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Re: Empire after 9/11?
by Threehegemons
08 July 2002 01:42 UTC
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Good questions Khaldoun, although my understanding of Hardt/Negri is too thin 
to be confident I am responding to their discourse.  I was nearly finished with 
a lengthy response when AOL ate my mail.  So this will be briefer.  

Hardt claims that 9/11 demonstrates the US is no longer sovereign.  Why?  The 
US did not have to go through the IMF, WTO, UN, etc in order to attack 

The cold war and post-cold war represent two modes of imperial control.  During 
the cold war, the world was divided into two empires--the smaller Soviet one 
and the much larger US sphere.  China and India were sufficiently large that 
they could somewhat avoid playing the game, but everyone else had to learn the 
rules.  The key for both superpowers was political control--so long as 
countries were with them, they had some room to deviate from the desires of the 
superpower in terms of economic policy--thus the 'socialist' national 
developmentalist policies followed in many parts of the US sphere, and the 
deviations from orthodox state socialism in many Eastern European countries.

Since the end of the cold war, the US has tried to consolidate more 
comprehensive rules, namely democratic institutions and free markets.  The 
former means the monopolization of the political space by the middle classes 
(or corporate tycoons).  This is why the Bush administration can claim that 
Chavez and Arafat are not democratic despite being elected--they have too 
strong a power base outside the middle class.  Regarding the latter, free 
markets, the US exempts itself, somewhat complicating things.  Also crucial, 
beyond the US, is the idea of the disciplining mechanism of currency trading.

Al Quaeda presents an important challenge.  They apparently thrived in 
Afghanistan, where the rules of this empire were not at all in effect.  In a 
sense, on a global scale, they lived in a 'bad' neighborhood where the cops 
didn't dare to go, and local gangs organized things.  The US response, to 
unleash the fury of the US military on the Taliban, won almost universal assent 
from the satraps of empire.  But what to do next is more ambiguous.  The Bush 
administration apparently wants to walk away, presuming that Afghanistan, and 
all bad neighborhoods, have learned a lesson--don't you dare allow a gang that 
is against the US to hang out in your neighborhood.  Liberals argue that 
Afghanistan should be reconstructed along the lines of other parts of the 
empire.  And why not throw women's rights etc into the mix while we are at it?  
Implicitly, this tactic would have to be extended to other places where the 
empire doesn't currently reign, since, in the liberals view, weak or 
non-existent states such as Somolia couldn't necessarilly keep their 
neighborhoods clear of such gangs if they wanted to.  This would require a 
huge, complicated quasi-colonial commitment on the part of the US.

In the last couple of weeks, it has become clear that the US is willing to 
trash principles of internationalism--not only the International Criminal 
Court, but the whole concept of UN peacekeeping--if it feels that these will 
constrain its capacity to act.  At the same time, the US has, since the end of 
the cold war, utilized  the consent of the 'international community' (as Perry 
Anderson recently wrote, basically US opinion) to legitimize its actions.  But 
what if an 'international community' that is angry with the US emerges?

Then there is the question of China, which doesn't really play by the rules of 
Empire, but is too big to mess with.  

The two concepts of the nineteenth century core periphery relations--you are 
different from us, so you are inferior, you can be like us, so you can one day 
be equals, largely remain in effect.  However, compared to the nineteenth 
century, those who are different are more powerful economic and military.  They 
present a bigger problem.

The question is, can the US keep a lid on everything?  And if it can't, what 
good is an empire without effective coercive force throughout its domain?

Steven Sherman

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