Democracy at a global scale is becoming for the first time, a real possibility that we call the multitude’s project. Multitude’s project is not only expressing the desire of a world of equality and liberty, it does not only claim for a global democratic society open and inclusive: it actually demonstrate the means of releasing this desire.
from Multitude. This, if anything represents the ethos and aims of Bella Caledonia. Tom Nairn reviews Multidude by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri:
The cover of Multitude invites bookshop browsers not just to read it, but to ‘Join the many. Join the Empowered.’ The missionary tone is underlined by Naomi Klein’s blurb – ‘inspiring’ – and a frisson added by the book’s appearance: a brown paper wrapping like those used to discourage porn thieves and customs inspectors. Trembling fingers that go further are reminded that this book succeeds Empire (2000), by the same authors, which provided a picture of the global imperium supposed to have followed the Cold War – not the American Empire, but a wider settlement of which US supremacy was just one part. This imperium has generated global resistance, which all purchasers are now invited to approve, in the name of democracy.
Hardt and Negri’s multitude should not be confused with the working class, or any ethnic and national group. It seems to mean humanity in general – ‘The multitude is many-coloured, like Joseph’s magical coat,’ but the coat hides an increasingly common will, summed up by the authors as ‘democracy’. Readers are warned that the book’s argument may not be ‘immediately clear’ and are exhorted to be patient, for Multitude is ‘a mosaic from which the general design gradually emerges’. Before turning to that design, it’s important to stress how welcome this expansiveness is. In a venture like this, social anthropology and philosophy are as important as economics or conventional international relations. As Gopal Balakrishnan wrote in his review of Empire in New Left Review, it seems apposite to cite Virgil: ‘The final age that the oracle foretold has arrived; the great order of the centuries is born again.’
And yet, as in the previous book, this oracular tone is puzzling. If the outlook for global democratisation were as good as these prophets maintain, then surely a more empirical, matter-of-fact tone would suffice? Instead, an exalted and visionary tone prevails, right up to the high note of rapture on which they end: ‘Today time is split between a present that is already dead and a future that is already living . . . In time, an event will thrust us like an arrow into that living future. This will be the real political act of love.’ Hardt and Negri’s project is constantly undermined by an inebriate tendency towards the absolute. It is as if the authors find themselves transported by a philosophical elixir of oneness which, though invariably justified as ‘radicalism’, may in fact carry the reader towards an odd style of religiosity. Nor is this just a side effect: it is this that we are really being invited to ‘join’ – empowerment through faith, via spiritual transport.
You’ll have to tell them frankly you can’t explain
Why Nineveh is still standing though you hope to learn
At the feet of a prophet who for all you know
May be turning his donkey toward Nineveh even now.
Carl Dennis, ‘Prophet’
While Empire made some readers think of Virgil and Rome, in Multitude the defining shift is more restricted: the postmodern has become the premodern. The philosophy of Spinoza has replaced both Marxism and capitalist neo-liberalism. While affected timelessness is inherent in the Hardt-Negri rhetoric – hence their over-easy references to antiquity or the Middle Ages – the centre of gravity in this book is firmly in the later 17th century. Once regarded as an important precursor of the Enlightenment and of Marxist materialism, the thought of Spinoza (1632-77) is redeemed in these pages, as a wisdom awaiting its vindication in a globalised epoch yet to come. In vital ways, Spinoza told the whole story: his apparently abstract pantheistic philosophy explained history itself, future as well as past, and the globalisation process simply favours a return to such understanding, after the mounting sorrows and delusions of modernity.”