from Empire, chapter: The Sovereignty Machine

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Hardt & Negri

When the synthesis of sovereignty and capital is fully accomplished, and the transcendence of power is completely transformed into a transcendental exercise of authority, then sovereignty becomes a political machine that rules across the entire society. Through the workings of the sovereignty machine the multitude is in every moment transformed into an ordered totality. We should play close attention to this passage because here we can see clearly how the transcendental schema is an ideology that functions concretely and how different modern sovereignty is from that of the ancien regime.

In addition to being a political power against all external political powers, a state against all other states, sovereignty is also a police power. It must continually and extensively accomplish the miracle of the subsumption of singularities in the totality, of the will of all into the general will. Modern bureaucracy is the essential organ of the transcendental—Hegel dixit. And even if Hegel exaggerates a bit in his quasi-theological consecration of the body of state employees, at least he makes clear their central role in the effective functioning of the modern state. Bureaucracy operates the apparatus that combines legality and organizational efficiency, title and the exercise of power, politics and police. The transcendental theory of modern sovereignty, thus reaching maturity, realizes a new ‘‘individual’’ by absorbing society into power. Little by little, as the administration develops, the relationship between society and power, between the multitude and the sovereign state, is inverted so that now power and the state produce society.

This passage in the history of ideas does indeed parallel the development of social history. It corresponds to the dislocation of the organizational dynamic of the state from the terrain of medieval hierarchy to that of modern discipline, from command to function. Max Weber and Michel Foucault, to mention only the most illustrious, have insisted at length on these metamorphoses in the sociological figures of power. In the long transition from medieval to modern society, the first form of the political regime was, as we have seen, rooted in transcendence. Medieval society was organized according to a hierarchical schema of degrees of power. This is what modernity blew apart in the course of its development. Foucault refers to this transition as the passage from the paradigm of sovereignty to that of governmentality, where by sovereignty he means the transcendence of the single point of command above the social field, and by governmentality he means the general economy of discipline that runs throughout society.34 We prefer to conceive of this as a passage within the notion of sovereignty, as a transition to a new form of transcendence. Modernity replaced the traditional transcendence of command with the transcendence of the ordering function.

Arrangements of discipline had begun to be formed already in the classical age, but only in modernity did the disciplinary diagram become the diagram of administration itself. Throughout this passage administration exerts a continuous, extensive, and tireless effort to make the state always more intimate to social reality, and thus produce and order social labor. The old theses, a` la Tocqueville, of the continuity of administrative bodies across different social eras are thus profoundly revised when not completely discarded.

Foucault, however, goes still further to claim that the disciplinary processes, which are put into practice by the administration, delve so deeply into society that they manage to configure themselves as apparatuses that take into account the collective biological dimension of the reproduction of the population. The realization of modern sovereignty is the birth of biopower.

Before Foucault, Max Weber also described the administrative mechanisms involved in the formation of modern sovereignty.36 Whereas Foucault’s analysis is vast in its diachronic breadth, Weber’s is powerful in its synchronic depth. With respect to our discussion of modern sovereignty, Weber’s contribution is first of all his claim that the opening of modernity is defined as a scission—a creative condition of individuals and the multitude against the process of state reappropriation. State sovereignty is then defined as a regulation of this relationship of force. Modernity is above all marked by the tension of the opposing forces. Every process of legitimation is regulated by this tension, and operates to block its capacity for rupture and recuperate its creative initiative. The closure of the crisis of modernity in a new sovereign power can be given in old and quasi-naturalist forms, as is the case with traditional legitimation; or rather, it can be given in sacred and innovative, irrationally innovative, forms, as in charismatic legitimation; or finally, and this is to a large extent the most effective form of late modernity, it can be given in the form of administrative rationalization. The analysis of these forms of legitimation is Weber’s second relevant contribution, which builds on the first, the recognition of the dualism of the paradigm. The third relevant point is Weber’s treatment of the procedural character of the transformation, the always present and possible interweaving of the various forms of legitimation, and their continuous capacity to be extended and deepened in the control of social reality. From this follows a final paradox: if on the one hand this process closes the crisis of modernity, on the other hand it reopens it. The form of the process of closure is as critical and conflictual as the genesis of modernity. In this respect Weber’s work has the great merit to have completely destroyed the self-satisfied and triumphant conception of the sovereignty of the modern state that Hegel had produced. Weber’s analysis was quickly taken up by the writers engaged in the critique of modernity, from Heidegger and Lukac’s to Horkheimer and Adorno. They all recognized that Weber had revealed the illusion of modernity, the illusion that the antagonistic dualism that resides at the base of modernity could be subsumed in a unitary synthesis investing all of society and politics, including the productive forces and the relations of production. They recognized, finally, that modern sovereignty had passed its peak and begun to wane.

As modernity declines, a new season is opened, and here we find again that dramatic antithesis that was at the origins and basis of modernity. Has anything really changed? The civil war has erupted again in full force. The synthesis between the development of productive forces and relations of domination seems once again precarious and improbable. The desires of the multitude and its antagonism to every form of domination drive it to divest itself once again of the processes of legitimation that support the sovereign power. Certainly, no one would imagine this as a return of that old world of desires that animated the first humanist revolution. New subjectivities inhabit the new terrain; modernity and its capitalist relations have completely changed the scene in the course of its development. And yet something remains: there is a sense of déjà vu when we see the reappearance of the struggles that have continually been passed down from those origins.

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