing would be to fight the enemy that no longer exists.

Upon completing Empire, Hardt and Negri felt the need to further elaborate on the subject or form of an alternative for which they believed remained at a poetic level in their previous analysis. Therefore, in Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire they examine the possibilities of cooperative resistance to the new global order. Hardt and Negri decided to work upon this question by rethinking the concept of the working class which they refuse to see as a homogeneous group. They formulate the need for a political party that will have a form of a horizontal network structure without a centralized point of decision or leadership. For this, they have found the inspiration in several organizations created after the 1960s in order to defend the rights of marginalized groups such as the black power, civil rights movement, homosexual and queer organizations. Established in such a way with no centralized power, these organizations raised the question of the possibilities of multiplicity to act together.

According to Hardt and Negri, the power of resistance is much stronger than what we might think and if held the right way, any tool can become one's weapon of revolution. Instead of trying to answer the question of what is to be done, they propose answering the question of what are people already doing, as a way to create a particular catalog of ideas for revolutionary practices. According to them, the main question about what democracy is today and what it could be in a global world will remain unanswered and in the realm of fantasy unless there is a subject that can fill it. Therefore, the new subject of democracy is exactly this entity they named 'multitude', and the democracy of the future can be saved only if there is a freedom to determine what are we to become.

In their third part of the trilogy entitled Commonwealth, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri offer a framework in which to restore the meaning of the many corrupted concepts of political vocabulary. They will further elaborate their previous suggestions for the social change that can be obtained by using the current forms of class oppression by joining it with the necessity to rethink the common in communism in order for this change to actually happen.

Michael Hardt is a Professor of Political Literature at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he conducts an Intensive Summer Workshop.