Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
Subscribe   Subscribe   MI on Facebook Find us on Twitter Find us on Instagram      

Wall Street Journal


Brothers in Marx

October 07, 2009

By Brian C. Anderson

Down with capitalists, nations, bosses, families, etc.

Astonishingly, given the ruin associated with his name, Karl Marx is back in fashion. The global economic downturn has spurred sales of “Das Kapital” to an all-time high; Michael Moore with his latest movie rivals the Original Communist in denouncing the evils of capitalism; and for the past year the news media seem to have delighted in running obituaries for the owners of the means of production. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, then, are nicely positioned to take advantage of Marx’s revival with the publication of “Commonwealth,” which re-imagines Marxism for the 21st century.

Mr. Hardt teaches literature at Duke University and is a postmodernism-steeped radical—that is to say, he is an American college professor. Mr. Negri, a political theorist, has a more unusual background. Three decades ago, the Italian government believed that he was the secret intellectual leader of the leftist terrorists called the Red Brigades and that he was the architect of the group’s 1978 kidnapping and murder of Christian Democratic Party leader Aldo Moro. Unable to build a sufficient case to try Mr. Negri for murder—he has always denied the allegation—Italian authorities convicted him of “armed insurrection against the state.” Facing 30 years in the slammer, Mr. Negri scooted to France, where he remained, a philosopher in exile, until 1997, when he returned to Italy to serve the remainder of a reduced sentence. He is a left-wing guru whose field work has occurred far from the faculty lounge.

“Commonwealth” completes a trilogy that began in 2000 with “Empire” and continued with “Multitude” in 2004. The book is a witch’s brew of contemporary radicalism. Capitalism deserves to die, Messrs. Hardt and Negri believe, for it has abused and corrupted “the common.” The common isn’t just “the fruits of the soil, and all nature’s bounty,” they tell us; it is the universe of things necessary for social life—“knowledges, languages, codes, information, affects.” Under capitalism, nature is ravaged, society brutalized.

Yet the conditions for people’s emancipation are budding within capitalism, the authors believe (just as Marx believed in the mid-19th century). Unlike the factory laborer of yesterday, today’s knowledge worker has less and less need for a boss. Companies extract the most value from the worker, we’re told, when he is left alone to create, connect and collaborate as he sees fit. This is also true of “affective labor” that offers services to the public, “even in the most constrained and exploited circumstances, such as call centers.”

Messrs. Hardt and Negri propose getting rid of bosses, of course, but they also target another bugaboo of the hard left, private property. The possession of property supports unjust power structures—why not agree that the “common wealth” of the human and natural worlds should be everyone’s responsibility, everyone’s resource? Welcome to The Communist Manifesto 2.0.

“Commonwealth” updates Marx’s championing of the proletariat as the agent of revolution. The authors prefer “the multitude,” which includes workers of all kinds, naturally, but also gathers the mighty forces of identity politics: black and Hispanic activists, radical feminists, “queer” transgressives and others purportedly harmed by global capitalism. They don’t all get along, Messrs. Hardt and Negri admit, so the left must persuade this army-in-waiting to value the importance of “revolutionary parallelism.” No Black Power movement that treats woman or homosexuals badly, for instance, will win the day. After the revolution, we’re told, identity politics, like class warfare, will dissolve.

For the revolution to succeed, three supposedly corrupt forms of the common must be destroyed. Some of the harshest language in “Commonwealth” targets the family: Mom, dad and the kids might not know it, but they are part of a “pathetic” institution, a “machine” that “grinds down and crushes the common” with “the blindest egoism.” Messrs. Hardt and Negri cry: “Down with the family!” The two other killers of the world’s spirit: the corporation and the nation. When the multitude seizes “control of the means of production and reproduction,” we’re promised, the evil trio will wind up on Marx’s ash heap of history.

The authors warn the rulers of the capitalist world that if they want to survive a little longer, they need to enact reforms, including global citizenship, a right to income for everyone and participatory democracy. But Messrs. Hardt and Negri don’t think that their warning will be heeded. Revolution will erupt—and soon. It could be violent, a prospect that does not seem to trouble them: “What is the best weapon against the ruling powers—guns, peaceful street demonstrations, exodus, media campaigns, labor strikes, transgressing gender norms, silence, irony, or many others—depends on the situation.” Pirates, the rioting Muslim banlieusards of Paris and the Black Panthers all are praised in “Commonwealth” as heroes of disruption.

Messrs. Hardt and Negri make little effort to build arguments in support of their wild assertions and predictions. They write as if ignorant of the 20th century and of much else, including economics and social science. (They still quote Lenin and Mao as if they were sources of wise political and economic analysis.) How would abolishing private property not lead to a threadbare totalitarian state, as it has in the past? The authors promise it will be different this time, without explaining why. If you abolish the family, how will children grow into flourishing adults? We must take it on faith that the post-family world will be just fine. (The word “children” almost never appears in the book.) How do the authors explain away capitalist globalization’s record of elevating millions of people out of poverty? Answer: They don’t.

“Commonwealth” is a dark, evil book, and it is troubling that it appears under the prestigious imprimaturof Harvard University Press. Countless millions were slaughtered by adherents of Karl Marx in the 20th century. God help us if the scourge returns in the 21st.

Original Source:



How de Blasio Is Failing the Test of the City's Success
Nicole Gelinas, 08-31-15

Is Puerto Rico Our Greece?
Daniel DiSalvo, 08-30-15

It's the Politics, Stupid: The Limits of Pension Reform
Daniel DiSalvo, 08-28-15

Gangsta Rap's Grim Legacy for Comptons Everywhere
Jason L. Riley, 08-26-15

Trump Gets His Facts Wrong on China
Charles W. Calomiris, 08-25-15

Big Sugar: Sanders and Rubio Share a Sweet Tooth
Jared Meyer, 08-25-15

How France Finally Bowed to the Global Economy
Nicole Gelinas, 08-24-15

Courts Worsen the Pension Mess
Josh B. McGee, 08-24-15


The Manhattan Institute, a 501(c)(3), is a think tank whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas
that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.

Copyright © 2015 Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Inc. All rights reserved.

52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017
phone (212) 599-7000 / fax (212) 599-3494