La Multitudine, The Multitude: some ideas and problematisations. Work in Progress
The idea of the multitude crops up in a lot of C17th political philsophy but it has been present in political thought at least since Aristotle’s politics, if not before. Often the term is synonmynous with the idea of the mass or simply the many. This is reflected in the contemporary usage of the word ‘multitude’, at least in the English speaking world, as an express of a large quantity of something else, hence as purely an expression of quantity.
In the last few years however, the term has had a particular renaissance in certain areas of political thought, as a more loaded category, destined to express not only quantity but a distinctly qualitive entity, something of substance. As a distinct political concept it captures a historical development and represents a movement away from previous configurations. The multitude as a political concept aims to capture a form of subjectivity based on dissent, on certain types of refusal, on its disobedience and other forms of action, movement and production that are neither constituted power nor necessarily a direct negation of that power. The multitude relates to the political as its constituitive force (cf: Negri , Insurgencies, last chapter) i.e. it is the substance of power and it is to what established power relates. For aleatory materialism the multitude is the current bearer of constituent power.
Registers a fluid, mulit-dimensional realtiy from the point of view of agency. Yet this is not just a new concept of an agency, some new concoction of social theorists but a different conception of politics. In the words of Paolo Virno;
'The Multitude obstructs and dismantles the mechanisms of political representation. It expresses itself as an ensemble of "acting minorites", none of which, however, aspires to transform itself into a majority. It develops a power that refuses to becomes government' (Virno, Radical Thought in Italy p. 201)
The concept works if we buy into the particular conception of sovereignty at work here. This consitutent power is not one that knocks against structures, rather the latter are only effects of its activity. (see Insurgencies on the Bourgeois revolution as example of constituent power as violence). (Right = power)
The need for…the appearance of…. the concept suggests the development of a definite consciousness of social subjectivity, within social subjectivity. That is to say it marks some index of activity within society that marks its own consciousness of itself. At the moment however the sense of the need to represent the plentitude of different activities, that is Virno’s ‘acting minorities’ conflicts with the implicit imposing of outer limit on the possible forms of its expression – this is utltimately the self-identity of the multitude. That is in so far as the multitude is always giving itself expression, generating and creating itself in different configurations and forms acting as constitutive power it is constantly evading definite capture as a quality other than this process itself. Diverse points of alignment. Registering, disassociation from Nationalist identification; refugees, exiles, migrants. Cultural miscegenation, cultural subsystems, resistances and underground movements. Subjects that speaks in different languages: that do not appeal to the traditional centres of sovereign power.
Hence this concept reflects the reality of an open expressive totality, but is invented too to work towards it, to work towards communication between its elements in the form of decentralised networks (see Henwood – Hardt Interview; note in this interview Hardt also points to the paralell process of de-colonisation). The tension is this inscribing of political unity into the reality, gained from the potentialof the concept rather than the actuality of what occurs on the ground. The multudide should resist any given, a priori cocneption of what constitutes or limits its subjectivity. The great benefit of the idea is that it precludes a reductionist inscription of necessary political unity into the ontology of the category.
There is no outside to the multitude, exteriority is ‘war’ the subject forced into conflict with itself. Subjects forced into a relation of otherness, when potnetilly unity was as much a possibility.
The Multitude as a class concept
The concept of the multitude marks a important development of class politics, but it also marks a return to class of sorts, a return to the context of politics that sociology set itself up to deconstruct. It registers a socio-political configuration that is immeasurable and un-representable in classical sociological terms. It is primarily a poltiical concept, but one that requires a different orientation to the social, that is it insists upon looking at the social from the point of view of power.(* footnote this; “ Is it possible to consider multitudo and potentia as the index of a single productive set infintiely capable of constructive prostheses? Is it possible to construct a concept of the “political” that merges into the social and a concept of the “social” that finds in the political its own internal key of understanding and expression? That is, simpliciter the expression of strength?” Insurgencies pp 313)
Class analysis provided a general framework that had both a subjective/perspectival element that was closely linked to an objective social reality. The multitude is in nascent form such a framework (of subject based analysis). Its great benefit is that it continues to locate the dynamic creative element of society within the activity of people themselves. The Italian Operaismo (workerist) tradition’s appropriation of the discourse of the postmodern to reassert this creativity is a powerful rebuttal to the elitist assertions of postmodernity as avant guard high theory. In fact the postmoden has in recent works been claimed by people themselves in order to describe their own sphere of creative and constitutive activity. As opposed to the tendency in theory to reduce new subjectivities to politics of identity, as if it were just a matter of values, the concept of the multitude registers different subjectivities, different forms of constitutive behaviour, not reducible to a level of appearance – i.e. not effective in the realm of values alone. Hence Negri describes the fate and completion of modernity in terms of the return to subjectivity (our claim for aleatory materialism) – see Insurgencies pp….. see also pp 204 – “the real political science of modernity lies in metaphysics”)
Spinoza, Hobbes, Virno, Negri,
Un-representability of the multitude. Cannot be the basis of juridical forms. It is the mass counterpoised to the state, or the ‘people’ in Hobbesian terms of a sovereign body.
Anti-political? In a sense anti-state but only in a partial way, the multitude seems to also reaffirm state power in other respects, when it does not impinge on their vital energy, or proffers to secure it. Anti-state attitude is not generalised to all aspects of social life, only those that come into direct confrontation with the subjects desires – with his singularity. .
Virno: “The multitude… shuns political unity, is recalcitrant to obedience, never achieves the status of juridical personage, and is thus unable to make promises, to make pacts, or to acquire and transfer rights.” Virno pp 200
“The multitude, rather than constituting a ‘natural’ ante-fact, presents itself as a historical result, a mature arrival point of the transformations that have taken place within the productive process and the forms of life. The ‘Many’ are erupting onto the scene, and they stand there as absolute protagonists while the crisis of the society of Work is being played out. Post-Fordist social cooperation, in eliminating the frontier between production time and personal time, not to mention the distinction between professional qualities and political aptitudes, creates new species, which makes the old dichotomies of ‘public/private’ and ‘collective individual’ sound farcical. Neither ‘producers’ nor ‘citizens’, the modern virtuosi attain at last the rank of Multitude.” Virno pp 201
“The Multitude obstructs and dismantles the mechanisms of political representation. It expresses itself as an ensemble of ‘acting minorities’, none of which, however, aspires to transform itself into a majority. It develops a power that refuses to becomes government” Virno pp 201
Compare Matheron too – but forces try and use the constitutive power of multitude to legitimise their own power.
Opposition to Empire too.
Yes but. What is to stop elements within the multitude attempt to universalise their own particularity (other elements of it?). How distinct from the people is the multitude? If it is a mature form of social life, beyond simple dichotomizations, then there is going to be complicated interaction between culture and law and state and work.
Is democracy a possibly response to capitalism? Why limited? – What forms does this political project take? Rejuvenation of democratic tradition in order for further politicisations of people, contradictions of capitalism and democracy – reformist line, raising of consciousness, SWP, Habermas, Mouffe. Defence of the political, republicanism, and claiming of new rights. Politics of pluralism and inclusion, right and responsibility, NGOs etc. Representation, participatory democracy.
Sovereignty of the people – as in Grotius, Hobbes: transferral of sovereign right. Sovereignty is absolute – and so must be the power that is transferred as in Hobbes.
Tradition based upon political consent….up to Rawls. Liberal belief that the social is sphere of individuals needs of atomistic individuals coming together. Hence subsumption of political into law and agreement, technocracy. Communitarians believe more consent is a contextual value based notion.
Today – not transferral of collective will, but individual will? All particular relation to state? No – state power is diffuse. Do people make association between themselves to confer power? In classical social contract theory yes, because their sovereignty is prior. Historically though power is prior, one confronts a particular power. Anyway even if it were true, compare today. We might say that people in their life world form associations which dictate the manner in which they will behave politically. However the state is already present in the life world a force, the material circumstance of choice are given too. Social life is in deep form of complicity with state, along with total subsumption and the spectacle, and globalisation. (And Negri, Matheron and co thus see the multitude only in its political demand for democracy; and not so much in respect to how it subverts it)
The space of the multitude is that opened up by the breakdown of traditional forms of political solidarity, predominantly those constructed upon class lines. In the eyes of those developing this concept, it reflects however a return in a sense to the ground on which class politics was initially constituted – that is to say the material, constitutive power of people – both in the (re) production of life itself and in the reactive form of political authority. These themes we should now be familiar with, in the broader work of aleatory materialism.
The Multitude Voted Republican Discussion: Erik Empson and Thomas Seay
The Dark Side of the Multitude Bove/Empson
Virtuosity and Revolution Paolo Virno
Multitude/ working class: Paolo Virno
General Intellect, Exodus, Multitude Paolo Virno
Multitude and Metropolis Antonio Negri
Grammar of the Multitude Paolo Virno
A Definition of Multitude Adelino Zanini
Towards an ontological definition of the multitude Antonio Negri
See Matheron for multitude as sovereign power.
See also Augusto Illuminati in Radical thought in Italy, (p. 182)
Machiavelli on the multitude (Discourses)