Multitude, People, or…

this is from a larger paper I’m working that explores Augustine’s Eucharistic theology and its relation to politics. this is an introductory summary of people/multitude as hardt/negri see it. i will then move on to describe how the Eucharistic community enters into ethical/political practices that move beyond these two options. It is still however a rough draft I finished last night, and the footnotes reflect it.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have recently proposed the concept and political project of the “multitude” in their recent collaboration by the same name.[1] Their main objective is to propose and produce an alternative to the currently emerging global social body. Their story goes as follows. The beginning of the modern age is marked by the rise of the nation-state attended by theories of the “people” and the social body. The ‘people’ often serve as the middle term between the consent given by the population and the command exerted by the sovereign power,” giving rise to a conception of a single, unified social identity. This sovereign power, be it democratic or despotic, imagines itself as a social body, transfiguring the multiple, individual bodies of the ruled into the one cohesive body of society, embodied in the one who rules.[2] All this occurs to end and protect against the threat of internal civil war, opening the path toward international politics. Yet according to Hardt and Negri, our situation has changed again into a new state of civil war. We live not in a state of constant wars between sovereignties, but of a new civil war across a global terrain, a territory created by capitals Empire.[3] In light of these circumstances, their question can be summarized, “As the body of the modern nation-state formed out of the caldron of civil wars, what new body might arise from our global civil war, a war between the regime of global capitalism and its resisters?”

Their answer is the multitude. Transitioning from their discussion on war in the first part to a description of the multitude in part two, Hardt and Negri offer this helpful summary:

“To understand the concept of the multitude in its most general and abstract form, let us contrast if first with that of the people. The people is one. The population, of course is composed of numerous different individuals and classes, but the people synthesizes or reduces these social differences into one identity. The multitude, by contrast, is not unified by remains plural and multiple…The multitude is composed of a set of singularities—and by singularity here we mean a social subject whose difference cannot be reduced to sameness, a difference that remains different. The component parts of the people are indifferent in their unity; they become an identity by negating or setting aside their differences. The plural singularities of the multitude thus stands in contrast to the undifferentiated unity of the people.[4]

So, unlike the social bodies of the modern era, the multitude is an alternative social body of difference is proposed to quell the global civil war. But even the term ‘body’ as a description becomes problematic because it signifies an organically unified, cohesive social totality. “A democratic multitude cannot be a political body, at least not in the modern form. The multitude is something like singular flesh that refuses the organic unity of the body” (162). The multitude is a living[5] and monstrous[6] flesh, escaping the logic of bodily hierarchy between the ruling head and subjected members, and able to resist capital’s violent integration into the global social body. The multitude, being numerous and diverse, resists the concept of the people as “one”, and as such can never be assimilated into the social, political, economic body of global capitalism. For Hardt and Negri, only the multitude will lead us productively beyond our global civil war into a time of peace and true democracy. For them, “the multitude is the only social subject capable of realizing democracy, that is, the rule of everyone by everyone. The stakes, in other words, are extremely high” (100).

But is this so? Are there no other option than either the people or the multitude? And even if there are no other options, how will the multitude come about? For even Hardt and Negri know better than to offer too much, and only claim suggest the multitude as a concept rather than a political directive.[7] However, they certainly hope that the ontological concept of the multitude might produce “a political project to bring it into being on the basis of these emerging conditions…If the multitude were not already latent and implicit in our social being, we could not even imagine it as a political project; and similarly, we can only hope to realize it today because it already exists as a real potential. The multitude , then, when we put these two together, has a strange, double temporality: always-already and not-yet” (221).[8] This, of course, constitutes Hardt and Negri’s Marxist, utopian, and we might say, heretical eschatology. This eschatology, as Karios, “is the moment when the arrow is shot by the bowstring, the moment when a decision of action is made…We can already recognize that today time is split between a present that is already dead and a future that is already living—and the yawning abyss between them is becoming enormous. In time, an event will thrust us like an arrow into that living future. This will be the real political act of love” (357,8). This ‘real political act of love’ constitute the end (or beginning) of the multitude, and are literally the last words in Multitude. But, again, is the multitude, offered in contrast to the people, that last word, the last concept concerning our global civil war.

[1] Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York, NY: Penguin, 2004).
[2] ibid., 160-162. See also Zizek, Sublime Object of Ideology, 145-149, and Agamben, Means without End, “What is a people”, 29-25.
[3] See Part One of Multitude entitled ‘War’, and Empire () . Also Welcome to the Desert of the Real() by Slavoj Zizek. For a similar, yet theological account, of the emergence of modern nation-states see Chapter One of William Cavaungh’s Theopolitical Imagination.
[4] ibid., 99.
[5] ibid., 100. “Rather than a political body with one that commands and others that obey, the multitude is living flesh that rules itself”.
[6] ibid., 190-194.
[7] ibid., 220.
[8] Interestingly, much of this section draws on a disavowed Pauline “already/but not yet” eschatology and a Johannine “in, but not of” ecclesiology. See especially 219-227.