The American empire is fading out: #BlackLivesMatter, Bernie Sanders & the secrets to a better tomorrow

Sunday, July 26, 2015
Matthew Pulver, Salon

Salon talks to philosopher Michael Hardt about how new forms of social movements can make a difference

Historians may end up describing this as a revolutionary moment.

It seems that in recent years no government, dictatorship or monarchy is safe. A protest movement in a small Mediterranean nation, Greece, threatens the whole European project, and a whole wave of leaderless protest movements throughout Europe in recent years still challenges the order. Middle Eastern and North African states remain in varying degrees of instability after the Arab Spring. The Green Revolution in Iran, though put down by authorities, might be seen to have turned that country toward a new moderation. Protest movements in Latin America in the 2000s have steered virtually the entire continent to the left and ended the hegemonic hold on the region by the U.S. since the Monroe Doctrine. Politicians in the United States now use the language of Occupy Wall Street, and just 4 years after the landmark protests, an Occupy-type candidate, the self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, challenges Hillary Clinton in a way that would not have been conceivable before thousands of Americans took to the streets and occupied to call for an end to runaway economic inequality.

It seems that only an immense police state keeps a secure lid on things these days, as we see in places like China and Russia. But that strategy creates problems of its own. America’s intensifying police-state experiment has made its largest cities into tinderboxes after decades of police violence and mass incarceration. The criminal justice system tasked with, in President Obama’s words, “containing and controlling problems” of poverty and racial subjugation has potentially created a problem it can neither contain nor control.

Philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri wrote presciently about the current circumstance in their “Empire” trilogy, whose first volume, “Empire,” was published 15 years ago on the eve of President Bush’s election. The book was a landmark in radical thought, leading Slavoj Zizek to offer that the two thinkers had “rewritten the Communist Manifesto for the 21st century.” Hardt and Negri describe both the contemporary nature of power (corporations, police, surveillance, and debt) and the manner of resistance which has come to emerge in the years after “Empire’s” publication, what Hardt and Negri termed the “multitude,” or resistance organizations composed of an array of struggles — economic, racial, gender, identity, and other modes of power and control. From the Arab Spring to resistance movements throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America to Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, nearly all theaters of resistance bear the mark of what Hardt and Negri describe in “Empire.”

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