1. Sur l'Europe

A science of foreigners

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Septembre 2003Version originale de


In articles written before and during the war on Iraq, you describe
American unilateralism as a “coup d’Etat within the global system.”
You contrast the regressive imperialism of the Bush administration to
the multilateral negotiation favored by the elites of Empire. But
what did the resistance to the war reveal about the composition of
the multitudes? Where, in what specific arenas, and through what
means, do you see any chances for democratic forces to gain global

M. Hardt:
In the months prior to the Iraq War, the great ideological conflict
between the dominant political forces posed a clear alternative for
the form of global rule: either “unilateralism” or “multilateralism,”
either US domination of global politics or shared control by a plural
set of nations mediated by the United Nations. During the conquest
of Baghdad the United States declared loudly that its unilateralist
position had been proven right. It has the military might to act
independently and only its political decisiveness is able to deal
effectively with the inevitable, periodic eruptions of global
disorder. As the US occupation of Iraq drags on, however, as US
soldiers continue to be picked off each day one by one in guerrilla
actions, and as “liberated” Iraq and Afghanistan appear increasingly
chaotic and ungovernable, the pyrrhic victory in Iraq seems
increasingly instead to substantiate the multilateralist position.
The United States cannot go it alone. Militarily, it may have the
strike force to defeat an army but cannot dedicate enough troops
successfully to police a long-term occupation; culturally and
political, it does not have the knowledge and means to create or
impose a stable and docile national government; and economically, it
does not have the money, especially in the absence of Iraqi oil, to
finance the entire endeavor. The events seem to suggest that a
multilateral coalition of powers would have been more successful in
dominating and transforming Afghanistan and Iraq while preserving
global order and security.
It does seem important to me to recognize that unilateral
global rule, at least as the current rulers in Washington conceive
it, is impossible to maintain. That is not to say that the United
States cannot continue to embark on such adventures (which will
surely bring tragedy for all involved), but rather that these will be
transitory phenomena and not succeed in created a durable global
order. In my view, however, the failure of unilateralism does not
prove the case of multilateralism, at least in the open, pluralist
form it is often imagined. The present form of world order will not
be maintained by any democratic concert of nation-states, conducted,
for example, within the forum of the United Nations, nor by any
strategy that fails to recognize the real hierarchies within the
existing global power structure. And, of course, this is not what is
really meant by multilateralism in the current discourses.
Multilateralism means rather the sharing of decision-making and also
profits by a small set of dominant nation-states. A multilateral
strategy in Iraq, for example, might not award all oil contracts to a
US corporation but divide them also with a French corporation. In
effect the drama between unilateralism and multilateralism resembles
the old scenes in which the monarch cannot conduct his wars
independently and has to appeal for financial and military assistance
to the aristocracy or the condottieri. That is the kind of
multilateralism that is in play today. This is merely a contest, in
other words, between two strategies to rule the world, two different
models to conduct global war.
All of this, you are undoubtedly right to suggest, has
nothing to do with resistance and the developments of the multitude.
(The “resistance” of multilateralists like Chirac to Bush’s
unilateralism may be significant, but it is certainly something very
different than what interests us.) The field of resistance to war
per se is, of course, rather limited: all we can do is say no.
Nonetheless, during the Iraq war the movements of the multitude were
indeed impressive. One day when we look back on our times 15
February 2003 may indeed appear the most significant date of the
early millennium, the day when millions of people marched in cities
throughout the world against the war. It was the first truly global
protest. The demonstrations against the war, however, although large
in numbers, remain merely negative expressions unless we link them to
other movements. And in fact the protests against the war were
intrinsically related to the protests against the current form of
globalization in terms of organization and orientation. The
protesters have been clear for some time that the state of global war
is coextensive with the forms of global Apartheid, the regimes of
inequality and poverty that divide the globe: to oppose one we must
also oppose the other. And certainly 15 February and the set of
massive protests against the war were made possible, materially and
ideologically, by events like the World Social Forum and the entire
cycle of struggles stretching from Seattle in 1999 to today against
the current form of globalization, les luttes altermondialistes.
This is, in any case, the most positive and promising way in which
the resistance to the war has opened to democratic forms of global


Today, the constitutional dynamic of the multitudes appears,
paradoxically, to be most visible in the social movements of “old
Europe” – where it risks being instrumentalized in the service of an
emerging continental power bloc. How could this kind of
constitutional dynamic be extended? Is it enough to postulate the
real subsumption of labor by capital, across the entire planet?
Wouldn’t a broader constitutionalism have to begin by seeking an
articulation of the global divisions of agricultural, industrial and
immaterial labor?

M. Hardt:

Here we move from the negative terrain to the positive – from how the
multitude opposes global forms of domination to what the multitude is
or, rather, what it can become. The multitude, after all, is not an
already existing social subject but rather a political project, a
mode of social organizing. Multitude is a concept of singular social
subjectivities that remain different and express themselves freely
and yet are able to communicate, collaborate, and act in common.
Certain conditions, however, are required to make the project of the
multitude possible. The multitude is composed of differences but
there must be no differences of kind the prevent their collaboration
or communication. The global field of labor, as you suggest, has
long been fractured by hierarchies and divisions that prevent such
communication: international hierarchies of laboring classes, for
example, racial and sexual divisions of labor, divisions between
productive and reproductive labor, between the working classes and
the poor, and between the industrial working class and the
agricultural labor. Socialist and communist political projects have
long been based on these divisions, such that the industrial working
class, for example, must lead the peasants and the other laboring
classes. In order for the multitude to be possible, however,
although all specific forms of labor remain singular, there must not
be the kinds of divisions that divided them in the past. There must
be a tendency toward a becoming-common of labor, an emerging common
basis of communication and collaboration. This, of course, is
largely an empirical question and requires an extensive global
analysis of class composition.
Consider agricultural labor, for example, which may present from this
perspective one of the greatest challenges to the project of the
multitude. Marx himself and the major streams of the tradition
considered the peasantry not only incapable of conducting
independently political projects aimed at its own liberation but also
incapable of collaborating with other working classes on equal terms.
The peasantry, the tradition told us, had to follow the lead of the
industrial working class, which could guarantee its political
interests. This political mandate was based on analysis of the class
composition of the peasantry, who were separated geographically and
thought to lack the tools of communication and organization that the
industrial working class had. For the project of the multitude to be
possible one must establish that this is no longer the case (if
indeed it ever was) and that agriculture labor along with all forms
of labor are able to collaborate in political projects in an equal
and autonomous way.
I would argue that there is a tendency today toward the
becoming-common of labor and that it takes place under the hegemony
of immaterial labor. By hegemony here I do not mean that the
majority of labor in the world today is characterized by immaterial
production – in fact, agriculture remains dominant in quantitative
terms and the numbers involved in industrial labor have not declined
globally. Neither do I mean that immaterial laborers should be
granted political hegemony, as if Microsoft programmers could lead us
on the shining path! What I mean is that the qualities and
conditions of immaterial labor tend to transform all other forms of
labor, their processes, their temporalities, and their techniques.
Just as in an earlier era all forms of labor and society itself were
forced to industrialize, so too today they are increasingly forced to
immaterialize, that is, adopt the primary characteristics of
immaterial labor. Just one rather extreme example: even agriculture
is being transformed to focus on the production and management of
information when one considers the battles over germplasm, that is,
the genetic information contained in seeds, which has been the
subject of patent conflicts and occupies the daily lives of
agriculturists. On the other hand, traditional knowledges or
so-called indigenous knowledges that have long been an essential
element of agricultural production today appear in a new light when
they too become the object of patents and immaterial property. In
short, I would argue that the becoming-common of labor that makes
possible the project of the multitude is developing today under the
hegemony of immaterial labor, but, as I said, such an argument
requires extensive emprical study that is outside the bounds of our
discussion here.
I just want to add, finally, that Toni Negri and I insist on using
the term “multitude” rather than “multitudes” as you suggest. This
might seem a rather minor distinction because the concept multitude
already marks a contrast with any notion of unity or identity, it is
always already filled with differences, whether we write it with the
singular or plural form. The singular form seems important to us,
nonetheless, to mark the political capacity of the project – to
signal, to use a term from a rather different context, the
decision-making capacity of the multitude. The multitude is composed
of differences, it has no center of intelligence, no hierarchical
internal order, and yet the multitude must be able to take a
decision. Or, to pose the same point differently, the multitude must
be able to create a society. This is what the singular use of the
term means for us.


Empire is a complex synthesis, projecting theoretical innovations of
the French and Italian Left through the filter of the English
language. How do you evaluate the role of the American intellectual
within the Imperial machinery of global distribution? It can be
argued that the recognition of “minority” languages helps foster
nationalisms which are then susceptible to the most repressive forms
of Imperial management. Would it be necessary to imagine some kind of
internal exodus – articulated from within the United States by both
white and minority intellectuals – that could overcome this
co-figuration of minority recognition and Imperial nationalism? A
reorganization of the Human Sciences, such that the disciplinary
divisions that reproduce the logic of sovereignty and colonialism
would be eliminated, and a new Science of Foreigners be instituted?

M. Hardt:

I like this notion of a science of foreigners, at least if I
understand it correctly. It reminds of the phrase from Proust that
Deleuze was so fond of repeating: we must learn to write in our own
language as if it were a foreign tongue. That does seem to me a kind
of exodus, an evacuation of the position of academic authority, a
becoming different that opens up rich possibilities. Perhaps this
could not only reorganize the disciplines, as you say, but also lead
finally to finding a way out of the system of “area studies” that was
developed through the logics of colonialism and the cold war and that
continues to dominate the humanities and the social sciences. This
seems to me a wonderful project.
I would not, however, privilege or even single out US intellectuals
as you seem to suggest. The internal exodus that you pose as
necessary within the US intellectual sphere would certainly be
necessary elsewhere too and in the same terms. Perhaps I am wary of
posing any specific role for US intellectuals. You know, of course,
that in contrast (and certainly in reaction) to the dominant
pressures for intellectual to support the nation, many assert that
anti-Americanism is the primary duty of Left US intellectuals, just
as the critique of the French state is a primary duty of French
intellectuals and so forth. This seems to me a kind of trap, to be
always locked in such a reactive position and to conceive the
political alternative always in national terms. But perhaps I am
being distracted by these tired, worn-out problems and not listening
closely enough to your question, because indeed the kind of internal
exodus you suggest, the becoming-foreign in one’s own and every
country completely displaces such old problematics. And this
intellectual project of a science of foreigners, the effort to create
a society of aliens, speaking all tongues, and yet communicating and
acting in common to make another world possible – this is certainly
another way of conceiving the project of the multitude.