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Multitude

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Multitude is a political term first used by Machiavelli and reiterated by Spinoza
Baruch Spinoza
Baruch de Spinoza and later Benedict de Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish philosopher. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death...

. Recently the term has returned to prominence because of its conceptualization as a new model of resistance against the global capitalist system as described by political theorists Michael Hardt
Michael Hardt
Michael Hardt is an American literary theorist and political philosopher perhaps best known for Empire, written with Antonio Negri and published in 2000...

 and Antonio Negri
Antonio Negri
Antonio Negri is an Italian Marxist sociologist and political philosopher.Negri is best-known for his co-authorship of Empire, and secondarily for his work on Spinoza. Born in Padua, he became a political philosophy professor in his hometown university...

 in their international best-seller Empire
Empire (book)
Empire is a text written by post-Marxist philosophers Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. The book, written in the mid-1990s, was published in 2000 and quickly sold beyond its expectations as an academic work.-Summary:...

 (2000) and expanded upon in their recent Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire
Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire
Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire is a book written by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt published in 2004. It is a sequel to the 2000 book, Empire.- Context :...

(2004). Other theorists which have recently used the term include political thinkers associated with Autonomist Marxism and its sequelae, including Sylvère Lotringer
Sylvère Lotringer
Sylvère Lotringer is a literary critic and cultural theorist. A younger contemporary of Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio and Michel Foucault, he is best known for synthesizing French theory with American literary, cultural and architectural avant-garde movements...

, Paolo Virno
Paolo Virno
-In Castilian:* * * * * * * * * * * -Other languages:* * * * *...

, and thinkers connected with the eponymous review Multitudes
Multitudes
Multitudes is a French philosophical, political and artistic monthly journal founded in 2000 by Yann Moulier-Boutang. It is thematically situated in the theoretical framework of the seminal work Empire by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt...

.

History


The concept originates in Machiavelli’s Discorsi. It is, however, with Hobbes's recasting of the concept as the war-disposed, disolute pole of the opposition between a Multitude and a People in De Cive
De Cive
De Cive is a book by Thomas Hobbes published in 1642, and one of his major works.It anticipates the classical republican line of argument in the better-known Leviathan...

, that Spinoza’s conceptualization seems, according to Negri, contrasted (See: The Savage Anomaly pp. 109, 140).

The multitude is used as a term and implied as a concept throughout Spinoza's work. In the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, for instance, he acknowledges that the (fear of
the) power (potentia) of the multitude is the limit of sovereign power (potestas): ‘Every ruler has
more to fear from his own citizens […] than from any foreign enemy, and it is this “fear of the
masses” […that is] the principal brake on the power of the sovereign or state.’ The explication of
this tacit concept, however, only comes in Spinoza's last and unfinished work known as the Political Treatise:
It must next be observed, that in laying foundations it is very necessary to study the human passions: and it is not enough to have shown, what ought to be done, but it ought, above all, to be shown how it can be effected, that men, whether led by passion or reason, should yet keep the laws firm and unbroken. For if the constitution of the dominion, or the public liberty depends only on the weak assistance of the laws, not only will the citizens have no security for its maintenance […], but it will even turn to their ruin. […] And, therefore, it would be far better for the subjects to transfer their rights absolutely to one man, than to bargain for unascertained and empty, that is
unmeaning, terms of liberty, and so prepare for their posterity a way to the most cruel servitude.
But if I succeed in showing that the foundation of monarchical dominion […], are firm and cannot
be plucked up, without the indignation of the larger part of an armed multitude, and that from
them follow peace and security for king and multitude, and if I deduce this from general human
nature, no one will be able to doubt, that these foundations are the best and the true ones.


The concept of the multitude resolves the tension that scholars have observed in Spinoza’s
political project between the insistence on the benign function of sovereignty (as witnessed in the
quotation above) and the insistence on individual freedom. It is, we see here, a truly
revolutionary concept, and it is not difficult to see why Spinoza’s contemporaries (and, as for instance Étienne Balibar
Étienne Balibar
Étienne Balibar is a French Marxist philosopher. After the death of his teacher Louis Althusser, Balibar quickly became the leading exponent of French Marxist philosophy.- Life and work :...

 has implied, even Spinoza himself) saw it as a dangerous political idea.
....

Reiteration by Negri and Hardt


Negri describes the multitude in his The Savage Anomaly as an unmediated, revolutionary
Revolutionary
A revolutionary is a person who either actively participates in, or advocates revolution. Also, when used as an adjective, the term revolutionary refers to something that has a major, sudden impact on society or on some aspect of human endeavor.-Definition:...

, immanent, and positive collective social subject which can found a ‘nonmystified’ form of democracy ( p. 194). In his more recent writings with Michael Hardt, however, he does not so much offer a direct definition, but presents the concept through a series of mediations. In Empire
Empire (book)
Empire is a text written by post-Marxist philosophers Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. The book, written in the mid-1990s, was published in 2000 and quickly sold beyond its expectations as an academic work.-Summary:...

 it is mediated by the concept of Empire (the new global constitution that Negri and Hardt describe as a copy of Polybius
Polybius
Polybius , Greek ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his work, The Histories, which covered the period of 220–146 BC in detail. The work describes in part the rise of the Roman Republic and its gradual domination over Greece...

's description of Roman government):

New figures of struggle and new subjectivities are produced in the conjecture of events, in the universal nomadism […] They are not posed merely against the imperial system—they are not
simply negative forces. They also express, nourish, and develop positively their own constituent
projects. […] This constituent aspect of the movement of the multitude, in its myriad faces, is really the positive terrain of the historical construction of Empire, […] an antagonistic and creative positivity. The deterritorializing power of the multitude is the productive force that sustains Empire and at the same time the force that calls for and makes necessary its destruction.


They remain however vague as to this 'positive' or 'constituent' aspect of the Multitude:

Certainly, there must be a moment when reappropriation [of wealth from capital] and selforganization [of the multitude] reach a threshold and configure a real event. This is when the
political is really affirmed—when the genesis is complete and self-valorization, the cooperative
convergence of subjects, and the proletarian management of production become a constituent
power. […] We do not have any models to offer for this event. Only the multitude through its
practical experimentation will offer the models and determine when and how the possible becomes
real.


In their sequel Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire
Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire
Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire is a book written by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt published in 2004. It is a sequel to the 2000 book, Empire.- Context :...

they still refrain from a clear definition of the concept but approach the concept through mediation of a host of ‘contemporary’ phenomena, most importantly the new type of postmodern war they postulate and the history of post-WWII resistance movements. It remains a rather vague concept which is assigned a revolutionary potential without much theoretical substantiation.

Sylvère Lotringer has criticized Negri and Hardt's use of the concept for its ostensible return to the dialectical dualism in the introduction to Paulo Virno's A Grammar of the Multitude (see external links).

See also

  • Multitudes
    Multitudes
    Multitudes is a French philosophical, political and artistic monthly journal founded in 2000 by Yann Moulier-Boutang. It is thematically situated in the theoretical framework of the seminal work Empire by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt...

  • Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire
    Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire
    Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire is a book written by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt published in 2004. It is a sequel to the 2000 book, Empire.- Context :...

  • Global citizens movement
    Global citizens movement
    In most discussions, the global citizens movement is a socio-political process rather than a political organization or party structure. The term is often used synonymously with the anti-globalization movement or the global justice movement. Colloquially the term is also used in this imprecise manner...


External links