N Jett on Thu, 27 Mar 2003 10:18:24 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Visions of Empire

Below is an essay I recently finished, or rather, finished quite a while ago 
but then revised due to the outbreak of war. I'm not particularly happy with 
it, but who ever is happy with their own writing? Feel free to tear it to 
pieces :)

“We have our best chance since the rise of the Nation-State in the 17th 
century to build a world where the great powers compete in peace instead of 
prepare for war.”
George W. Bush - June 1, 2002 West Point, New York

	This essay deals with an issue central to contemporary international 
relations: the on-going transformation of sovereignty. Sovereignty is a kind 
of authority, traditionally it has been conceived of as the indivisible 
monopoly power over social, political, and economic matters within discrete 
geographically defined and contained units (i.e. sovereign States); for 
example, the authority of a government to tax economic activity or to assert 
laws within "its" territory. The modern system of dividing the earth into 
sovereign territorial States arose out of feudal European socio-political 
theory, with the Peace of Westphalia treaties (1648) as the "coming-out" 
moment in which these theories were first substantially established as 
"international law" . The concept of sovereignty has since developed in time 
with Western thought, and this system of political organization has spread 
throughout the earth, primarily through the colonial endeavors of European 
	 In recent years, scholars have noted that the powers associated with 
sovereignty are being transformed. This transformation has been largely tied 
to globalization. There are a variety of processes at work in globalization 
which can be attributed with challenging traditional functions of 
sovereignty. Examples of these processes include such things as neoliberal 
privatization programs which compel the sell-off of State-owned services and 
industries to transnational corporations, World Trade Organization (WTO) 
membership which shifts the locus of power in trade issues to global bodies, 
or private actors such as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) which carry 
out their own "foreign policy" (e.g. Greenpeace's transnational 
environmental activism) . There is disagreement over what this 
transformation of sovereignty means: Is sovereignty being eroded; is it in 
decline? Or, is sovereignty going through a conceptual transition; is 
sovereignty being reconfigured?

	What would it mean if sovereignty were in decline as a result of 
globalization? Wither the State? It could be argued that this decline is 
happening in some regions of the world. For example, postcolonial Africa 
with its civil wars, rampant crime, and various pandemics; however, these 
regional problems have not been substantially linked with the processes of 
globalization. What of the rest of the world though; what is happening to 
the system of States where sovereignty has become well established and 
	The emergence of NGOs with foreign policies independent of sovereign States 
does not necessarily reduce the authority of the State to set its own 
foreign policy, it merely adds another layer of complexity; as with the rise 
of transnational business, this emergence has created another form of actor 
on the world stage in addition to the State. Membership in international 
organizations like the WTO does not necessarily remove trade negotiations 
between States, it provides a framework for negotiations - it adds a 
structured form to trade relations within a global body (i.e. A States 
prerogative to negotiate trade deals are confined within the juridical 
procedures of the global trade body). The contemporary system of 
Nation-States prefigured by the concept of sovereignty does not seem to be 
in "decline" so much as it seems to be transitioning into something 
different. A new system of global governance is evolving, one in which the 
simplicity of discrete territorial units is but one aspect of something more 
complex and interwoven.

		There can be no doubt that America, the “last remaining superpower” (or 
the world’s “hyperpuissance” (hyperpower), as former Foreign Minister of 
France Hubert Vedrine has described it), has a significant position in this 
new configuration of global order. Indeed, many have argued that what is in 
fact developing out of the processes of globalization and the resultant 
transformation of the global system of sovereign States is an American 
empire, a Pax Americana built on the military might of the American 
government and the cultural hegemony of “American” corporations; a new world 
order in which America uses its power over the world, to dominate other 
States and the global economy, and to structure the global order to serve 
American interests .
	In addition to pointing to historical examples such as America’s notorious 
involvement in atrocities in South-East Asia and Chile, proponents of this 
worldview cite the predominance of “American” transnational corporations 
like Coca-Cola & Microsoft, the rejection and obstruction of key 
international treaties (e.g. Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, etc.) 
by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and such things as the extensive 
American military presence around the globe (e.g. the numerous US Navy ships 
patrolling international waters, the thousands of US troops stationed in 
bases throughout the world, the dozens of conflicts in which America is 
somehow involved). In effect, proponents of this worldview see the 
projection of “Americana” (i.e. American military and culture) beyond the 
territorial borders of America as imperial in both effect and design. 
America is viewed as a global entity, geographically centered on the North 
American continent, but manipulating the world through its globalized 
economy, culture, and military without any genuine regard for the 
sovereignty of other States.	However, this position is not necessarily 
isolationist; rather it is based in a respect for political and cultural 
autonomy. American corporations are criticized for “contaminating” 
non-American cultures with American culture and values (e.g. using imagery 
of American women to market products in Asia and thus challenging indigenous 
cultural norms), the American military is criticized for bullying other 
States into compliance with American interests, either through direct 
coercion (i.e. the threat of force), or more often through indirect methods, 
such as the obligation implicit in the acceptance of US military assistance 
in regional conflicts. Essentially, proponents of this analysis of American 
power advocate that America interact with the rest of the world on terms 
other than those defined by the self-interest of American elites.

	In contrast to this vision of an “Empire of America” some scholars argue 
that this focus on America obscures the reality of the evolving global 
order. In their view the processes of globalization are doing more than 
extending American power, they are creating a global order that can not be 
tied to any specific State. It is a new globalized and fully transnational 
“Empire”; a network without a center.
	Specifically, in their book Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri portray 
this new global “Empire” as an emergent phenomenon stemming from the 
processes of globalization, primarily the ongoing deterritorialization of 
culture, politics, and economics. In their view what is evolving is not 
necessarily an “Empire of America”, although America does have a significant 
position of power in this new configuration of global order.
	Proponents of this Hardt/Negri-derived view point to “American” 
transnational corporations and argue that they are doing more than spreading 
Americana, these organizations are in fact creating a new global culture, a 
new subjectivity that is increasingly non-nationalistic in which individuals 
from around the world share important commonalities which bind them in ways 
that geography and ethnicity no longer can. Where the “Empire of America” 
position argues that a marketing campaign selling Western-style designer 
clothing to Koreans is corrupting Korean culture by Americanizing it, this 
other vision of a truly transnational Empire argues that a global class of 
people is being created; individuals with a new subjectivity which, despite 
being separated by geography and ethnicity, is part of a new globalized way 
of being
	The old language of imperialism is no longer relevant or effective in this 
new formation; Hardt and Negri posit that the important element in the 
creation of Empire is not the sovereign State per se as it is to the “Empire 
of America” position, but instead what they describe as “biopower”, or 
“biopolitical production” . By this they mean that the production of 
subjectivity, the creation of individuals perceptions (i.e. identity), is 
the true foundation of Empire, as this production is ultimately the 
production of life itself. Loyalty is maintained through the networked 
production of shared values rather than force or ideology; Empire rules 
through its subjects.
>From this terrain of biopower, they diagram the emergent Empire as a tiered 
system of global power.  These tiers are each made up of progressively 
broadening layers of order, with multiple overlapping authorities. The first 
tier in this structure of global order contains those States which control 
global monetary instruments (e.g. the G7) and thus has the capacity to 
regulate international exchanges. Another layer, at the pinnacle of this 
first tier, contains the American government; which is not to say that 
America “rules” in this vision of Empire, but that due to America’s status 
as the most powerful State it has a privileged position in its ability to 
act within Empire. For example, the US military’s unassailable strength 
gives America an effective hegemony over the use of force anywhere in the 
world. If the American government substantially disapproves of any actions 
in the world it has the military capacity to end those actions, which in 
effect makes America the final arbiter of any significant disputes involving 
the use of force.
On the second tier are the globe-spanning networks of transnational business 
which shape and supply markets. These networks articulate the command 
structure of Empire through their control of the distribution of capital, 
goods and commodities, technology, etc. They are in effect, the primary 
conduits through which Empire, as conceived by Hardt and Negri, extends the 
biopolitical production necessary to sustain itself. These networks both 
differentiate and homogenize people and territorial boundaries; they are not 
necessarily unifying or syncretic.
On another layer of this second tier are the world’s Nation-States. Within 
Empire these States act to mediate between the biopolitical needs of their 
inhabitants (which they shape through State-directed discipline) and the 
interests of global powers (e.g. the UN, transnational corporations, etc.). 
This mediation stems from their sovereignty-derived authority as regulator, 
which provides States with the role of “filters” between their populations 
and the global network of command and distribution articulated by the 
networks of transnational corporations.
The third, bottom tier of the structure of Empire consists of those 
organizations and associations which represent the interests of people on a 
global level and are independent from States and capital (i.e. global civil 
society). These representative groups primarily consist of NGOs, and include 
organized religions.

	The conflict with Iraq can be understood on the terms of this vision of 
Empire as more than just an American “imperialist aggression”, as it has 
been widely characterized. It is in fact the manifestation of a conflict 
within Empire, between different elements of the tiers of Empire’s 
structure. With the rise to power of Neoconservatives in the wake of George 
W. Bush’s presidency the US has embarked on efforts to reconfigure the 
emergent global Empire by attempting to extricate itself from the 
established juridical logic of Empire (i.e. international norms) while 
simultaneously consolidating its authority as “global police”. By dividing 
its allies against it and each other, challenging the UN to act militarily 
on its resolutions, and then opening hostilities without UN sanction, the US 
has been extremely successful in these efforts.
	 The US draws its moral justifications for aggression against Iraq from UN 
resolutions and liberal interventionist rhetoric, but exploits its position 
within Empire as final arbiter of armed conflict to flout world opinion. 
Although the US acts against Iraq in the interests of Empire, it does so 
without the consent of Empire. By weakening the position of those States 
able to challenge its authority to act (e.g. the EU), and by undermining the 
logic of the UN, the US is in effect making itself the true enforcer of 
Empire (militarily), while simultaneously establishing itself as independent 
of the authority of Empire’s global governance.  Under the sway of the 
Neoconservatives the “global police” want to go rogue.

-njett (http://gogobot.blogspot.com)

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