[OPE-L] Tom Nairn review Multitude by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Thu Apr 28 2005 - 13:13:59 EDT


LRB | Vol. 27 No. 9 dated 5 May 2005 | Tom Nairn

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Make for the Boondocks

Tom Nairn

Multitude by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri 
[ Buy from the London Review Bookshop ] · Hamish 
Hamilton, 426 pp, £20.00

Better to wonder if ten thousand angels
Could waltz on the head of a pin
And not feel crowded than to wonder if now's the time
for the armies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
To teach the Serbs a lesson they'll never forget
For shooting Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo

Carl Dennis, 'World History'1

The cover of Multitude invites bookshop browsers 
not just to read it, but to 'Join the many. Join 
the Empowered.' The missionary tone is underlined 
by Naomi Klein's blurb - 'inspiring' - and a 
frisson added by the book's appearance: a brown 
paper wrapping like those used to discourage porn 
thieves and customs inspectors. Trembling fingers 
that go further are reminded that this book 
succeeds Empire (2000), by the same authors, 
which provided a picture of the global imperium 
supposed to have followed the Cold War - not the 
American Empire, but a wider settlement of which 
US supremacy was just one part. This imperium has 
generated global resistance, which all purchasers 
are now invited to approve, in the name of 

Hardt and Negri's multitude should not be 
confused with the working class, or any ethnic 
and national group. It seems to mean humanity in 
general - 'The multitude is many-coloured, like 
Joseph's magical coat,' but the coat hides an 
increasingly common will, summed up by the 
authors as 'democracy'. Readers are warned that 
the book's argument may not be 'immediately 
clear' and are exhorted to be patient, for 
Multitude is 'a mosaic from which the general 
design gradually emerges'. Before turning to that 
design, it's important to stress how welcome this 
expansiveness is. In a venture like this, social 
anthropology and philosophy are as important as 
economics or conventional international 
relations. As Gopal Balakrishnan wrote in his 
review of Empire in New Left Review, it seems 
apposite to cite Virgil: 'The final age that the 
oracle foretold has arrived; the great order of 
the centuries is born again.'

And yet, as in the previous book, this oracular 
tone is puzzling. If the outlook for global 
democratisation were as good as these prophets 
maintain, then surely a more empirical, 
matter-of-fact tone would suffice? Instead, an 
exalted and visionary tone prevails, right up to 
the high note of rapture on which they end: 
'Today time is split between a present that is 
already dead and a future that is already living 
. . . In time, an event will thrust us like an 
arrow into that living future. This will be the 
real political act of love.' Hardt and Negri's 
project is constantly undermined by an inebriate 
tendency towards the absolute. It is as if the 
authors find themselves transported by a 
philosophical elixir of oneness which, though 
invariably justified as 'radicalism', may in fact 
carry the reader towards an odd style of 
religiosity. Nor is this just a side effect: it 
is this that we are really being invited to 
'join' - empowerment through faith, via spiritual 

You'll have to tell them frankly you can't explain
Why Nineveh is still standing though you hope to learn
At the feet of a prophet who for all you know
May be turning his donkey toward Nineveh even now.

Carl Dennis, 'Prophet'

While Empire made some readers think of Virgil 
and Rome, in Multitude the defining shift is more 
restricted: the postmodern has become the 
premodern. The philosophy of Spinoza has replaced 
both Marxism and capitalist neo-liberalism. While 
affected timelessness is inherent in the 
Hardt-Negri rhetoric - hence their over-easy 
references to antiquity or the Middle Ages - the 
centre of gravity in this book is firmly in the 
later 17th century. Once regarded as an important 
precursor of the Enlightenment and of Marxist 
materialism, the thought of Spinoza (1632-77) is 
redeemed in these pages, as a wisdom awaiting its 
vindication in a globalised epoch yet to come. In 
vital ways, Spinoza told the whole story: his 
apparently abstract pantheistic philosophy 
explained history itself, future as well as past, 
and the globalisation process simply favours a 
return to such understanding, after the mounting 
sorrows and delusions of modernity.

Spinoza was an asylum seeker fortunate to find 
refuge in the Netherlands. Under the more stable 
conditions following the Thirty Years War and the 
Treaties of Westphalia, his family settled in one 
of Europe's most open and prosperous societies. 
This fascinating world has been brought to life 
by Jonathan Israel's great study, Radical 
Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of 
Modernity (2001). But Israel isn't mentioned in 
Multitude's extensive notes. Hardt and Negri's 
concern is with rebirth, not historiography. It 
is the great seer who appeals to them: 'the 
spiritual saboteur, a subverter of things 
lawfully established, and an apologist for the 
Devil', as Roger Scruton has put it, who 'after 
his death was regarded as the greatest heretic of 
the 17th century'.

Reviled both by orthodox Hebraism and many 
Netherlands Calvinists, Spinoza insisted that 
intuitive prophecy was the basis of true faith, 
and that 'the prophet creates his own people.' In 
Radical Enlightenment Israel claims that 
Spinoza's system 'imparted shape, order and unity 
to the entire tradition of radical thought, both 
retrospectively and in its subsequent 
development', and Spinoza's Ethics concluded in 
terms significantly like those of Multitude: 'The 
intellectual love of God . . . is eternal,' and 
'there is nothing in nature which is contrary to 
this intellectual love, or which can take it 
away.' It has taken a while for 'the people' to 
show up as global everybody or multitude; but 
this is good luck for our authors, as they do not 
hesitate to remind readers. Thanks to the Western 
victory in the Cold War and to information 
technology, can it be that globalisation is 
putting the whole world into the hands of today's 
radical heretics?

Spinoza was a republican democrat and a supporter 
of the politician Johan De Witt (1625-72), an 
opponent of the House of Orange. After De Witt's 
death, the aristocratic Orange faction took power 
and restored a more conventional social order 
(which was subsequently imposed on Britain when 
one of them acquired the English throne in 1689). 
By that time 'Spinozism' was already a thriving 
underground cult with ardent supporters in many 
countries: 'The battle was on to fix the image of 
the dying Spinoza in the perceptions and 
imagination of posterity,' Israel writes, since 
'the final hours of a thinker who seeks to 
transform the spiritual foundations of the 
society around him become heavily charged with 
symbolic significance in the eyes of both 
disciples and adversaries.' Plainly, this battle 
still continues. It is not to disregard or 
minimise such a striking lineage to observe that 
Spinozism had limitations associated with the 
society it came from, in which countries were 
struggling to emerge from absolutism and 
theocratic tyranny. Today, Spinoza's greatness 
has to be defended against the delusions of a 
belated progeny, rather as Marx had to be in the 
later 19th and 20th centuries.

Among this progeny, as in the 17th century, 
heresy underwrites faith. Disowning an orthodoxy 
makes for a purer belief, rather than its 
demolition. The heretic normally believes 
self-consciously that he has some new access to 
the secrets of the universal essence - as 
revealed in a Da Vinci code, for example, or in 
significant recent happenings, or both. In this 
case, the people being fostered by prophecy are a 
'network', contemporary academese for those 'born 
again': souls meshed together not just by 
experience but by a cultural sensibility which is 
by definition universal (or cosmopolitan) in its 
direction and meaning. It would be old hat to 
speak of 'spirit'; but Spinoza's system proves 
useful at this point. His pantheism identified 
matter and mind, and the Deity, with the Universe 
itself; and, in similar vein, secularism can now 
be merged with spiritualism. Dreary old 
historical materialism can thus be retrieved and 
re-wardrobed as an idealised globalisation, an 
object of belief requiring no denominations, 
sects, rituals or oaths (only £20 over the 
bookshop counter).

Readers of Empire were puzzled about just whose 
empire was at stake. The dawning Oneness was 
emphatically dissociated from the most obvious 
candidate, victorious American imperialism. 
Indeed, as Balakrishnan observed in his review, 
the authors repeatedly cited American 
revolutionary and constitutional precedents for 
the style of global liberation they were 
preaching. This pattern is continued in 
Multitude. But while in 2000 the notion of the 
multinational US as flawed staging-post towards 
the Absolute remained merely difficult, in 2005 
it has become absurd. Between book launches, a 
war launched by super-heated American nationalism 
has lurched onto the scene with a distinct 
message of its own.

In the pages of Multitude, however, all this is 
curiously sidelined. As some suspected from the 
start, the empire turns out to be God's own: a 
permanent if ethereal ascription, not threatened 
but rendered more evident by the valley of 
shadows we have been dragged through since 2003. 
All conflicts are now redefined as 'civil wars' 
within this overmastering Totality, an end-time 
so final that all detours appear futile. 
President Bush's descent on Iraq is just one of 
these: not an aberration or a relapse into 
old-fashioned imperialism, but characteristic of 
the new age. That is, of a globe that has become 
truly One, though still awaiting the 
signal-flares of true redemption.

And in this dark meantime, Satan has taken over.
You try to imagine highways to all men
But your heart has always loved boundaries,
The heavy fields in back of your house, the
visible streets of America.

Carl Dennis, 'Native Son'

Hence the vale of sorrows recounted by 
'Simplicissimus' in the first section of the 
book. In the absence of love, war has overwhelmed 
creation. Globalisation's first step has been a 
Fall, a descent into an abyss: 'War is becoming a 
general phenomenon, global and interminable.' 
Postmodernity so far is doom; golems have taken 
over the globe and bathed their enemies in blood, 
while clerics and footling liberals either egg 
them on or mutter futilely about peace. The 
golem-world is not a passing phase but a 'new 
ontology', demanding some equivalently total, 
all-encompassing answer. Le Monde diplomatique's 
current atlas of conflicts lists about 65 wars or 
agitations; but Hardt and Negri discern 'almost 
two thousand sustained armed conflicts on the 
face of the earth at the beginning of the new 
millennium, and the number is growing'. No list 
is attempted, and the three examples cited are 
Rwanda, the Croat-Serb wars and 'Hindu and Muslim 
violence in South Asia' (presumably in Kashmir). 
Anyone can add significantly to this list - Aceh, 
East Timor, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Tibet, 
Darfur, Chechnya, Kurdistan etc - but it is 
difficult to approach anything like the 
apocalyptic vision unveiled for readers of 

We are being told of an endless 9/11, a 
climacteric of world history, but there is little 
doubt that warfare is now less of a universal 
threat than it was between the 1950s and the 
1980s. Some years back Donald MacKenzie argued in 
the LRB that - contrary to so many earlier 
previsions - nuclear weapons had been in effect 
'disinvented' by the closure of the Cold War, and 
the colossal, escalating investment in both 
material and human resources needed to make them 
work was bound to diminish.2 Now, in spite of 
9/11, Iraq and the proposed US Defense Shield, 
Armageddon has retreated further. In The 
Globalisation of World Politics (2001) Michael 
Cox pointed out that today 'nuclear war is far 
less likely to happen,' even though there has 
been an increase in the number of wars. Later in 
the same volume Andrew Linklater maintained that 
'there is no doubt that globalisation and 
fragmentation have reduced the modern state's 
willingness and capacity to wage the kinds of war 
which typified the last century.' America, 
Britain and some cronies may have lapsed into 
this sort of war in 2003: but that's what it was 
- a throwback, not some new ontology.

The point is not just that Multitude uncannily 
echoes the feigned panic of Washington 
anti-terrorists. This is a philosophical argument 
that ordains extremes. An unremitting Vale of 
Despond is required, because the coming vision of 
transfiguration must be equivalently 
comprehensive - a view expounded in Negri's 
Subversive Spinoza: (Un)contemporary Variations.3 
Hardt and Negri are in the Redemption business, 
door-steppers rather than private eyes. Nor 
should it be thought such metaphysical transports 
are confined to their two books, or to small 
coteries of addicts. Plenty of others were on the 
trail in the 1980s and 1990s, especially in 
France. They included Jacques Lacan, Gilles 
Deleuze and Félix Guattari, as well as a Duke 
University elite in the US. In a survey of the 
trend in the journal Anthropoetics in 1997, 
Douglas Collins wrote that back in 1984 Julia 
Kristeva had noted that 'we're in the middle of a 
regression which is present in the form of a 
return to the religious . . . a rehabilitation of 
spiritualism.' Spinozism was part of this: 'the 
latest example of French totalism, a product of 
the nostalgia for the universalising vocation of 
the French intelligentsia, seeking new grounds to 
assert the prerogatives of its historical role, 
refusing to allow itself to be consigned to 
Pareto's "graveyard of aristocracies"'.

Many readers will sense something odd about such 
reliance on a vision predating not only David 
Hume and Adam Smith, but Darwin, Freud, Marx and 
Durkheim, from an age when genes and the 
structure of human DNA were undreamt of. Can 
philosophy really be so timeless? The answer is 
plainly yes, provided a sufficiently passionate 
sermon can be extracted out of it, for delivery 
to a sufficiently huge and eager congregation of 
the disoriented, looking for omens of a new 
century. Naturally, those disenchanted with 
neo-liberal progress are thirsty for portents of 
a fairer dawn. And some will prefer it in secular 
rather than theological garb, however surprising 
or unfamiliar the source.

Another striking expression of this trend is 
Etienne Balibar's Spinoza and Politics (1998), 
the preface of which stresses its connections 
with Negri's work in the 1970s. Balibar, too, 
ends with pages of rapturous merging, showing how 
the Spinozan framework identifies everything with 
everything else, including politics, and thus 
restores a universalist vocation to the 
intelligentsia: 'Politics is the touchstone of 
historical knowledge. So if we know politics 
rationally - as rationally as we know mathematics 
- then we know God, for God conceived adequately 
is identical with the multiplicity of natural 

So how come He/They wrecked things with George W. 
Bush? Why did the highways to all men give way to 
those heavy fields in back of home? Christian 
Pentecostalists and Wahhabite Muslims alike think 
they know God, and that their particular 
boundaries are imbued with universal spirit and 
meaning. These boundaries must be fought for, 
plainly, rather than relying on mathematical 
reason for an answer. And such combat continues 
to demand mobilisation of the inhabitants of the 
nations within these boundaries. Only as a 
staging-post towards the conversion of everybody, 
everywhere, of course. But this is notoriously 
clearer to missionaries than to the denizens of 
know-nothing darkness. Thus the touchstone of 
actual political history would appear still to be 
somewhere specific - this or that goddam backyard 
or visible street - rather than up in the ether 
of universal being and implication. And somewhere 
always implies somewhere else: recalcitrant, 
differing elsewheres, beyond this or that 
boundary - or possibly (one suspects) beyond 
every one of the frontiers and diverse identities 
that have, so far, structured a necessarily 
disruptive and nomadic species. Undismayed by the 
post-2001 setback, Hardt and Negri turn 
nonetheless to look for signs of coming 
redemption through the smog of their fallen world.

Be like those angels said to enjoy the earth
As a summer retreat before man entered the picture,
Staggering under his sack of boundary stones.
They didn't mutter curses as they fastened their wings
And rose in widening farewell circles.
They grieved for the garden growing smaller below them,
Soon to exist only as a story
That every day grows harder to believe.

Carl Dennis, 'Loss'

'Multitude' is defined in Webster's as 'the state 
of being many', with an implication of 
formlessness or indeterminacy: 'a multitude of 
sins' is probably its most common use. The same 
dictionary goes to Claud Cockburn for its 
adjectival example: 'The mosquitoes were 
multitudinous and fierce.' Hardt and Negri 
attempt a more positive definition, laying 
emphasis on signs of grace, and attendant 
democratic virtues. But this turns out to be 
curiously like the bus tours found in all big 
cities. Sightseers impatient for the general 
design get whisked at speed past famous 
landmarks, as the guide intones a suitable (often 
rather similar) judgment on each one, with too 
few dodgy jokes. The guides in this case are 
invariably erudite: their references take up 45 
pages, and great efforts are made with innovative 
concepts such as network struggles, 'swarm 
intelligence', 'biopower' ('engaging social life 
in its entirety'), immaterial labour, and the 
multitudinous spirit as carnival ('a theory of 
organisation based on the freedom of 
singularities that converge in the production of 
the common: Long live movement! Long live 
carnival! Long live the common!'). The 
'monstrosity of the flesh' gets a look-in as 
well, though rendered decent as Man, 'the animal 
. . . that is changing its own species'.

Yet this erudite tour leads only to an 
inconclusive emptiness, where the signs portend 
some somersault to come, via an unprecedented 
agency that may be everywhere, and potentially 
omnipotent, yet remains without a local 
habitation and a name. In Chapter 2, religions, 
nations, classes and existing transnational 
bodies are indeed acknowledged as contributing to 
the moment of advent - that is, to a process of 
'making common' whose pattern will be quite 
different from anything previously experienced. 
All sorts of omens are read as indicating the way 
forward out of modernity's blood-drenched 
darkness. But how?

Take the case of anthropology. The great lurch 
forward into market-driven unification - 
suggesting a world in some ways akin to one 
nation and state - was bound to reawaken concern 
about human nature, the grander parameters of the 
species now so brusquely confined to 'one boat'. 
And indeed it is noted that anthropologists are 
moving towards a new paradigm by 'developing a 
new conception of difference, which we will 
return to later'. Yet when this conception 
subsequently materialises, it is as follows: 'We 
are a multiplicity of singular forms of life and 
at the same time share a common global existence. 
The anthropology of the multitude is an 
anthropology of singularity and commonality.' 
This disappointingly bland aperçu is supported by 
a footnote referring readers not to Barth, 
Gellner or Geertz, and certainly not to such 
historical revisions as Hugh Brody's The Other 
Side of Eden (2001), or Stephen Oppenheimer's Out 
of Eden (2003), let alone to such disturbing 
stuff as Chris Knight's Blood Relations (1995), 
or remarkable surveys like Jonathan Xavier Inda 
and Renato Rosaldo's The Anthropology of 
Globalisation (2001). No, on this crucial aspect 
of prehistory, the reader is referred instead to 
Deleuze's Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza 

Thus (again) speaks Spinoza, sufficient for the 
multitude. His ism can still embrace everything, 
including things and ideas born long after him 
(and which could not have existed in the later 
17th century). In fact, the authenticity of the 
multitude represents an apotheosis of the ism: 
that is, of a specific way of processing ideas 
that emerged in the mid-19th century, and has 
remained a distinctive feature of modernity. An 
ism ceased to denote just a system of general 
ideas (like Platonism or Thomism), and evolved 
into a proclaimed cause or movement - no longer a 
mere school but a party or societal trend. Ideas 
acquired banner headlines and 'stood for' an aim 
or tendency, and eventually for a civilisational 
choice: individuals could in turn stand for this 
choice, and be 'conscripted' on one side or 
another. Social development linked to 
industrialisation, urbanisation and the formation 
of nations was bearing formerly voiceless masses 
into the political picture. These had to be 
formed into appropriate groups, whether Italians, 
Liberals, Conservatives, socialists (or whatever).

Identity in a more than bureaucratic sense had 
arrived. Its artificers were new too: the 
intellectuals. As Gramsci wrote in the Prison 
Notebooks, the function of modern intellectuals 
is inseparable from being torn between past and 
future. Their task is to reconcile the 
'tradition' of established rulers with the 
inescapable appeal of the new, whether by 
compromise or through rejection. The formation 
and reformation of 'philosophies' now meant 
something dangerous, or reassuring, and that was 
their stock-in-trade.

Spinozism is a last-ditch salvationist movement, 
aimed at redeeming the status of isms. It stands 
for 'ismhood', a necessarily total secular faith 
fusing conceptual satisfaction and 
moral-political guidance. The aim is redemption, 
guaranteeing the future of the intelligentsia in 
this postmodern, and post-everything sense. 
Entrancing the globe by multitude-speak, the role 
of intellectuals is to fuse the coat of many 
colours into a consummate internationalism. And 
what can the warp and woof of this fabric be, but 
politically correct love?

And if it's hard to believe that spirit
Is anything more than a word when defined
As something separate from what is mortal,
It's easy to recognise the spirit of the recruit
Not convinced his honour has been offended
Who decides it's time to step from the line
And catch a train back to his cottage, where his wife and daughter
Are waiting to serve him supper and hear the news.

Carl Dennis, 'World History'

In the last third of the 19th century, one ism 
became far more successful than all its 
competitors: nationalism. Staggering with the 
sacks of precious boundary-stones, it was the 
peasants, the petty bourgeoisies and the emergent 
working classes who won the race. That was what 
drove the angels off. Because the first duty of 
essences (once established) is to be essential, 
it came to be believed this victory must have 
been foreordained, was irresistible and - if not 
eternal - then at least very long-range in its 
effects. 'Realism' dictated a dominance of the 
foreseeable by the ism that had shown it worked. 
So universality was postponed until this had 
worked itself out, either by means of warfare, 
monotheist religious conversion, or 
ultra-strenuous moral preaching and example.

This belief was natural, and occasionally heroic; 
it was also mistaken. 'Internationalism', in the 
old sense creakily replayed by Empire and 
Multitude, was a part of the 1870-1989 
nationalist world, not an answer to it. Like New 
Imperialism and Social Darwinism, it was a 
response to the force of circumstances. The ism 
of nationality was not rooted in nations or 
societal diversity, but had been grafted onto 
them from the 1860s onwards, had led to two world 
wars, and was congealed in place for a further 
generation by the Cold War. What it really 
expressed was fratricidal great-nation hegemony 
and competition.

The term 'nationalism' did not appear in what 
everyone still views as the 19th century's 
outstanding denunciation of politicised 
nationhood, Lord Acton's On Nationality (1862). 
But it was in use by 1872, and by 1882 it had 
infiltrated every major language. Soon it would 
become the nature of a new century: as Ernest 
Gellner liked to put it, the 'second nature' of 
modernity itself. He meant that as long as the 
conditions of modernity endured, there would be 
no escaping from it. Even small and would-be 
countries - liberal, Mazzini-inspired, 
peace-inclined populations without imperial 
ambitions - had to tool up accordingly.

What began in 1989 was the real deconstruction of 
this phase. Both the wealth and the meaning of 
nations began to struggle out from the chrysalis 
of the ism. In The Globalisation of World 
Politics Fred Halliday points out that 
nationalism has been 'promoted by processes of 
globalisation', and its paradox is to 'stress the 
distinct character of states and peoples' while 
itself being manifestly a global phenomenon. The 
phenomenon originated mainly in the 18th century, 
but its aggressive or 'closed' definition 
appeared only spasmodically until the 1870s, when 
the social revolt of the communards had a 
critical impact on the national downfall of 
imperial France, forcing a more militant and 
rigid ideology into being. Napoleon III and 
Bismarck between them inflicted 'nationalism' on 
the globe (and it's appropriate that the French 
and Germans should now be jointly undoing it, 
inside the new constitutional structures of the 
European Union). More surprisingly, Halliday 
argues that nationalism 'was only fully 
recognised as relevant by International Relations 
in the past two decades'.

Hardt and Negri's blueprint for democracy is 
revealed in the long final chapter of Multitude. 
Having regained the invigorating wholeness of 
Spinoza's 17th century, we are poised to move on. 
What postmodernity must now do is to move on to 
the 18th century, the century of revolutions. But 
of course today's replay will be quite different, 
since the multitude will be able to discard the 
failures that ensued last time: 'Back then the 
concept of democracy was not corrupted as it is 
now.' It had not yet been diluted or betrayed by 
representative or parliamentary nonsense, or by 
notions of 'vanguard parties'. Unlike the liberal 
bourgeoisie and the proletariat, globalised 
network-humankind will be capable of 
authenticity. That is, of 'a radical, absolute 
proposition that requires the rule of everyone by 

The revolutionaries of 1688, 1776 and 1789 went 
wrong in believing that the city-states of 
antiquity were a suitable model for modern 
nations. Today's analogous error is to think that 
modern nation-states are relevant to democracy on 
a global scale, when 'what is necessary is an 
audacious act of political imagination to break 
with the past, like the one accomplished in the 
18th century,' but avoiding its snares. All that 
counts now is 'becoming common', the formation of 
comparable lifestyles and ideas the world over. 
This is the 'biopolitical', the very gist of the 
postmodern - the species-speak that Foucault 
described as 'genealogies', or 'more precisely 
anti-sciences'. Biopolitics has no particular 
role for nations. It is striking that the 
countries on Hardt and Negri's list of 
trouble-spots are largely sites of national 
emancipation struggles - 'old-fashioned' wars of 
liberation for which there can no longer be any 
justification, at least according to such 
peremptory and ideological views of globalisation.

Is it not reasonable to think that such struggles 
may, after the disappearance of Cold War 
shackles, result in attempts at new kinds of 
democracy, better forms of representation, closer 
links between societies and states? And that the 
smaller scale of such resolutions may be more 
favourable to experiments than the mastodons of 
earlier times? Or that armour-plated nationalism 
might, in these circumstances, give way to a more 
sustainable, outward-looking version? The new 
ontology thinks not. It seeks 'a democracy 
without qualifiers', unconstrained by 
conservative 'ifs or buts'. There's no use 
looking at boring comparative stories like Arend 
Lijphart's Patterns of Democracy (1999) for clues 
to a way ahead. The US is bad enough, the authors 
concede, and has recently made 'a mockery of 
representation', but 'no other nations have 
electoral systems that are much more 
representative.' This bewildering judgment is 
rubbed in when they turn to Europe, an area where 
a growing number of observers have recently been 
detecting shy symptoms of progress. Forget it: 
'The European constitutional model . . . does not 
really address the issue of representation,' and 
may even be making things worse.

All that counts is the Spinoza-viable: democratic 
absolution investing 'all of life, reason, the 
passions, and the very becoming divine of 
humanity'. Every other strategy is bound to 
appear conservative, 'non-radical', when set 
against such a spiritual assault course, 
prescribed for the networked multitude of 
humanity. The authors actually use the phrase 
'May the Force Be with You' in a subheading, as a 
prelude to their closing exhortations on 'the 
insistent mechanism of desire', as displayed in 
the multitude's readiness for the advent of 
rupture/rapture, or at any rate of some event 
manifesting the latent power of universal love.

In 'World History' Carl Dennis says that no 
silence can compare to that of 'bristling nations 
standing toe to toe in a field . . . given the 
need of great nations to be ready for great 
encounters'. This is what prompts the recruit to 
step from the line, and make for the boondocks. I 
suspect that reading Multitude may affect many in 
the same way. It summons the great, multitudinous 
nation of mankind to join in an even greater 
encounter with the Absolute, a Last Day of loving 
Judgment where all will be redeemed. 
Globalisation is merely the wave bearing everyone 
towards this end. It's the vindication of old 
mystical intuitions of oneness and reconciliation 
with heaven, brought to fruition unexpectedly by 
capitalism's post-1989 world reach. There is no 
shame in feeling like the recruit at this point, 
or in suspecting that globalisation may have (or 
also have) opposite effects to those extolled 
here. May not the boondocks and those 
multitudinous elsewheres perceive it as an 
opportunity to be more themselves than previously 
- to build on so many painfully assembled 
boundary stones, rather than witnessing them 
swept away by storms of love, as once by storms 
of war?

But, however misguided it is, some may still feel 
Empire and Multitude to be on their side, allied 
to democracy and the left. Susan Sontag wrote 
that 'an idea which is a distortion may have a 
greater intellectual thrust than the truth; it 
may serve the needs of the spirit.' But 
unfortunately, spiritual needs are served here by 
adventures onto a terrain already occupied by 
fundamentalists of varying hues, all ready with 
their own formulae for rapture and ecstasy. Each 
one has its own multitudes of the faithful, armed 
and ready for great encounters still to come. 
Norman Cohn, the historian of millennial thought, 
traces the idea back to Zoroaster (Zarathustra), 
who added the idea of a happy ending to previous 
visions of disaster: 'a glorious consummation of 
order over disorder, known as "the making 
wonderful", in which "all things would be made 
perfect, once and for all"'. Later the notion was 
transmitted via Hebraism to Christianity. In When 
Time Shall Be No More (1992), Paul Boyer gave a 
graphic account of how strong this belief remains 
among born-again Americans, and more recently 
still Anatol Lieven has underlined the rapport 
between such apocalyptic convictions and US 
political identity in America Right or Wrong 
(2004). Unfortunately, being on our side has in 
this wider context the sense of carrying our side 
over to their terrain: we too have our 
apocalypse, better than the rest.

No we don't. Globalisation must be about burying 
such delusions, not reviving them. It's for the 
boondocks and the bearers of boundary stones, not 
for intellectuals avoiding the graveyard of their 
kind of aristocracy through a rehabilitation of 


1 All the poems quoted are taken from New and 
Selected Poems 1974-2004 by Carl Dennis (Penguin, 
255 pp., $18, March 2004, 0 14 200083 3).

2 LRB, 23 January 1997.

3 Manchester, 160 pp., £11.99, August 2004, 0 7190 6647 6.

Tom Nairn, author of The Break-Up of Britain, is 
assistant director of the Globalism Research 
Institute at the Royal Melbourne Institute of 
Technology in Australia.

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