Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri
Multitude: War and Democracy
in the Age of Empire.
Penguin, 427 pages, $27.95

They’re back. In 2001, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri published Empire, a long, hermetic neo-Marxist tract hailing the advent of “a new paradigm of power”—“biopower”—that would finally, at last, after all these years, bring about the revolution that Karl and Frederick had promised us lo these many years ago.

The authors were perfect front men for their book. Hardt was a professor of literature at Duke, which meant that he was in the most politicized discipline at one of America’s most politicized universities. And Negri, an architect of the Red Brigades, the Italian Marxist-Leninist terrorist group in the late 1970s, was serving a thirteen-year prison sentence in Rome. The New York Times, in a long puff piece about the book, speculated that perhaps with Hardt and Negri we had come at last to the “Next Big Idea.” My, how the Left loved it. The Times opened its op-ed pages to the duo, who assured its readers that “A new species of political activist has been born with a spirit that is reminiscent of the paradoxical idealism of the 1960s.” Thank God! This is what we’ve been waiting for! The book concluded with a paean to “militancy,” “revolution,” and “the irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist.”

One might have thought that the events of 9/11 would dampen enthusiasm for this sort of incitement to violence and terrorism. Not a bit of it. For now Hardt and Negri are back with another one-word-titled book: Multitude. Really, it is the same book as Empire: some of the words are different, but it is the same amalgam of menacing Marxist rhetoric, reader-proof prose, and political fantasy. Hardt and Negri speak stirringly about the advent of “global democracy.” So did Chairman Mao. They predict the advent of “new weapons” that will shatter the dominance of “imperial command” (i.e., the United States). Like what? “Consider,” they write in the book’s concluding passage, “as an experiment with new weapons, the kiss-ins conducted by Queer Nation in which men would kiss men and women women in a public place to shock people who are homophobic… . It is not a matter of taking power and commanding the armies but destroying their very possibility.” The last time I checked, Multitude ranked about 600 at Amazon; doubtless it was selling even better a few weeks ago. What does it tell us that such infantile maunderings are not merely published but taken seriously as political thought?

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 23 Number 1, on page 76
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