Stan Lafleur

Olaf Karnik
About Multitude
Interview mit Michael Hardt

Benedikt Geulen
Das Phänomen Houellebecq

Alexander Kunz
Katja Kunz
Der Supposé-Verlag:
Das Projekt Anti-Hörbuch

Kevin Healy
Eine durchaus kompakte
Einführung in die irische Literatur


Olaf Karnik im Interview mit MICHAEL HARDT:


What I found really inspiring is your theoretical analysis of the Empire and the conditions for the constitution of the multitude. What I find problematic is your conception of the multitude, no unity, only singularities, it consists of immaterial workers, immigrants, the poor and exploited, people with no steady jobs, followers of identity politics - but how can they in all their differences share something or start a thing that's at least like improvised music? This can only work if they share the notion of playing improvised music, not commercial hit radio music...

Hardt: I like the improvised music. That's a good... I mean, the only way that one can really imagine democracy itself is, if we don't work towards creating a homogenious society and creating politics based on sameness, but rather create a politics in which, let's say, the free expression of differences, in other words cultural differences, political differences also, and other social differences, can be fully expressed, and nonetheless there can be a possibility of collaboration. This could be my simple formula for the concept of multitude - that multitude equals autonomy plus collaboration, or maybe singularitiy plus cooperation. And it seems to me that the notion of democracy itself, without this notion, it seems to me that democracy means nothing. Democracy is not certainly the coherent expression of one unified people. Democracy has to be this kind of collaboration among differences. The fact that you pointed out, it's a difficult project, is true. But it seems to me the only worthwhile political project. Shall we talk about on what kind of basis this could happen?
When one thinks about globalization, one has to definitely recognise that they are at least two sides to it, or two faces to it. Because, on the one hand the globalization does mean the extension of certain kinds of power structures, and, for many in the world, new kinds of exploitation, very much worse conditions, controlled by foreigns corporations etc. But there's also another face to globalization, which is the increasing recognition and fact of our living in one world, of our necessarily collaborating with each other, a consciousness. It might be first immediately evident in ecological terms that we live with on one earth, but even also in social terms that we must find ways to share the planet. I think, that this recognition is partly what when you say, we have to recognise that we're playing some sort of improvised music together. I think, that that is of necessity becoming a consciousness throughout the world, and if we're not... we cannot survive, if we imagine the world being separated into different civilizations that are based on conflict with each other. It's a very abstract response...

In a book review in the FAZ it said that the main result of leftwing micro-politics and difference politics of the last 20 years was a terrible levelling out of parcticular interests. Don't you see this danger in your conception of the Multitude as well?

Hardt: I don't see the danger of a levelling out. If I understand correctly what I think has been the, let's say, the impasse of a certain kind of identity or difference politics in the United States, has been precisely the lack of collaboration, the lack of ability to construct coherent political projects. I think that, and one shouldn't underestimate the importance especially in the United States, but I would say in Europe equally, of the feminist movements, of anti-racist movements, of immigrant movements, of gay and lesbian movements, but there's been a certain impasse recognised, I think, by all involved, of the inability to collaborate in a way that is, let'say, that's effective. They can challenge the dominant forms of power today. Many would argue on the left that we need a return to party politics as a unified front rather than separate political projects based on different identities or social formations. I think that rather then having to chose between these alternatives of the unified party politics or this separate, what you were calling micro-politics based on differences, what we need rather is a politics that allows for a free expression of differences, of different political agendas, but nonetheless manages the kind of cooperation in political projects that can be effective, that can challenge and change the dominant forms of power structure. I don't see a fear of levelling, except when one thinks of the necessity to create homogenious unity for politics, then I see the, not so much levelling, but the negation of differences in a kind of internal cohesion within political movements.

Your argumentation about the Multitude's possibilities is quite optimisitic, sometimes even Messiah-like. But what's really missing in your book is a critical word about the current restauration of religious belief, be it muslim or christian, which in my opinion serves the psychological function of suppressing desires for real democracy.

Hardt: I think it's a mistake to view the various religious traditions as unified. I think it's important to recognise within the history of religious thought and politics related to religious thought, the possibility of progressive and liberatory political projects. In other words, if one is gonna say that all of religious thought and all the politics that can come of it are represented by the what's today called fundamentalist, either christian or islamic groups, I think that's a mistake, and it blinds us to some of the powerful moments of the tradition. I think in a, even though Toni and I are completely secular and atheist in our outlook, we nonetheless recognize within, especially what we know best, the christian traditions, powerful political projects. In particular, just give one small example, one that seems very important to me: There is a strong conception within, especially jewish and christian traditions, and imagine others that I don't know as well, of a concept of love as a properly political project. And I think, it's something that's missing or almost inaccesable in our modern or contemporary conceptions of love and of politics. In other words, whenever I speak about love, it's immediately thought of as sentimental, also trapped within a certain coupleing - eros, family etc. - whereas, of course, within the jewish and christian traditions, love was an immediate, immediately political concept, love was the basis of community. And this seems to me something that is necessary in political projects today. So, I don't disagree with you that there are religious political formations today that are, yes, dangerous, also backward looking and counter productive. But I think that shouldn't ban any possibility of recouperation? of the tradition of political concepts that had been part of these religious traditions for different uses.

When I try to visualize the Multitude in my mind I see not only anti-globalization demonstrations but also carvival festivitites or techno rave like the Love Parade. Was there such a visualisation in your mind that inspired you for the concept of the Multitude?

Hardt: I mean you're right, or another example would be Zion, in the Matrix movies, which is sort of like a techno rave carnival in Zion. It's true that these are experiences that can help recognize how there could be this kind of cooperation among differences that is a kind of celebration of our differences rather than setting aside our differences as politics. It's a mistake, though, in my view, and.. you know this is self-cautioning, to put too much emphasis on these very limited and small conditions. In order to verify the possibility of a project like this, of the multitude, one has to recognize how it has the possibilities in a very broad social formation and properly in global terms. It's for that reason, that, for instance, we place so much emphasis in our economic analysis in this book on agricultural labour - the fade of peasentry, especially in the subordinated countries in the world, because we have to recognize the possibility there, too, that, let's say the conditions that make possible a democratic project, a project of this kind of collaboration also in those populations, in poor agricultural populations, in working-agricultural populations - it would be that. So, I agree that the image in mind is something like this that helps as a first imagination, but then one has to move and say: how is it that agricultural workers in China and landless people in Brazil can participate along with the populations that we have, that are close to home, let's say, in Europe and North America.

German reviews on Multitude that I read were all negative, and I was wondering why, because lots of people were very enthusiastic about Empire a few years ago. Something must have changed...

Hardt: No, I think, we haven't changed, it's a different moment. I don't know exactly how to analyse it, but I think it has to do with the current political moment than a difficulty with this kind of... You know, it's not just optimism... I don't really like the term optimism, but this kind of confidence, let's say, confident political project that seems to be not welcomed. I don't really understand it, but it would be interesting... Empire was a very ambigious book, only because, just for the reason that it's aim was primarly to describe the power structure, and so there are many different political positions that could support this view of a new power structure, whereas this Multitude book is trying to describe the other side, which is, whether there are alternatives to it, etc. And, well, the criticisms of Empire was, that it wasn't practical and concrete, and this one is much more, I think, practical and concrete. It's also much more politically defined. ... So, if you disagree with that political project, you can't agree with the book. Whereas with Empire, I think, if you disagree with our political project, you could still like the book. It's another idea, I don't really know. The other thing, but this is my remark about all of our books, is, and Toni hates it, when I say this, but it's true, which is, that we're not very original. You know, I think, what we're really doing is trying to state clearly things that everyone is already thinking. And so, it makes it all the more odd... This is my reaction with some people with Multitude is that they... I think that what we're saying is in a way obvious and what they're already thinking, and yet it can somehow frighten them. So it seems kind of like an odd thing, that what they're already thinking, is, when it's made clear, seems somehow threatening or frightening. I don't know. It's a thing, Toni doesn't like it, but I think of it as high praise that the books are not original, you know, that they managed to grasp things that are already being thought.

When I break your synthesis of marxist and post-structural thinking down to a more practical level, considering myself as part of the Multitude - yeah, okay, but all these different social formations that could form the Multitude are exploited on different levels. Compare Berlin-Mitte with Neukölln, I don't see a chance of expressing any common things. On the other hand, this argument in your book about being pissed off about politics, which doesn't necessarily mean that people don't care about politics, is quite true. But the problem is, that lots of people are not aware of what they live, is politics. And they don't think of themselves as part of a political project - all this makes it very hard on the practical side to believe in the book's arguments.

Hardt: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right, but one of the primary political projects has to be creating the means for everyone to participate in politics, and I think that one of the main political defeats is a kind of victory of that feeling of impossibility to act in politics. But, I would have said, rather than just, if you accept marxism plus post-structuralism, this is the obvious, I think, if you believe in, if you want democracy, this is the obvious. And, I mean, it's not clear to me, that everyone who says that they want democracy really wants democracy. And that's a useful thing. Sometimes it's an interesting exercise with students, where, with the young students at the beginning of a class they can all say, yes, democracy is good, but then, after a while of working it out, they start saying, if we have democracy, then those stupid people are gonna decide. And I say, no, no, no... So they come around to be anti-democratic or recognize the way as they are. And, it's useful or interesting, but I think, thinking seriously about democracy is worthwhile today. It's probably the kind of thing historically, that comes in cycles to think seriously about democracy again and not just say that an election in Iraq makes it democratic or something.


This interview was done in Frankfurt / Main in December 2004.