Michael Hardt / Antonio Negri



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Contemporary historians, such as J. G. A. Pocock, who link the development of the U.S. Constitution and its notion of political sovereignty to the Machiavellian tradition, go a long way toward understanding this deviation from the modern concept of sovereignty.[2] They link the U.S. Constitution not to baroque and counterreformist Machiavellianism, which constructs an apologia of state reason and all the injustices that derive from it, but to the tradition of republican Machiavellianism that, after having inspired the protagonists of the English Revolution, was reconstructed in the Atlantic exodus among European democrats who were defeated but not vanquished.[3] This republican tradition does have a solid foundation in Machiavelli's own texts. First of all, there is the Machiavellian concept of power as a constituent power-that is, as a product of an internal and immanent social dynamic. For Machiavelli, power is always republican; it is always the product of the life of the multitude and constitutes its fabric of expression. The free city of Renaissance humanism is the utopia that anchors this revolutionary principle. The second Machiavellian principle at work here is that the social base of this democratic sovereignty is always conflictual. Power is organized through the emergence and the interplay of counterpowers. The city is thus a constituent power that is formed through plural social conflicts articulated in continuous constitutional processes. This is how Machiavelli read the organization of republican ancient Rome, and this is how the Renaissance notion of the city served as the foundation for a realist political theory and practice: social conflict is the basis of the stability of power and the logic of the city's expansion. Machiavelli's thought inaugurated a Copernican revolution that reconfigured politics as perpetual movement. These are the primary teachings that the Atlantic doctrine of democracy derived from the republican Machiavelli.[4]
This republican Rome was not the only Rome that fascinated Machiavelli and guided the Atlantic republicans. Their new "science of politics" was also inspired by imperial Rome, particularly as it was presented in the writings of Polybius. In the first place, Polybius' model of imperial Rome grounded more solidly the republican process of the mediation of social powers and brought it to a conclusion in a synthesis of diverse forms of government. Polybius conceived the perfect form of power as structured by a mixed constitution that combines monarchic power, aristocratic power, and democratic power.[5] The new political scientists in the United States organized these three powers as the three branches of the republican constitution. Any disequilibrium among these powers, and this is the second sign of Polybius' influence, is a symptom of corruption. The Machiavellian Constitution of the United States is a structure poised against corruption-the corruption of both factions and individuals, of groups and the state. The Constitution was designed to resist any cyclical decline into corruption by activating the entire multitude and organizing its constituent capacity in networks of organized counterpowers, in flows of diverse and equalized functions, and in a process of dynamic and expansive self-regulation.
These ancient models, however, go only so far in characterizing the U.S. experience, because in many respects it was truly new and original. In very different periods, Alexis de Tocqueville and Hannah Arendt both grasped the novelty of this new ideology and new form of power. Tocqueville was the more cautious of the two. Although he recognized the vitality of the new political world in the United States and saw how the synthesis of diverse forms of government had been forged into a regulated mass democracy, he also claimed to have seen in America the democratic revolution reach its natural limits. His judgment about whether American democracy can avoid the old cycle of corruption was thus mixed when not outright pessimistic.[6] Hannah Arendt, by contrast, unreservedly celebrated American democracy as the site of the invention of modern politics itself. The central idea of the American Revolution, she claimed, is the establishment of freedom, or really the foundation of a political body that guarantees the space where freedom can operate.[7] Arendt puts the accent on the establishment of this democracy in society, that is, the fixity of its foundation and the stability of its functioning. The revolution succeeds in her estimation to the extent that it puts an end to the dynamic of constituent powers and establishes a stable constituted power. Later we will critique this notion of network power contained in the U.S. Constitution, but here we want simply to highlight its originality. Against the modern European conceptions of sovereignty, which consigned political power to a transcendent realm and thus estranged and alienated the sources of power from society, here the concept of sovereignty refers to a power entirely within society. Politics is not opposed to but integrates and completes society.
Extensive Empire
Before moving on to analyze how in the course of U.S. history this new principle of sovereignty developed and was transformed, let us concentrate our attention for a moment on the nature of the concept itself. The first characteristic of the U.S. notion of sovereignty is that it poses an idea of the immanence of power in opposition to the transcendent character of modern European sovereignty. This idea of immanence is based on an idea of productivity. Ifit were not, the principle would be impotent: in immanence alone, nothing allows society to become political. The multitude that constitutes society is productive. U.S. sovereignty does not consist, then, in the regulation of the multitude but arises, rather, as the result of the productive synergies of the multitude. The humanist revolution of the Renaissance and the subsequent experiences of sectarian Protestantism all developed this idea of productivity. In line with the Protestant ethic, one might say that only the productive power of the multitude demonstrates the existence of God and the presence of divinity on earth.[8] Power is not something that lords over us but something that we make. The American Declaration of Independence celebrates this new idea of power in the clearest terms. The emancipation of humanity from every transcendent power is grounded on the multitude's power to construct its own political institutions and constitute society. This principle of constituent production, however, yields to or is explained by a procedure of self-reflection in a kind of dialectical ballet. This is the second characteristic of the U.S. notion of sovereignty. In the process of the constitution of sovereignty on the plane of immanence, there also arises an experience of finitude that results from the conflictive and plural nature of the multitude itself. The new principle of sovereignty seems to produce its own internal limit. To prevent these obstacles from disrupting order and completely emptying out the project, sovereign power must rely on the exercise of control. In other words, after the first moment of affirmation comes a dialectical negation of the constituent power of the multitude that preserves the teleology of the project of sovereignty. Are we thus faced with a point of crisis in the elaboration of the new concept? Does transcendence, first refused in the definition of the source of power, return through the back door in the exercise of power, when the multitude is posed as finite and thus demanding special instruments of correction and control? That outcome is a constant threat, but after having recognized these internal limits, the new U.S. concept of sovereignty opens with extraordinary force toward the outside, almost as if it wanted to banish the idea of control and the moment of reflection from its own Constitution. The third characteristic of this notion of sovereignty is its tendency toward an open, expansive project operating on an unbounded terrain. Although the text of the U.S. Constitution is extremely attentive to the self-reflective moment, the life and exercise of the Constitution are instead, throughout their jurisprudential and political history, decidedly open to expansive movements, to the renewed declaration of the democratic foundation of power. The principle of expansion continually struggles against the forces of limitation and control.[9]
It is striking how strongly this American experiment resembles the ancient constitutional experience, and specifically the political theory inspired by imperial Rome! In that tradition the conflict between limit and expansion was always resolved in favor of expansion. Machiavelli defined as expansive those republics whose democratic foundations led to both the continuous production of conflicts and the appropriation of new territories. Polybius conceived expansiveness as the reward for the perfect synthesis of the three forms of government, because the eminent form of such a power encourages the democratic pressure of the multitude to surpass every limit and every control. Without expansion the republic constantly risks being absorbed into the cycle of corruption.[10]
This democratic expansive tendency implicit in the notion of network power must be distinguished from other, purely expansionist and imperialist forms of expansion. The fundamental difference is that the expansiveness of the immanent concept of sovereignty is inclusive, not exclusive. In other words, when it expands, this new sovereignty does not annex or destroy the other powers it faces but on the contrary opens itself to them, including them in the network. What opens is the basis of consensus, and thus, through the constitutive network of powers and counterpowers, the entire sovereign body is continually reformed. Precisely because of this expansive tendency, the new concept of sovereignty is profoundly reformist.[11]
We can now distinguish clearly the expansive tendency of the democratic republic from the expansionism of the transcendent sovereigns -or from, because this is primarily what is at issue, the expansionism of modern nation-states. The idea of sovereignty as an expansive power in networks is poised on the hinge that links the principle of a democratic republic to the idea of Empire. Empire can only be conceived as a universal republic, a network of powers and counterpowers structured in a boundless and inclusive architecture. This imperial expansion has nothing to do with imperialism, nor with those state organisms designed for conquest, pillage, genocide, colonization, and slavery. Against such imperialisms, Empire extends and consolidates the model of network power. Certainly, when we consider these imperial processes historically (and we will soon focus on them in U.S. history), we see clearly that the expansive moments of Empire have been bathed in tears and blood, but this ignoble history does not negate the difference between the two concepts.
Perhaps the fundamental characteristic of imperial sovereignty is that its space is always open. As we saw in earlier sections, the modern sovereignty that developed in Europe from the sixteenth century onward conceived space as bounded, and its boundaries were always policed by the sovereign administration. Modern sovereignty resides precisely on the limit. In the imperial conception, by contrast, power finds the logics of its order always renewed and always re-created in expansion. This definition of imperial power raises numerous paradoxes: the indifference of the subjects coupled with the singularization of productive networks; the open and expansive space of Empire together with its continuous reterritorializations; and so forth. The idea of an Empire that is also a democratic republic, however, is formed precisely by linking and combining the extreme terms of these paradoxes. The tension of these conceptual paradoxes will run throughout the articulation and establishment of imperial sovereignty in practice.
Finally, we should note that an idea of peace is at the basis of the development and expansion of Empire. This is an immanent idea of peace that is dramatically opposed to the transcendent idea of peace, that is, the peace that only the transcendent sovereign can impose on a society whose nature is defined by war. Here, on the contrary, nature is peace. Virgil gives us perhaps the highest expression of this Roman peace: "The final age that the oracle foretold has arrived; / The great order of the centuries is born again."[12]
Open Frontiers
The realization of the imperial notion of sovereignty was a long process that developed through the different phases of U.S. constitutional history. As a written document, of course, the U.S. Constitution has remained more or less unchanged (except for a few extremely important amendments), but the Constitution should also be understood as a material regime of juridical interpretation and practice that is exercised not only by jurists and judges but also by subjects throughout the society. This material, social constitution has indeed changed radically since the founding of the republic. U.S. constitutional history, in fact, should be divided into four distinct phases or regimes.[13] A first phase extends from the Declaration of Independence to the Civil War and Reconstruction; a second, extremely contradictory, phase corresponds to the Progressive era, straddling the turn of the century, from the imperialist doctrine of theodore Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson's international reformism; a third phase moves from the New Deal and the Second World War through the height of the cold war; and finally, a fourth phase is inaugurated with the social movements of the 1960s and continues through the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European bloc. Each of these phases of U.S. constitutional history marks a step toward the realization of imperial sovereignty. In the first phase of the Constitution, between the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, the open space of the frontier became the conceptual terrain of republican democracy: this opening afforded the Constitution its first strong definition. The declarations of freedom made sense in a space where the constitution of the state was seen as an open process, a collective self-making.[14] Most important, this American terrain was free of the forms of centralization and hierarchy typical of Europe. Tocqueville and Marx, from opposite perspectives, agree on this point: American civil society does not develop within the heavy shackles of feudal and aristocratic power but starts off from a separate and very different foundation.[15] An ancient dream seems newly possible. An unbounded territory is open to the desire (cupiditas) of humanity, and this humanity can thus avoid the crisis of the relationship between virtue (virtus) and fortune (fortuna) that had ambushed and derailed the humanist and democratic revolution in Europe. From the perspective of the new United States, the obstacles to human development are posed by nature, not history-and nature does not present insuperable antagonisms or fixed social relationships. It is a terrain to transform and traverse.
Already in this first phase, then, a new principle of sovereignty is affirmed, different from the European one: liberty is made sovereign and sovereignty is defined as radically democratic within an open and continuous process of expansion. The frontier is a frontier of liberty. How hollow the rhetoric of the Federalists would have been and how inadequate their own "new political science" had they not presupposed this vast and mobile threshold of the frontier! The very idea of scarcity that-like the idea of war-had been at the center of the European concept of modern sovereignty is a priori stripped away from the constitutive processes of the American experience. Jefferson and Jackson both understood the materiality of the frontier and recognized it as the basis that supported the expansiveness of democracy.[16] Liberty and the frontier stand in a relationship of reciprocal implication: every difficulty, every limit of liberty is an obstacle to overcome, a threshold to pass through. From the Atlantic to the pacific extended a terrain of wealth and freedom, constantly open to new lines of flight. In this framework there is at least a partial displacement or resolution of that ambiguous dialectic we saw developing within the American Constitution that subordinated the immanent principles of the Declaration of Independence to a transcendent order of constitutional selfreflection. Across the great open spaces the constituent tendency wins out over the constitutional decree, the tendency of the immanence of the principle over regulative reflection, and the initiative of the multitude over the centralization of power.
This utopia of open spaces that plays such an important role in the first phase of american constitutional history, however, already hides ingenuously a brutal form of subordination. The North American terrain can be imagined as empty only by willfully ignoring the existence of the Native Americans-or really conceiving them as a different order of human being, as subhuman, part of the natural environment. Just as the land must be cleared oftrees and rocks in order to farm it, so too the terrain must be cleared of the native inhabitants. Just as the frontier people must gird themselves against the severe winters, so too they must arm themselves against the indigenous populations. Native Americans were regarded as merely a particularly thorny element of nature, and a continuous war was aimed at their expulsion and/or elimination. Here we are faced with a contradiction that could not be absorbed within the constitutional machine: the Native Americans could not be integrated in the expansive movement of the frontier as part of the constitutional tendency; rather, they had to be excluded from the terrain to open its spaces and make expansion possible. If they had been recognized, there would have been no real frontier on the continent and no open spaces to fill. They existed outside the Constitution as its negative foundation: in other words, their exclusion and elimination were essential conditions of the functioning of the Constitution itself. This contradiction may not even properly be conceived as a crisis since Native Americans are so dramatically excluded from and external to the workings of the constitutional machine. In this first phase that runs from the founding of the democratic republic to the Civil War, the constitutional dynamic did go into crisis as a result of an internal contradiction. Whereas Native Americans were cast outside the Constitution, African Americans were from the beginning posed within it. The conception of frontier and the idea and practice of an open space of democracy were in fact woven together with an equally open and dynamic concept of people, multitude, and gens. The republican people is a new people, a people in exodus populating the empty (or emptied) new territories. From the beginning, American space was not only an extensive, unbounded space but also an intensive space: a space of crossings, a "melting pot" of continuous hybridization. The first real crisis of American liberty was determined on this internal, intensive space. Black slavery, a practice inherited from the colonial powers, was an insurmountable barrier to the formation of a free people. The great American anticolonial constitution had to integrate this paradigmatic colonial institution at its very heart. Native Americans could be excluded because the new republic did not depend on their labor, but black labor was an essential support of the new United States: African Americans had to be included in the Constitution but could not be included equally. (Women, of course, occupied a very similar position.) The Southern constitutionalists had no trouble demonstrating that the Constitution, in its dialectical, selfreflective, and "federalist" moment, permitted, and even demanded, this perverse interpretation of the social division of labor that ran completely counter to the affirmation of equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
The delicate nature of this contradiction is indicated by the bizarre compromise in the drafting of the Constitution, arrived at only through tortuous negotiation, whereby the slave population does count in the determination of the number of representatives for each state in the House of Representatives, but at a ratio whereby one slave equals three-fifths of a free person. (Southern states fought to make this ratio as high as possible to increase their congressional power, and Northerners fought to lower it.) The constitutionalists were forced in effect to quantify the constitutional value of different races. The framers thus declared that the number of representatives "shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons."[17] One for white and zero for Native Americans poses relatively little problem, but three fifths is a very awkward number for a Constitution. African American slaves could be neither completely included nor entirely excluded. Black slavery was paradoxically both an exception to and a foundation of the Constitution.
This contradiction posed a crisis for the newly developed U.S. notion of sovereignty because it blocked the free circulation, mixing, and equality that animate its foundation.[18] Imperial sovereignty must always overcome barriers and boundaries both within its domain and at the frontiers. This continuous overcoming is what makes the imperial space open. The enormous internal barriers between black and white, free and slave, blocked the imperial integration machine and deflated the ideological pretense to open spaces. Abraham Lincoln was certainly right when, conducting the Civil War, he thought of himselfas refounding the nation. The passage of the Fourteenth Amendment inaugurated more than a century of juridical struggles over civil rights and African American equality. Furthermore, the debate over slavery was inextricably tied to the debates over the new territories. What was in play was a redefinition of the space of the nation. At stake was the question whether the free exodus of the multitude, unified in a plural community, could continue to develop, perfect itself, and realize a new configuration of public space. The new democracy had to destroy the transcendental idea of the nation with all its racial divisions and create its own people, defined not by old heritages but by a new ethics of the construction and expansion of the community. The new nation could not but be the product of the political and cultural management of hybrid identities.
The Closure of Imperial Space
The great open American spaces eventually ran out. Even pushing Native Americans farther and farther away, into smaller and smaller confines, was not enough. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, American liberty, its new model of network power, and its alternative conception to modern sovereignty all ran up against the recognition that open terrain was limited. The development of the U.S. Constitution would be from this moment on constantly poised on a contradictory border. Every time the expansiveness of the constitutional project ran up against its limits, the republic was tempted to engage in a European-style imperialism. There was always, however, another option: to return to the project of imperial sovereignty and articulate it in a way consistent with the original "Roman" mission of the United States. This new drama of the U.S. political project was played out in the Progressive era, from the 1890s to the First World War.
This was the same period in which class struggle rose to center stage in the United States. Class struggle posed the problem of scarcity, not in absolute terms, but in terms proper to the history of capitalism: that is, as the inequity of the division of the goods of development along the lines of the social division of labor. Class division emerged as a limit that threatened to destabilize the expansive equilibria of the constitution. At the same time, capital's great trusts began to organize new forms of financial power, delinking wealth from productivity and money from the relations of production. Whereas in Europe this was experienced as a relatively continuous development-because finance capital was built on the social position of land rent and the aristocracy-in the United States it was an explosive event. It jeopardized the very possibility of a constitution in network, because when a power becomes monopolistic, the network itself is destroyed. Since the expansion of space was no longer possible and thus could no longer be used as a strategy to resolve conflicts, social conflict appeared directly as a violent and irreconcilable event. The entrance on the scene of the great U.S. workers' movement confirmed the closure of the constitutional space of mediation and the impossibility of the spatial displacement of conflicts. The Haymarket Square riot and the Pullman strike stated it loud and clear: there is no more open space, and thus conflict will result in a direct clash, right here.[19] In effect, when power ran up against its spatial limits, it was constrained to fold back on itself. This was the new context in which all actions had to be played out.

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