Lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living

In a May that began with demonstrations for open borders and against the war…

Adam asks, “what happened to Hardt and Negri?” An interesting question; the current lack of interest in them is rather surprising, given that Empire was and is pretty much entirely correct. I was reminded of this by a post on ads without products, in which:

When it gets to the stuff that lies outside of the so-called “information economy” – when it comes to the relatively minor items like a roof over your head or food on the table or a stable income, I’ll be damned if I can see how non-market social-sharing systems are going to help a whole lot.

Now this is right and, as the post and comments emphasize, open source is no threat to capitalism. But the important point of Hardt and Negri’s analysis of immaterial labor is to look at this the other way round; it’s not that open source will provide us with food and housing, but that the things that deprive us of food and housing are increasingly overlapping with issues of control over information. The science of biofuels and genetically modified corn are immaterial components in the current very material food shortages; likewise, new forms of finance capital are the immaterial specificities of the sub-prime mortgage crisis that is kicking people out of their homes. On international politics, Empire remains accurate, too; indeed, the discussion of the role of nuclear weapons in making all wars in Empire interminable could have been written to describe the choice between Hilary “Bomb Iran” Clinton and Barack “Bomb Pakistan” Obama.

So, why the fall in Hardt and Negri’s stock? Adam is probably right that they rather made themselves irrelevant by failing to stick to their guns after 9/11. However, I wonder, too, if the problem isn’t partly that Hardt and Negri are, well, too political. Jodi has been writing about the circulating drive of left academia, in which the concept of the political is put forward precisely to prevent anyone advocating an actual program. Žižek manages to stay in this game because his programatic statements are bound up with his ironic Stalinism (though I think the real irony is that he actually is a Stalinist, just as I ironically like Britney Spears in order to cover up the fact that I’m a fan non-ironically, too). Hardt and Negri don’t have that ambiguity and perhaps for that reason have been less effective than Žižek of late.