chapter
Revolution 14 The Myth of the Multitude
Pages 27

In a work that mirrors the complexity and confusion of global life in (not entirely) condensed form, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri describe a world without borders; then they take sides. As they explain, their approach has two, distinct methodological strains: “The first is critical and deconstructive, …the second is …ethico-political.”1 In the critical mode, they map the rise of Empire, a global form of sovereignty that subsumes all categories and distinctions in an encompassing relational network. In their “ethico-political” mode, they discern in this morass a struggle for liberation on the part of the “multitude,” a global revolutionary subject on the verge of radical self-authorization. This essay explores tensions in play between critical, polemical, and messianic strains of Hardt’s and Negri’s text, tracing similar arguments in earlier departures from orthodox historical materialism. Hardt’s and Negri’s departure from a critical or “deconstructive” politics is highlighted in their critique of what they describe as a “postmodern” politics of difference. Instead of a plurality of local struggles over flexible discourses and technologies-too easily co-opted by equally efficient strategies of rule-they advocate a new universalism grounded in not discrete demands but the creative power of human desire and activity. Moreover, they suggest that the multitude, so understood, is on the verge of a properly global manifestation. Hardt’s and Negri’s analysis of the collapse of economic and discursive categories as well as their commitment to spontaneous collective action recall George Sorel’s earlier anarchist departure from orthodox Leninism. In particular, their depiction of the multitude bears a strong resemblance to that of his “General Strike.” Rather than a new Utopia, the multitude comprises what Sorel described as a political “myth.” In light of this comparison, I question the value of such a myth for social movements implicated in the tangle of discursive, technological, and economic forces proper to Empire.