The independent news organization of Duke University

In Multitude, Empire strikes back

A surprising aspect of Star Trek is how much of a cult following it has developed. Even more surprising is the fact that Duke professor Micahel Hardt and international scholar Antonio Negri are able to “take a lesson from Captain Kirk.” Using the captain of the Enterprise, the professors illustrate the sci-fi nature of technological war and incorporate this into Multitude, a book that thought-provokingly dissects the current state of our post-modern society.

Multitude, which is the sequel to the authors’ 2001 collaboration, Empire, explores “War and democracy in the age of empire.” With this basic intention comes an equally basic structure with three divisions: war, multitude and finally, democracy. The clearly organized nature of this work acts as an important guide as the authors analyze numerous different conditions in the post-modern world.

With several key terms threaded throughout the work, the authors clearly define the most important ones. “Multitude” is one term that requires particular attention and care. As Hardt and Negri note, their initial thought is to connect the multitude to the working class. The multitude however, is more dynamic than that. For the authors, working class has become too narrow a concept to have much value. The term multitude steps into this void, helping to redefine what we understand as the working class in our contemporary state of industry.

The democratic theories of Multitude come through with one clear, liberal voice espousing the need for global democracy and rejecting the free market theory advocated by 18th century economist Adam Smith. Instead, the authors define four possible theories which incorporate central democratic principles. Hardt and Negri progress from their own stance at the left end of the political spectrum to the right.

Within the liberal viewpoint, the social democratic theory sees globalization as a threat to democracy. The liberal cosmopolitan position views globalization as fostering democracy. This increases the need for a highly regulated economy to protect the multitude. On the conservative side, according to the authors, the viewpoints that “focus on the benefits and necessity of U.S. global hegemony agree with the liberal cosmopolitans that globalization breeds democracy but…For very different reasons.” A final view evokes “traditional-values,” which see unregulated capitalism and U.S. hegemony as necessary preconditions for democracy.

The book addresses the seemingly contradictory position of democracy within socialist theory. Socialism is for the multitude, and thus promotes democracy. The key to the underlying theory of Multitude is that democracy does not need to be a form of government, but instead a universal position favoring the multitude.

Although the book gives the authors’ Marxist view of changes that should take place in the post-modern era, it cannot be read as a “how to.” Instead, it is a work of analytical political theory. The final revelation in this book full of social, political and economic webs is simply one of love. And if the authors can call on Captain Kirk, one can take an analytical influence from the Beatles: In the post-modern state defined by Hardt and Negri, “all you need is love” to achieve democracy.


Share and discuss “In Multitude, Empire strikes back” on social media.