"Hadrian or Caligula?"
Serena Anderlini D'Onofrio
My critique of the NYBR review embarks with some observations about the narrative strategy Judt uses to dismiss the books. He jabs at Mussolini’s pathetic attempts to recoup Roman grandeur through Italy’s belated modern colonial projects, by claiming that, compared to other more successful imperial efforts, “there is little to say in defense of [them]” (38). Later on he begins his would-be analysis of the two books in question by presenting Negri as a confirmed criminal justly condemned by a fair judicial system, as he affirms that “Negri . . . spent many years in prison for his part in the homicidal radicalism of Italy’s Lead Years” (40). If Judt thinks Italians were so bad as colonialists, it is not clear where he gets his trust in the Italian judicial system, which has no presumption of innocence and no habeas corpus provisions, and which, in the Seventies, kept dozens of innocent citizens suspected of terrorist activities in prison without the slightest evidence against them, including the famous anarchists Pinelli and Valpreda. The first one was “suicided” by the police, as Dario Fo jokes in his play Accidental Death of an Anarchist; the second languished in prison until more than a decade later it was discovered that a Fascist group was responsible for the massacre of which he was accused.
Negri is in a sense part of that group and a victim of the same system, since no violent acts have been actually pinned to him, but rather the inspiration for Autonomia operaia, a highly subversive group in what turned out to be a failed revolution, but not the most violent of them. At one point, Negri was also a member of Potere Operaio, a revolutionary group that dissolved into area collectives in 1973. Sentencing Negri to jail for terrorism is like trying to blame Marx and Engels for the Russian Revolution. Revolutions happen, and some are more successful than others in actualizing their vision and making it stick. They are often responses to vastly unjust systems that have been unable to amend themselves. One cannot pin on individuals the due course of history. So why not grant Negri the benefit of the doubt as he is presented as an author of the books under review? (This is what Alexander Stille had done in his lengthy NYRB review of Empire, which offers details on Negri’s political vicissitudes and passes no direct judgment on him.) It seems that in this more recent issue of this self-described progressive and intellectually sound journal, the “presumed guilty” syndrome of the Italian judicial system has spilled off to Judt’s mode of reasoning, in an eerie resonance with the logic of those who are keeping the Guantánamo prisoners locked in, against any shade of respect for the Geneva agreements. This spilling is a pernicious syndrome for American self-described liberals. After all, the European partisans who mounted the anti-Nazi resistance that helped Americans win World War II would be called terrorists if the Nazi were allowed to write history.
In addition, the review also passes judgment on those who read Hardt and Negri’s books, as he makes fun of widespread campus students’ enthusiasm for it. These gutless intellectuals --the implication is -- are no threat to the bad guys of American imperialism and allow Cheney to “sleep easy”. Yet I have experienced teaching Empire to undergraduates here in Puerto Rico, and it brings lethargic minds to life, it sparks their interest, it catalyzes their thinking as if it interpreted body/mind energies that were already active within them. I haven’t tried Multitude on them yet, even as I believe the effect will be much more astounding, for while Empire still has some Derridean cloudiness to it, Multitude is crystal clear, as if all the clouds of self-doubt and censorship had disappeared and a new, somewhat utopian, vision was allowed to emerge in all its beautiful, loving simplicity. Multitude presents at least two key ideas that might wake up Cheney from his easy sleep and should be mentioned in sound a review. The “immaterial labor” which forms a model for today’s styles of productivity, and the “swarm intelligence” that operates within “distributed networks” are key concepts to explain the upsurge of the global peace and justice movement within and outside of the United States, an upsurge whose strength is mounting despite the higher surveillance enforced in the belly of the beast.
After the Empire
ACME: Special Issue on Empire; Ephemera: Special Issue on The Theory of the Multitude
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri: Multitude--War and Democracy in the Age of Empire