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News Link • Philosophy: Anarchism

The Nature of Empire


Multitude, by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, adds enormous clarity to the libertarian worldview.

The Westphalian nation-state’s sovereignty rested on its sole right to define the legitimacy of both use of violence within its boundaries and the exercise of violence against other nation-states. Under the Westphalian system, whatever their differences in actual military power, states regarded each other as equal sovereigns, with equal claims to territorial integrity and equal rights to conduct war, subject to common standards of legitimacy under international law.

This has been superseded by Empire. The Hegemon has the sole right to define legitimate state violence within the world system. It becomes, in effect, a super-state, excercising the same sovereign rights in the world-system as a whole that ordinary nation-states exercise internally. Hence the American national security establishment defining as a “threat” the credible ability to successfully resist American attack, and “aggression” as refusal to obey the Hegemon’s orders.

The Hegemon, as sovereign of the world-system, upholds a global system of power in exactly the same way national governments uphold their domestic systems of power.

War, for the Hegemon, is a police activity. Wars in the Westphalian system were limited to specific theaters of operations and specific timespans, directed against defined nation-states, and ended by treaty when their finite objectives were met. But the Hegemon’s military action is no extraordinary state of affairs that punctuates periods of peace; it is the normal, “peacetime” state of activity. Like the operation of police forces within the nation-state, the Empire’s military actions are continuous and omnipresent acts by which the system is constituted and maintained. War is the normal global state of affairs, just as “law enforcement” is the domestic norm.

The blurring between military and police action is exemplified by several things: Militarization of domestic police forces through SWAT teams; erosion of constraints on the use of the regular military for domestic law enforcement; and the use of drone warfare for constant police action in which foreign nationals are killed in large numbers on the territories of formerly sovereign nation-states, with which the U.S. is formally at peace, with or without their governments’ permission.


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