Antonio Negri and Danilo Zolo

Empire and the multitude: A dialogue on the new order of globalization

RP 120 () / Interview

Danilo Zolo For a long time I resisted the calls, from many quarters, to publicly debate Empire, the book you co-authored with Michael Hardt, which has prompted a debate of exceptional scope and intensity on both sides of the Atlantic. I was inhibited by a sense of impotence before such a complex, ambitious and extensive work. To attempt a critical evaluation of a work of this kind – you define it as ʻwidely interdisciplinaryʼ – entails to some extent sharing the theoretical ambition that moved you to write it. I overcame my initial hesitations, however, because I became convinced that after September 11 it would be irresponsible not to take seriously a book such as Empire . It is a book that, whatever one thinks of it, invests a large quantity of intellectual resources in the attempt to offer a contribution to understanding the world we live in and denounces the atrocities and risks of the present ʻglobal orderʼ and tries to indicate ways of overcoming it. If for no other reason Empire deserves, in my view, the international success it is enjoying.

Antonio Negri Thank you. The fact remains that now, alongside the sheen of ʻbanalityʼ the book had from the start (it appears almost as if it were a film rather than a book), it is already growing old with respect to the pace of events. The ʻgrand narrativeʼ that was responsible for the success of the book – facilitating its reception on American campuses in the wake of Seattle, and subsequently all over the world, especially in Germany – well, this grand narrative was what people had been waiting for. After the 1980s, after the defeat of various struggles, after the triumph of ʻweak thoughtʼ, a jolt was needed: Empire provided it.

DZ Empire is a difficult book not only because of its size and its thematic breadth but also because its philosophical and politico-theoretical syntax is extremely original. It is a syntax that transfigures some fundamental Marxist categories by interpolating them with elements taken from a great variety of Western philosophical traditions: classical, modern and contemporary. In this transfiguration of concepts, a leading role is played by the post-structuralism of authors such as Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida and especially Michel Foucault. However, my impression is that a careful and exacting reading of Empire , a reading the book surely deserves and inspires one to, leads inevitably to controversial interpretative results. Despite its often prescriptive and assertive tone, it is a book that risks transmitting more in the way of theoretical uncertainties than certainties

AN I like that. In Empire , Michael Hardt and I had no desire to reach hard and fast conclusions. After all, the processes constituting empire are still largely open. We were interested in underlining the need to change register: the political philosophy of modernity (and the institutions with which it interacted) is over. The theory that goes from Marsilio to Hobbes and from Althusius to Schmitt is finished. Empire marks a new theoretical threshold.

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