Michael Hardt: What’s most sig­nif­i­cant about September 11th ten years on I think is the illu­sion that it cre­at­ed of the end of pol­i­tics. By the end of pol­i­tics I mean the notion that force could rule. That ter­ror could effectively…be suf­fi­cient for pow­er. And this was an illu­sion I think that was rec­og­niz­able at the time of September 11th but almost impos­si­ble to say. Almost impos­si­ble to say because of a vari­ety of con­di­tions of the dra­mat­ic nature of the event, and also of the forces of pow­er that are arraigned with it. 

So I think one way in which the illu­sion was cre­at­ed after September 11th of the end of pol­i­tics was pre­cise­ly in the US response to the events. Or the US actions that were made per­mis­si­ble by the events. And in this regard I think it was a return to an impe­ri­al­ist log­ic. An impe­ri­al­ist log­ic that assumed that force could deter­mine and cre­ate glob­al order. 

Now, before September 11th and the end of the 1990s, we’d entered a peri­od where there was a great deal of curios­i­ty, even dis­ori­en­ta­tion about glob­al­iza­tion. The idea that a new glob­al order was emerg­ing in which no nation-state could dic­tate glob­al order on its own terms. And I think in that frame­work, the old notions of imperialism—that is impe­ri­al­ism as the exten­sion of the pow­er of a nation-state over for­eign territory—were declin­ing and like I say there was a general…not con­sen­sus but a great deal of analy­sis and think­ing about a new glob­al order emerg­ing, some­thing dif­fer­ent. In fact that the notion of US impe­ri­al­ism was no longer ade­quate for under­stand­ing the glob­al system. 

Well after September 11th, with the US’s launch of the War on Terror, there was in fact a kind of resus­ci­ta­tion briefly of the old log­ics of impe­ri­al­ism. The rhetoric of the Bush admin­is­tra­tion in the War on Terror was pre­cise­ly the old log­ic of impe­ri­al­ism, assum­ing that the US, through its mil­i­tary might, could as they said at the time remake the glob­al order. You know, first remake the polit­i­cal order of the Middle East, and then of the globe as a whole. 

And they did. There was some talk of course of win­ning hearts and minds etc., but it was pri­mar­i­ly a mil­i­tary adven­ture. And one like I say that negat­ed pol­i­tics. You know, negat­ed pol­i­tics in the sense pri­mar­i­ly here…forgetting polit­i­cal wis­dom at least as old as Machiavelli and prob­a­bly old­er that it’s not force that rules. Force of course can be part of a method, a prac­tice of rule. But it’s real­ly through polit­i­cal strug­gle, achiev­ing con­sent, hege­mo­ny in these terms, by which rule is con­struct­ed. So that we had at least from 2003 to 2007 the illu­sion that the US could con­struct glob­al dom­i­nance through impe­ri­al­ist means. 

So we had of course a whole wave of books on the left that came out about the new US impe­ri­al­ism. And also I would say that those in power—Bush, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney—that they believed, too. They believed too in their impe­ri­al­ist pow­ers. I would say that all of these were tak­en up in the illu­sion, like I say, of the end of pol­i­tics and the return to imperialism. 

Now there’s a sec­ond way in which there was an illu­sion of the end of pol­i­tics after September 11th, and that’s not so much in those in pow­er in the US but rather on the left and the forces of con­tes­ta­tion. And here I would say part­ly it came in the form of charges of fas­cism against the US state. You know, that the PATRIOT Act, that the US expan­sion­ist ten­den­cies, etc. were fascist. 

Now, here fas­cism too I think is… In many ways one could think of fas­cism, but one way cer­tain­ly, one tra­di­tion of that charge of fas­cism, is prop­er­ly about the end of pol­i­tics. See, I would include in this both the charges on the left in the US and else­where of the US state being fas­cist. During this peri­od and post September 11th, but also these charges from the right, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the US, of what they called then Islamofascism. Now here I think in both cas­es what fas­cism means is the end of pol­i­tics and the rule of force. 

Now, remem­ber when left ter­ror­ist groups in the 1970s used the term fas­cism.” When they called the state fas­cist. I’m think­ing of the Red Army fac­tion in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, Action directe in France, even the Weather Underground in the US. And cer­tain­ly var­i­ous left guer­ril­la groups in Latin America. When they called the state fas­cist, what they meant is that pol­i­tics weren’t pos­si­ble, only force is pos­si­ble. In oth­er words, if the state is fas­cist, then armed strug­gle is the only answer. This is what I mean by an end to politics.

Now, strange­ly, when those… And this is I think real­ly what the right-wing com­men­ta­tors in the US when they said is grow­ing in Islamofascism, it was for them a legit­i­ma­tion of force. They only under­stand vio­lence. Therefore, vio­lence is the only alter­na­tive. On the left strange­ly, I con­sid­ered it a very strange sea­son of polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion when the left called the US state fas­cist, but did not fol­low that as those did in the 70s with armed strug­gle but a kind of…resignation, and resent­ment about the over­whelm­ing pow­er of the US. Now, I think this was an illu­sion and an illu­sion that we now see for false. But it was cer­tain­ly an effect of September 11th, and the War on Terror that came after. 

Now the third illu­sion is per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant, real­ly, and it was going along with this notion of an Islamofascism is that, in the ten years after September 11th there was a quite extra­or­di­nary mis­read­ing of the impos­si­bil­i­ty of pol­i­tics in North Africa and the Middle East, in the Arab world, and also with­in Islam. Now, what I mean by that is pre­cise­ly again that this charge of Islamofascism, that this assumes the impos­si­bil­i­ty of pol­i­tics, and that force is the only response, and that force can actu­al­ly rule.

Now, one of the most healthy effects of the so-called Arab Spring, of the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt; Libya, Syria; a vari­ety of coun­tries in North Africa and the Middle East—one of the most sig­nif­i­cant effects of this I think is to final­ly dis­perse that illu­sion of the end of pol­i­tics with­in the Arab world. And what I mean by this— Well, on the first hand it’s real­ly— One thing it did away with is the fun­da­men­tal­ly racist notion that Arabs can only…their only polit­i­cal alter­na­tives are either a reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ist pol­i­tics, or sec­u­lar author­i­tar­i­an­ism. And instead what they’ve demonstrated…I mean, I think what these results demon­strate, is not only the pos­si­bil­i­ty of pol­i­tics but a kind of inven­tive­ness with new demo­c­ra­t­ic forms. And a demon­stra­tion that vio­lence and ter­ror can­not rule.

So in all these regards, both in terms of the illu­sions of the US gov­ern­ment and its dreams of impe­ri­al­ist rule, the delu­sions and despon­den­cy of a North American and European left about the lack of spaces for pol­i­tics or even pow­er of con­tes­ta­tion against US projects, and even most impor­tant­ly in North Africa and the Arab world, there too the illu­sions of the end of pol­i­tics, I think what we can see now, and I think what is maybe evi­dent in a much more gen­er­al way now, is that those attempts of the rule of force, those attempts of rule through ter­ror, are real­ly only tem­po­rary and let’s say assured­ly failed projects. I mean in essence the… It’s not the return of pol­i­tics, it’s the dis­per­sion of the illu­sion of the end of pol­i­tics. I think that’s the healthy point we’ve arrived at ten years on. 

Going along with the charge of fas­cism dur­ing this post‑9‍/‍11 peri­od, the charge of fas­cism espe­cial­ly against the US state with the demon­stra­tions being tor­ture, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo…it’s an excep­tion from the rule of law. I think going along with this charge of fas­cism has been…and the illu­sion of the end of pol­i­tics in this way, has been an exag­ger­at­ed focus on sov­er­eign­ty. Now, what I mean is sov­er­eign­ty here con­ceived in a juridi­cal way as that pow­er that decides which is both inside and out­side the law. That cre­ates in this sense states of excep­tion. Exception to the Constitution. Exception to the rule of law. 

And of course, it’s true that dur­ing these ten years, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the actions of the US gov­ern­ment there have been a great num­ber of exam­ples one can point to that were instances of excep­tion, and instances of sov­er­eign pow­er. I think, though, that this exag­ger­at­ed focus on sov­er­eign­ty and also exag­ger­at­ed focus there­fore on these states of excep­tion, these zones that are out­side the law, I think that the exag­ger­at­ed focus on sov­er­eign­ty has tak­en these peri­ods, states of excep­tion and spaces, as cen­tral or par­a­dig­mat­ic when I think that they have been in fact periph­er­al. I think that’s part­ly been the illu­sion of this peri­od. So that the exag­ger­at­ed focus on sov­er­eign­ty has dis­tract­ed us. That’s one way of putting it. It’s dis­tract­ed us from the every­day pow­ers of rule that seem to me more sig­nif­i­cant and more impor­tant to con­test. So for instance, focus­ing on sov­er­eign­ty, states of excep­tion out­side the law, focus us less, or allow us to focus less on the way that prop­er­ly through law and legal means forces of dom­i­na­tion act. Or, sim­i­lar­ly, states of excep­tion and sov­er­eign­ty also dis­tract us from eco­nom­ic forms of dom­i­na­tion. The rule of cap­i­tal in gen­er­al, that hap­pens on an every­day and unex­cep­tion­al way. So that I think that’s part of this illu­sion of the end of pol­i­tics in this age of ter­ror in the ten years post September 11th has dis­tract­ed us from or put into the shad­ows the every­day func­tion­ing of pow­er that is in fact more sig­nif­i­cant and should be the object of both analy­sis and resistance. 

Now, this focus on the excep­tion and sov­er­eign­ty also seems to me an his­tor­i­cal mis­read­ing of fas­cism and the way that fas­cism has func­tioned. It’s true of course that with­in the nation­al social­ist expe­ri­ence in Germany, and with­in the Italian fas­cist. twenty-year peri­od, there were of course many instances of extra­or­di­nary, excep­tion­al pow­er of forms of sov­er­eign­ty. But that does­n’t account for and it has a very dif­fi­cult time explain­ing the social phe­nom­e­na of fas­cism and the con­sent of the pop­u­la­tions. I think one has to explain the his­tor­i­cal instances of fas­cism not sim­ply through the rule of force in that sense, and see­ing the sov­er­eign pow­er as an excep­tion, but rather through the mobi­liza­tion of large seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion. So, it’s in this sense that Spinoza’s famous ques­tion becomes sig­nif­i­cant, Why do peo­ple some­times desire their dom­i­na­tion as if it were their lib­er­a­tion?” And so I think that’s the ques­tion one has to answer to grasp the his­tor­i­cal exis­tences of fas­cism, rather than sim­ply focus­ing on the rule of force and vio­lence, the excep­tion to the law, and the forms of sov­er­eign power.

In some ways this par­a­digm of the end of pol­i­tics, this illu­sion of the end of pol­i­tics dur­ing the ten years after September 11th, an allu­sion of glob­al war on ter­ror real­ly, it was con­ve­nient con­cep­tu­al­ly both for those on the right and the left. Or for at least cer­tain seg­ments. I mean, on one side it was the under­stand­ing, and I think a real belief, espe­cial­ly in those in pow­er in the United States that a war on ter­ror could define the world in two camps. As famous­ly Bush thought that every­one could either be ral­lied with or against that project and that dom­i­nat­ing power. 

I think that on the left too there was a kind of con­cep­tu­al con­ve­nience to this under­stand­ing that the var­ied forms of vio­lence and the var­i­ous innu­mer­able wars in the world could all be slot­ted into this one glob­al dynam­ic of the US neo­con­ser­v­a­tive expan­sion­ist project. Let’s put it that way. But once the solu­tion is— First I think— And once we do away with a solu­tion we’re left with a very com­plex and dif­fi­cult ques­tion. How do we under­stand the log­ic of the con­tin­u­ing or even unend­ing wars across the world? I mean, some­times it’s the US of course bomb­ing peo­ple, oth­er times it’s NATO bomb­ing peo­ple, and there are a vari­ety of oth­er forms. How can we under­stand this? 

And I think one first approach is that it should­n’t be under­stood as a sin­gle divide. I think that we mis­rec­og­nize the cur­rent state of war—the cur­rent states of war, really—if we try to impose one sin­gle log­ic on it. Sometimes of course these are wars con­duct­ed in the name of pro­tect­ing nation­al sov­er­eign­ty against inva­sion. Many times, on the con­trast, they’re in vio­la­tion of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty to pro­tect human rights. Sometimes they’re done in accor­dance with inter­na­tion­al law. Sometimes they’re done in vio­la­tion of inter­na­tion­al law. I think that the vari­ety of these instances is the first chal­lenge we have to look at. And that like I say that we won’t be able to divide them into two camps of one glob­al opposition. 

In my view rather than look­ing for a sin­gle log­ic or a sin­gle actor of glob­al dom­i­na­tion, one can real­ly only under­stand the states of war today glob­al­ly by first try­ing to under­stand the nature of the emerg­ing glob­al pow­er struc­ture. Which as I say I think is not uni­vo­cal. It’s not dic­tat­ed by Washington, or Beijing, or any oth­er source one would imag­ine. But rather the emerg­ing glob­al pow­er struc­ture I would say is in a kind of net­work form. A net­work or col­lab­o­ra­tion between a vari­ety of uneven pow­ers. So that some­times of course the US does, or the Pentagon does act as if it could be uni­lat­er­al. But real­ly what it is is a col­lab­o­ra­tion among the dom­i­nant nation-states togeth­er with the inter­ests of the dom­i­nant cor­po­ra­tions, the inter­ven­tion of the major inter­na­tion­al insti­tu­tions. I think that one has to first under­stand that complex…complex but not inco­her­ent pow­er struc­ture that is emerg­ing at the glob­al scale to then be able to under­stand the vari­eties of vio­lence, and the types of war, that are con­tin­u­al­ly emerg­ing and con­tin­u­ing across the globe. 

I was very reluc­tant to accept right after 9‍/‍11 that so many were hap­py to say at the time that every­thing had changed. They pro­posed, I think this was even the stan­dard nar­ra­tive, that September 11th was an event which meant that all the rules of pol­i­tics had changed. In fact I was so reluc­tant pre­cise­ly because it seemed to me that that notion of September 11th as an event was being used then to declare the end of pol­i­tics. Declare the end of the pos­si­bil­i­ties of strug­gle and con­tes­ta­tion on a polit­i­cal train, and instead declare that only force would rule. 

So if one thinks of that as the claim to being an event for September 11th, then real­ly ten years on I think we could say that September 11th was­n’t an event. Now, of course I don’t mean it did­n’t hap­pen. I don’t mean that…of course that thou­sands weren’t killed, that there was noth— You know, I don’t mean that it— Okay, yeah. 

By say­ing that September 11th was­n’t an event I don’t mean of course that the attacks did­n’t hap­pen. What I mean is that it did­n’t fun­da­men­tal­ly change the rela­tion to pol­i­tics. That in fact what appeared, and I think were pur­sued by many as the con­se­quences of September 11th, the way it made every­thing dif­fer­ent, I think all that has real­ly turned out to be an illu­sion. It’s in that sense that what we could say now that September 11th was not an event. Because now, ten years on, I think we are in the process of return­ing to the polit­i­cal posi­tion we were in before September 11th. We’re return­ing to that posi­tion in a vari­ety of ways. One is the recog­ni­tion of the com­plex­i­ty of the emerg­ing glob­al sys­tem. The need posed by glob­al­iza­tion or the trans­for­ma­tion of the glob­al pow­er struc­ture to invent new con­cepts or to under­stand the glob­al order by new concepts. 

Second also I think that the illu­sion cre­at­ed and/or per­pet­u­at­ed by think­ing of September 11th as the event was also about the pol­i­tics of Islam, the pol­i­tics of the Arab world. The illu­sion that those pol­i­tics could only func­tion irra­tional­ly, reli­gious­ly, in terms of force. So that there too I think one of the great devel­op­ments of 2011 is in a way a return to the recog­ni­tion of the polit­i­cal strug­gles with­in the Arab world. And in that sense the pos­si­bil­i­ty for politics. 

So in some ways I would say that ten years on the event qual­i­ty of September 11th has proved to be an illu­sion. Because every­thing did­n’t change. Because in a way what we are left with, what we are return­ing to (let’s say in that way), is the kinds of polit­i­cal chal­lenges and polit­i­cal strug­gles that we were fac­ing already in 2001

One enor­mous­ly pro­duc­tive aspect of this Arab Spring in 2011 is the kind of ide­o­log­i­cal house­clean­ing that does away with these fun­da­men­tal­ly racist notions of a clash of civ­i­liza­tions. As if cul­ture defined by Islam, or also that Arab cul­tures in a dif­fer­ent way were not capa­ble of democ­ra­cy, and that they were fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent than oth­er geo­graph­i­cal cul­tur­al units. I mean, so that the the demon­stra­tion of polit­i­cal activ­i­ty and of demo­c­ra­t­ic aspi­ra­tion and demo­c­ra­t­ic cre­ativ­i­ty seems to me to have an enor­mous­ly pro­duc­tive effect. 

The sec­ond aspect of it that I think is real­ly use­ful and sig­nif­i­cant is the lack of the United States in these strug­gles. I mean, that in Tunisia, Egypt, and var­i­ous oth­er upris­ings in this whole cycle of strug­gles, the US has­n’t been present either as pro­po­nent or antag­o­nist. I mean, that these have not been pri­mar­i­ly anti-American strug­gles. But nei­ther have they been cel­e­brat­ing the US strug­gles. I mean, there has­n’t even been the oppor­tu­ni­ty that we saw, through­out 1989 for instance, of the kind of man­u­fac­ture of a pro-US nature of democ­ra­cy strug­gles. I mean, remem­ber all the stu­pid things that were said about peo­ple in Eastern Europe just want­ed blue jeans, or this paper mâché stat­ue of lib­er­ty in Tiananmen. So 89 was sort of filled with this sort of claim that these were pro-US move­ments. And then we can think of a vari­ety of things in which the anti-US aspect has been cel­e­brat­ed. Now here, these are real­ly just strug­gles with­out the US. And with­out Europe, I would say. And enor­mous­ly ben­e­fi­cial for that. 

Now, I would say in this think­ing about it this way, and try­ing to ana­lyze this cycle of strug­gles, the NATO deci­sion to bomb Libya’s real­ly the first coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary event of the Arab Spring. It’s coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary not because it did­n’t intend to save peo­ple from Qaddafi. It’s not counter rev­o­lu­tion­ary I cer­tain­ly don’t mean in the sense of com­bat­ing Qaddafi. But rather in the log­ic of reassert­ing US and European dom­i­nance with­in the log­ic. So that this legally-sanctioned, lib­er­al inter­ven­tion, which in many ways recalls the inter­ven­tion­ism of the 1990s, was one that reassert­ed a claim to glob­al dom­i­nance of NATO, of the US, and the dom­i­nant European pow­ers. This seems to me…yeah, like I say it has been the major coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary event, pre­cise­ly because it has blocked the pos­si­bil­i­ties of demo­c­ra­t­ic devel­op­ment. And pos­es an obsta­cle, not maybe not an insu­per­a­ble obsta­cle, but an obsta­cle towards demo­c­ra­t­ic orga­niz­ing and revolt in the oth­er coun­tries in North Africa and the Middle East. It pos­es an obsta­cle pre­cise­ly in the sense that it once again brings up the threat, let’s say, of hav­ing to be either anti-US or pro-US. And that is one of the biggest obsta­cle it seems to me in the devel­op­ment of these…I would­n’t call them demo­c­ra­t­ic revolutions—democratic insur­rec­tions. We’ll have to see if there can be devel­oped a con­stituent rev­o­lu­tion­ary dynam­ic. But so far they’ve been demo­c­ra­t­ic insur­rec­tions which like I say have fun­da­men­tal­ly tak­en place with­out the US and Europe, and with­out the dom­i­nance of them. 

Perhaps the biggest prob­lem with this illu­sion of the end of pol­i­tics is that it has, for many, eclipsed what peo­ple are actu­al­ly doing. And has led those to say, under­es­ti­mate the impor­tance of ten years of extra­or­di­nary demo­c­ra­t­ic exper­i­men­ta­tion. Revolt, cer­tain­ly. Insurrection against neolib­er­al gov­ern­ments, against author­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ments. But also attempts at con­sti­tu­tion of alter­na­tives. In some ways, the ten years since September 11th have real­ly been an extreme­ly rich peri­od of politics.

Now, the most obvi­ous place this has been true has been in Latin America in this decade. I would say char­ac­ter­ized in a vari­ety of coun­tries are rebel­lions par­tic­u­lar­ly against neolib­er­al gov­ern­ments, and in some cas­es the cre­ation of a dynam­ic rela­tion­ship between pow­er­ful social move­ments, often led by indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, often around ques­tions of land, rights to resources, etc., a dynam­ic between these move­ments and left­ist and pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ments. And I think that’s been in fact a major field of the demo­c­ra­t­ic inno­va­tion of polit­i­cal strug­gles in this decade. You could say that they were eclipsed by the War on Terror from a cer­tain North American and European per­spec­tive, and in some ways that was a good thing. In some ways the US was look­ing else­where. The US was no longer try­ing to…and per­haps was unable to, police its own back­yard, as it said, and this flow­er­ing of demo­c­ra­t­ic exper­i­ments in a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent ways in Bolivia and Ecuador, in Venezuela and Brazil, in Uruguay and Argentina and Paraguay, all of these coun­tries have devel­oped I think an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly rich dynam­ic. Without the US. Without being either pri­mar­i­ly pro-US or anti-US. Really with­out the US as a dom­i­nat­ing presence.

Now, the new decade per­haps may be marked by a sim­i­lar dynam­ic in the Arab world. Because there, too, we have the devel­op­ment of extreme­ly pow­er­ful pop­u­lar forces against author­i­tar­i­an and neolib­er­al gov­ern­ments. Where they will go it’s unclear but per­haps the one thing one could hope for is this sim­i­lar dynam­ic between new pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ments that are a result of the insur­rec­tions or of the revolts, that are con­stant­ly chal­lenged and pushed by the con­tin­u­a­tion and strength of these social move­ments that have made the results, that could be, and one might hope that would be, the dynam­ic of this new era. 

But it seems to me that these are the kinds of polit­i­cal realms, realms of strug­gle and con­tes­ta­tion over eco­nom­ic, social issues, that should be the focus of our polit­i­cal research and polit­i­cal activism. That have been in some sense eclipsed or cast in the back­ground by the War on Terror, by the focus on sov­er­eign­ty, by the exces­sive focus I would say on the states of excep­tion. These should in fact be the focus of our ener­gies, and they are in fact what is real­ly mak­ing the world. It’s those revolts to which glob­al pow­er struc­tures have to react. They are in fact the dynam­ic forces that are lead­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a new world.