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Empire and Imperialism
A Critical Reading of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri
In 2001 Harvard Unversity Press published a post-modern analysis of imperialism by the Harvard scholar Michael Hardt and the independent Italian left-wing intellectual Toni Negri. The book, Empire, quickly became a huge bestseller in the US. Many other left-wing intellectuals, however, have been deeply disturbed by the book, feeling that it is analytically deeply misconceived, has unfortunate implications for political resistance to imperialism, and that it ignores both the experience and intellectual analysis of thinkers from the South.
Atilio Boron is one of those. He argues that Hardt and Negri's concept of 'imperialism without an address', though well intentioned, ignores most of the fundamental parameters of imperialism. The nation state, far from weakening, remains a crucial agent of capitalism, deploying a large arsenal of economic weaponry to protect and extend its position and actively promoting globalization in its own interests.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"This is a powerful polemic, in the best sense of the word, against a currently fashionable book. But it is also more than that. Beyond his trenchant engagement with the arguments of Hardt and Negri, Boron offers, in accessible prose, his own insightful and eloquent analysis of today's 'globalized' world and the possibilities of its transformation. The fruitful combination of theoretical rigour and clarity, empirical analysis and political passion is just the kind of thing we need on the left."
Ellen Meiksins Wood, author of Empire of Capital
"Atilio Boron mounts a severe, but necessary, criticism of the positions put forward by Hardt and Negri who have aligned themselves with the attempt by intelligent rightwingers to neutralize the potential for popular mobilization on the part of movements supportive of a different kind of globalization."
"The scope of this lucid and careful dissection of widely-held beliefs about the emerging world order extends well beyond the influential study that is its immediate target. Boron strips away layer after layer of misunderstanding concerning 'old imperialism' and its current variants. He reviews the persistence of the drive to control natural resources, the reliance of transnational firms on a powerful home state, the dangers of avoiding political economy, and much else. He brings out clearly the need for 'an adequate social cartography of the field' where an 'emancipatory battle' must be waged if it is to have any hope of success. In a critique of common illusions about contemporary society, Boron identifies and stresses the significance of social forces that have emerged and are engaged in the classic struggles that constantly take new forms, but reflect much the same deeper institutional factors and conflicting interests. This valuable study develops an important perspective on present realities and what must be done to carry forward past achievements in emancipation from injustice, oppression, and degradation."
"It is highly appropriate that the most trenchant and devastating critique of Hardt and Negri`s mistaken and confused notions of a de-territorialized and de-centered Empire should have come from one of the most creative and committed socialist intellectuals in the continent that has had the most first-hand experience of the actual workings of American imperialism. Writing in the tradition of - and in the process doing much to revive - the Latin American debates on dependency, neo-colonialism and imperialism of the 1970s, Boron not only confronts Hardt and Negri`s abstractions with "the prosaic Latin American contemporary reality", but subjects their work to a profound theoretical and empirical refutation. Written with exceptional verve and often biting humour, this is a book that especially deserves to be read all those activists who, as Boron aptly notes in the preface to this new English edition, have been influenced by Hardt and Negri`s severe mistakes of diagnostic and interpretation, which if accepted by the groups and organizations that today are trying to defeat imperialism could become the cause of new and long-lasting defeats."
Leo Panitch, co-editor, The Socialist Register