Michael Hardt / Antonio Negri



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Two fundamental kinds of operations contribute to the construction of the modern concept of the people in relation to that of the nation in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The more important of these are the mechanisms of colonial racism that construct the identity of European peoples in a dialectical play of oppositions with their native Others. The concepts of nation, people, and race are never very far apart.[19] The construction of an absolute racial difference is the essential ground for the conception of a homogeneous national identity. Numerous excellent studies are appearing today, when the pressures of immigration and multiculturalism are creating conflicts in Europe, to demonstrate that, despite the persistent nostalgia of some, European societies and peoples were never really pure and uniform.[20] The identity of the people was constructed on an imaginary plane that hid and/or eliminated differences, and this corresponded on the practical plane to racial subordination and social purification.
The second fundamental operation in the construction of the people, which is facilitated by the first, is the eclipse of internal differences through the representation of the whole population by a hegemonic group, race, or class. The representative group is the active agent that stands behind the effectiveness of the concept of nation. In the course of the French Revolution itself, between Thermidor and the Napoleonic period, the concept of nation revealed its fundamental content and served as an antidote to the concept and forces of revolution. Even in SieyŠs's early work we can see clearly how the nation serves to placate the crisis and how sovereignty will be reappropriated through the representation of the bourgeoisie. SieyŠs claims that a nation can have only one general interest: it would be impossible to establish order if the nation were to admit several different interests. Social order necessarily supposes the unity of ends and the concert of means.[21] The concept of nation in these early years of the French Revolution was the first hypothesis of the construction of popular hegemony and the first conscious manifesto of a social class, but it was also the final declaration of a fully accomplished secular transformation, a coronation, a final seal. Never was the concept of nation so reactionary as when it presented itself as revolutionary.[22] Paradoxically, this cannot but be a completed revolution, an end of history. The passage from revolutionary activity to the spiritual construction of the nation and the people is inevitable and implicit in the concepts themselves.[23] National sovereignty and popular sovereignty were thus products of a spiritual construction, that is, a construction of identity. When Edmund Burke opposed SieyŠs, his position was much less profoundly different than the torrid polemical climate of the age would lead us to believe. Even for Burke, in fact, national sovereignty is the product of a spiritual construction of identity. This fact can be recognized even more clearly in the work of those who carried the standard of the counterrevolutionary project on the European continent. The continental conceptions of this spiritual construction revived both the historical and the voluntarist traditions of the nation and added to the conception of historical development a transcendental synthesis in national sovereignty. This synthesis is always already accomplished in the identity of the nation and the people. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, for example, claims in more or less mythological terms that the fatherland and the people are representatives and gauges of earthly eternity; they are what here on earth can be immortal.[24] The Romantic counterrevolution was in fact more realistic than the Enlightenment revolution. It framed and fixed what was already accomplished, celebrating it in the eternal light of hegemony. The Third Estate is power; the nation is its totalizing representation; the people is its solid and natural foundation; and national sovereignty is the apex of history. Every historical alternative to bourgeois hegemony had thus been definitively surpassed through the bourgeoisie's own revolutionary history.[25] This bourgeois formulation of the concept of national sovereignty surpassed by far all the previous formulations of modern sovereignty. It consolidated a particular and hegemonic image of modern sovereignty, the image of the victory of the bourgeoisie, which it then both historicized and universalized. National particularity is a potent universality. All the threads of a long development were woven together here. In the identity, that is, the spiritual essence, of the people and the nation, there is a territory embedded with cultural meanings, a shared history, and a linguistic community; but moreover there is the consolidation of a class victory, a stable market, the potential for economic expansion, and new spaces to invest and civilize. In short, the construction of national identity guarantees a continually reinforced legitimation, and the right and power of a sacrosanct and irrepressible unity. This is a decisive shift in the concept of sovereignty. Married to the concepts of nation and people, the modern concept of sovereignty shifts its epicenter from the mediation of conflicts and crisis to the unitary experience of a nation-subject and its imagined community.
Subaltern Nationalism
We have been focusing our attention up to this point on the development of the concept of nation in Europe while Europe was in the process of achieving world dominance. Outside of Europe, however, the concept of nation has often functioned very differently. In some respects, in fact, one might even say that the function of the concept of nation is inverted when deployed among subordinated rather than dominant groups. Stated most boldly, it appears that whereas the concept of nation promotes stasis and restoration in the hands of the dominant, it is a weapon for change and revolution in the hands of the subordinated.
The progressive nature of subaltern nationalism is defined by two primary functions, each of which is highly ambiguous. Most important, the nation appears as progressive insofar as it serves as a line of def ense against the domination of more powerful nations and external economic, political, and ideological forces. The right to self-determination of subaltern nations is really a right to secession from the control of dominant powers.[26] Anticolonial struggles thus used the concept of nation as a weapon to defeat and expel the occupying enemy, and anti-imperialist policies similarly erected national walls to obstruct the overpowering forces of foreign capital. The concept of nation also served as an ideological weapon to ward off the dominant discourse that figured the dominated population and culture as inferior; the claim to nationhood affirmed the dignity of the people and legitimated the demand for independence and equality. In each of these cases, the nation is progressive strictly as a fortified line of defense against more powerful external forces. As much as those walls appear progressive in their protective function against external domination, however, they can easily play an inverse role with respect to the interior they protect. The flip side of the structure that resists foreign powers is itself a dominating power that exerts an equal and opposite internal oppression, repressing internal difference and opposition in the name of national identity, unity, and security. Protection and oppression can be hard to tell apart. This strategy of "national protection" is a double-edged sword that at times appears necessary despite its destructiveness.
The nation appears progressive in the second place insofar as it poses the commonality of a potential community. Part of the "modernizing" effects of the nation in subordinated countries has been the unification of diverse populations, breaking down religious, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic barriers. The unification of countries such as Indonesia, China, and Brazil, for example, is an ongoing process that involves overcoming innumerable such barriers-and in many cases this national unification was prepared by the European colonial power. In cases of diasporic populations, too, the nation seems at times to be the only concept available under which to imagine the community of the subaltern group-as, for example, the Aztlaïn is imagined as the geographical homeland of "la Raza," the spiritual Latino nation in North America. It may be true, as Benedict Anderson says, that a nation should be understood as an imagined community-but here we should recognize that the claim is inverted so that the nation becomes the only way to imagine community! Every imagination of a community becomes overcoded as a nation, and hence our conception of community is severely impoverished. Just as in the context of the dominant countries, here too the multiplicity and singularity of the multitude are negated in the straitjacket of the identity and homogeneity of the people. Once again, the unifying power of the subaltern nation is a double-edged sword, at once progressive and reactionary. Both of these simultaneously progressive and regressive aspects of subaltern nationalism are present in all their ambiguity in the tradition of black nationalism in the United States. Although deprived as it is of any territorial definition (and thus undoubtedly different from the majority of other subaltern nationalisms), it too presents the two fundamental progressive functions-sometimes by striving to pose itself in an analogous position to the proper, territorially defined nations. In the early 1960s, for example, after the enormous impetus created by the Bandung Conference and the emerging African and Latin American national liberation struggles, Malcolm X attempted to redirect the focus of demands of af rican American struggles from "civil rights" to "human rights" and thus rhetorically shift the forum of appeal from the U.S. Congress to the U.N. General Assembly.[27] Malcolm X, like many African American leaders at least since Marcus Garvey, clearly recognized the powerful position of speaking as a nation and a people. The concept of nation here configures a defensive position of separation from the hegemonic "external" power and at the same time represents the autonomous power of the unified community, the power of the people. More important than any such theoretical and rhetorical propositions, however, are the actual practices of black nationalism, that is, the wide variety of activities and phenomena that are conceived by the actors themselves as expressions of black nationalism: from community drill teams and parades to meal programs, separate schools, and projects of community economic development and self-sufficiency. As Wahneema Lubiano puts it, "Black nationalism is significant for the ubiquity of its presence in black American lives."[28] In all these various activities and realms of life, black nationalism names precisely the circuits of self-valorization that constitute the community and allow for its relative self-determination and self-constitution. Despite the range of disparate phenomena called black nationalism, then, we can still recognize in them the two fundamental progressive functions of subaltern nationalism: the defense and the unification of the community. Black nationalism can name any expression of the separation and autonomous power of the African American people.
In the case of black nationalism too, however, the progressive elements are accompanied inevitably by their reactionary shadows. The repressive forces of nation and people feed off the self-valorization of the community and destroy its multiplicity. When black nationalism poses the uniformity and homogeneity of the African American people as its basis (eclipsing class differences, for example) or when it designates one segment of the community (such as African American men) as de facto representatives of the whole, the profound ambiguity of subaltern nationalism's progressive functions emerges as clearly as ever.[29] Precisely the structures that play a defensive role with respect to the outside-in the interest of furthering the power, autonomy, and unity of the community-are the same that play an oppressive role internally, negating the multiplicity of the community itself.
We should emphasize, however, that these ambiguous progressive functions of the concept of nation exist primarily when nation is not effectively linked to sovereignty, that is, when the imagined nation does not (yet) exist, when the nation remains merely a dream. As soon as the nation begins to form as a sovereign state, its progressive functions all but vanish. Jean Genet was enchanted by the revolutionary desire of the Black Panthers and the Palestinians, but he recognized that becoming a sovereign nation would be the end of their revolutionary qualities. "The day when the Palestinians are institutionalized," he said, "I will no longer be at their side. The day the Palestinians become a nation like the other nations, I will no longer be there."[30] With national "liberation" and the construction of the nation-state, all of the oppressive functions of modern sovereignty inevitably blossom in full force.
Totalitarianism of the Nation-State
When the nation-state does function as an institution of sovereignty, does it finally manage to resolve the crisis of modernity? Does the concept of the people and its biopolitical displacement of sovereignty succeed in shifting the terms and the terrain of the synthesis between constituent power and constituted power, and between the dynamic of productive forces and relations of production, in such a way as to carry us beyond the crisis? A vast panorama of authors, poets, and politicians (often emerging from progressive, socialist, and anti-imperialist movements) have certainly thought so. The conversion of the nineteenth-century Jacobin Left into a national Left, the more and more intense adoption of national programs in the Second and Third Internationals, and the nationalist forms of liberation struggles in the colonial and postcolonial world all the way up to today's resistance of nations to the processes of globalization and the catastrophes they provoke: all this seems to support the view that the nation-state does afford a new dynamic beyond the historical and conceptual disaster of the modern sovereign state.[31]
We have a different perspective on the function of the nation, however, and in our view the crisis of modernity remains resolutely open under the rule of the nation and its people. When we take up again our genealogy of the concept of sovereignty in nineteenthand twentieth-century Europe, it is clear that the state-form of modernity first fell into the nation-state-form, then the nation-state-form descended into a whole series of barbarisms. When class struggle reopened the mystified synthesis of modernity in the early decades of the twentieth century and demonstrated again the powerful antithesis between the state and the multitude and between productive forces and relations of production, that antithesis led directly to European civil war-a civil war that was nonetheless cloaked in the guise of conflicts among sovereign nation-states.[32] In the Second World War, Nazi Germany, along with the various European fascisms, stood opposed to socialist Russia. Nations were presented as mystifications of, or stand-ins for, the class subjects in conflict. IfNazi Germany is the ideal type of the transformation of modern sovereignty into national sovereignty and of its articulation in capitalist form, then Stalinist Russia is the ideal type of the transformation of popular interest and the cruel logics that follow from it into a project of national modernization, mobilizing for its own purposes the productive forces that yearn for liberation from capitalism.
Here we could analyze the national socialist apotheosis of the modern concept of sovereignty and its transformation into national sovereignty: nothing could more clearly demonstrate the coherence of this passage than the transfer of power from the Prussian monarchy to Hitler's regime, under the good auspices of the German bourgeoisie. This passage, however, is well known, as are the explosive violence of this transfer of power, the exemplary obedience of the German people, their military and civil valor in the service of the nation, and the secondary consequences that we can call, in a kind of intellectual shorthand, Auschwitz (as symbol of the Jewish holocaust) and Buchenwald (as symbol of the extermination of communists, homosexuals, Gypsies, and others). Let us leave this story to other scholars and to the disgrace of history. We are more interested here with the other side of the national question in Europe during this era. In other words, what really happened when nationalism went hand in hand with socialism in Europe? In order to respond to this question, we have to revisit a few central moments in the history of European socialism. In particular, we must remember that not long after its inception, between the middle and end of the nineteenth century, the socialist International had to come to terms with strong nationalist movements, and through this confrontation the original internationalist passion of the workers' movement quickly evaporated. The policies of the strongest European workers' movements, in Germany, Austria, France, and above all England, immediately raised the banner of national interest. Social-democratic reformism was entirely invested in this compromise conceived in the name of the nation-a compromise between class interests, that is, between the proletariat and certain strata of the bourgeois hegemonic structure in each country. Let's not even talk about the ignoble history of betrayal in which segments of the European workers' movement supported the imperialist enterprises of the European nation-states, nor the unpardonable folly that brought together the various European reformisms in consenting to the masses' being led to slaughter in the First World War.
Social-democratic reformism did have an adequate theory for these positions. Several Austrian social-democratic professors invented it, contemporaries of Musil's Count Leinsdorf. In the idyllic atmosphere of alpine Kakania, in the gentle intellectual climate of that "return to Kant," those professors, such as Otto Bauer, insisted on the necessity of considering nationality a fundamental element of modernization.[33] In fact, they believed that from the confrontation between nationality (defined as a community of character) and capitalist development (understood as society) there would emerge a dialectic that in its unfolding would eventually favor the proletariat and its progressive hegemony in society. This program ignored the fact that the concept of nation-state is not divisible but rather organic, not transcendental but transcendent, and even in its transcendence it is constructed to oppose every tendency on the part of the proletariat to reappropriate social spaces and social wealth. What, then, could modernization mean ifit is fundamentally tied to the reform of the capitalist system and inimical to any opening of the revolutionary process? These authors celebrated the nation without wanting to pay the price of this celebration. Or better, they celebrated it while mystifying the destructive power of the concept of nation. Given this perspective, support for the imperialist projects and the interimperialist war were really logical and inevitable positions for social-democratic reformism.
Bolshevism, too, entered the terrain of nationalist mythology, particularly through Stalin's celebrated prerevolutionary pamphlet on Marxism and the national question.[34] According to Stalin, nations are immediately revolutionary, and revolution means modernization: nationalism is an ineluctable stage in development. Through Stalin's translation, however, as nationalism becomes socialist, socialism becomes Russian, and Ivan the Terrible is laid to rest in the tomb beside Lenin. The Communist International is transformed into an assembly of the "fifth column" of Russian national interests. The notion of Communist revolution-the deterritorializing specter that had haunted Europe and the world, and that from the Paris Commune to 1917 in Saint Petersburg and to Mao's Long March had managed to bring together deserters, internationalist partisans, striking workers, and cosmopolitan intellectuals-was finally made into a reterritorializing regime of national sovereignty. It is a tragic irony that nationalist socialism in Europe came to resemble national socialism. This is not because "the two extremes meet," as some liberals would like to think, but because the abstract machine of national sovereignty is at the heart of both.
When, in the midst of the cold war, the concept of totalitarianism was introduced into political science, it only touched on extrinsic elements of the question. In its most coherent form the concept of totalitarianism was used to denounce the destruction of the democratic public sphere, the continuation of Jacobinist ideologies, the extreme forms of racist nationalism, and the negation of market forces. The concept of totalitarianism, however, ought to delve much more deeply into the real phenomena and at the same time give a better explanation of them. In fact, totalitarianism consists not simply in totalizing the effects of social life and subordinating them to a global disciplinary norm, but also in the negation of social life itself, the erosion of its foundation, and the theoretical and practical stripping away of the very possibility of the existence of the multitude. What is totalitarian is the organic foundation and the unified source of society and the state. The community is not a dynamic collective creation but a primordial founding myth. An originary notion of the people poses an identity that homogenizes and purifies the image of the population while blocking the constructive interactions of differences within the multitude.
SieyŠs saw the embryo of totalitarianism already in eighteenthcentury conceptions of national and popular sovereignty, conceptions that effectively preserved the absolute power of monarchy and transferred it to national sovereignty. He glimpsed the future of what might be called totalitarian democracy.[35] In the debate over the Constitution of Year III of the French Revolution, SieyŠs denounced the "bad plans for a re-total [r‚-total] instead of a republic [r‚-publique], which would be fatal for freedom and ruinous for both the public realm and the private."[36] The concept of nation and the practices of nationalism are from the beginning set down on the road not to the republic but to the "re-total," the total thing, that is, the totalitarian overcoding of social life.
2.3 - THE DIALECTICS OF COLONIAL SOVEREIGNTY
To Toussaint l'Ouverture
Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men!
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon's earless den;-
O miserable Chieftain! where and when
Wilt thou find patience! Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There's not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man's unconquerable mind.
William Wordsworth
We now need to take a step back and examine the genealogy of the concept of sovereignty from the perspective of colonialism. The crisis of modernity has from the beginning had an intimate relation to racial subordination and colonization. Whereas within its domain the nation-state and its attendant ideological structures work tirelessly to create and reproduce the purity of the people, on the outside the nation-state is a machine that produces Others, creates racial difference, and raises boundaries that delimit and support the modern subject of sovereignty. These boundaries and barriers, however, are not impermeable but rather serve to regulate two-way flows between Europe and its outside. The Oriental, the African, the Amerindian are all necessary components for the negative foundation of European identity and modern sovereignty as such. The dark Other of European Enlightenment stands as its very foundation just as the productive relationship with the "dark continents" serves as the economic foundation of the European nation-states.[1] The racial conflict intrinsic to European modernity is another symptom of the permanent crisis that defines modern sovereignty. The colony stands in dialectical opposition to European modernity, as its necessary double and irrepressible antagonist. Colonial sovereignty is another insufficient attempt to resolve the crisis of modernity.
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