VOLUME 4 (2002) - ISSUE 8 (WINTER)

The New Leviathan, Tolkien, and Empire

by Patrick HUNOUT & Todd Joseph Miles HOLDEN

Patrick HUNOUT is the President and the Founder of The International Scope Review and of The Social Capital Foundation.

Todd Joseph Miles HOLDEN is APSA Vice-President in charge of publications, and Chair of the Department of Multi-Cultural Societies at Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan.


Dear readers, 

For those Westerners who wonder why the popular movies drawn from the J. R. R. Tolkien's trilogy Lord of the Rings had so much success, one answer may lie in the resemblance between the dark world depicted in these movies and their own real world as it is and has evolved.

The new slavery, incarnated in the dreadful, artificially produced, ethnically connoted creatures - the Orks - might symbolize something that they have seen with their eyes, that they have understood with their brains, or that they have felt in their flesh. The regression of democracy, the slow death of generations ensconced in suburbs fallen prey to social crisis and delinquency, the dissolution of their ancestral culture into individualistic values - such is a reality to fear…and rightfully so. 

And above all - this is a lesson to meditate on - all these developments revolve around the ring of Power. This realm of darkness has extended its grip over the Western world, and we all - consciously or not - feel immobilized, if not threatened. For, unlike Tolkien’s imaginary world, it is not with material weapons that this force can be defeated, but with the unity of our consciousness. And, in contradistinction to the denouement of The Two Towers - in which hobbits, elves, dwarves, humans, wizards and trees - join together to oppose the ever-accreting forces of darkness - we feel unable to link ourselves within a solid, dynamic and united community that would be able to impose its will upon the forces that seek its destruction.  

One reason for this may be that, as Aldous Huxley observed, the methodology of domination has changed. It has become much softer, indirect and ideological than it was under the dictatorships of the ancient world. Even as the might of modern swords is most palpable, such material power has yielded to subtle, less tangible, more treacherous, black arts: the power of words, beliefs, and values. In many ways this makes it more difficult to divine, to target, to pin down, and to organize against this power. The task of marshalling opposition becomes daunting even as it begins. For those familiar with cinematic tropes, all of this suggests a certain lengthening of shadows; a possible twilight for most of Western humankind. 

Such harbingers are more perceptible now than ever before. Still, it is not certain that what will result will be a blanket darkness: there has been, as James Redfield had an inkling of, certain progress toward a revolution in universal consciousness. But will this progress come quickly enough? In 1995 and 1996, Patrick Hunout elaborated the theory of the New Leviathan. A few years later, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, published a book called Empire (2000) in which they articulated views quite similar to Hunout’s conception.

Hardt and Negri’s approach owes much to a political current that engendered both maximal political influence and theoretical controversy within Italy's ultra-left in the 1970s. The hypothesis concerned the “socialized worker” - a new proletariat disseminated throughout society, congregating in the spheres of both production and reproduction. This entity became Negri's enduring contribution to the exploration of class recomposition forming the core of the Italian brand of marxism known as “workerism”. This stream, unlike conventional marxist precepts, often sought to examine less contemplated concerns: the evolution of the economy toward material labor, questions of sexual and emotional domination, the nature of the family, and the marginalization of those deemed “abnormal”. During 1974, as the West's energy crisis exacerbated domestic inflation, Italian society actually exploded in a serial of conflicts; the new struggles that burst forward pushed those “socialized” tendencies already nascent in Negri's thought toward the centre of his consciousness. In his book penned with Hardt, Negri analyzes the construction of a huge, transnational power he calls “Empire”. He asserts that what used to be conflict between or competition among several imperialist powers has been replaced in important respects by a single power ruling over them all. This has meant that what are traditionally called the royal prerogatives of sovereignty have resumed and even have been substantially renewed in the course of constructing “Empire”. 

In a word, a supra-national quasi-state is being formed. This has been made possible by the implementation of a set of international bodies, such as international organizations (like the UN or the World Bank) and NGOs, and their various rules. NGOS and international organizations actually serve as the charitable companies and mendiant orders of Empire. In effect, moral intervention has become a frontline force of imperial intervention; it often serves as the first act that prepares the stage for military intervention. In such cases, military intervention is presented as an internationally sanctioned police action, a “just war”, although it is often first dictated by the United States, which charges itself with the primary task and then subsequently asks its allies to set in motion a process of armed containment and/or repression of the current enemy of Empire. Additionally, international bodies are set up to regulate globalized trade, capital flows and macro-economic trends, and a new judicial function is being formed that is adequate to and consistent with the dictates of Empire. Together, these elements work to coordinate, control and sanction the moral order, the exercise of police action, and the mechanisms legitimating imperial sovereignty.

Hardt and Negri refer to the French revolutionary Sieyès, who saw the embryo of totalitarianism already forming in eighteenth-century conceptions of national and popular sovereignty - conceptions that effectively preserved the absolute power of monarchy and transferred it to national, “republican” sovereignty. In the debate over the Constitution of Year III of the French Revolution, for instance, Sieyès denounced the “bad plans for a re-total instead of a Re-public, which would be fatal for freedom and ruinous for both the public realm and the private”. In the same way, while we may be witnessing decline in the powers of the nation and the end of colonialism, this is actually indicative of a general passage from “modern” national sovereignty toward “imperial” sovereignty. 

In short, this passage to a new, integrated international order can be regarded as the next projection of the dark side of nationalism. Although their description of the emergence of a new supra-order is generally correct, Hardt and Negri exaggerate the degree of integration between the different parts of Empire. One need look no farther than the 2003 war in Iraq to see that this is so. Currently, Empire is regionally, rather than globally, integrated, and it is far from free of ambiguities and rivalries. One can point to the creation of regional Empires, such as the European Union, as evidence, where the aim is to forge a distinctive block rather than acquiesce in integration into the US-dominated international order. Hardt and Negri are also off the mark in other respects. 

Thus, they discuss the transition from authoritarian society to a “society of control”, introducing the concept of a “biopower”; here they intend “a situation in which what is directly at stake in power is the production and reproduction of life itself.” None of this is very persuasive, though. For, while they signal that Empire orchestrates racial differences in a system of control, the authors prove unable to relate this observation with Empire’s ethnic migration policies, despite the obviousness of this link. So, too, with their view that the spectre of migrations haunts today’s world (underlining that even the most significant population movements of the past constitute Lilliputian events with respect to the enormous population transfers of our times). But their theorization here has been hijacked by the old leftist traditions and representations, dictating that they yield to a naïve, adolescent theory of immigration-as-wished-exodus; on such an account, desertion and exodus become a form of class struggle within and against “imperial post-modernity” - a new nomadic horde, a new race of Barbarians, would act to invade or evacuate Empire. As one example, they point to the Eastern European countries, where they say that mass migrations struck the regime to the heart.  

In such assessment, they neglect two major facts: first, it is difficult today to “evacuate” Empire, as it is becoming global; second, migrations perhaps contributed to the evisceration of Eastern European regimes, but they were migrations OUT of these countries. Migrations TO the Western countries tend to REINFORCE their class structure, as has been shown in some of our previous TISR issues. Thus, the “hybrid, modulating terrains” Hardt and Negri refer to as a privileged locus to struggle against Empire are precisely those where the New Leviathan feels least threatened and at its very best. Finally, Hardt and Negri also believe in the “power of the multitude”. Yet, sociological research for over a century has shown that this aggregation actually consists of an ever-accreting, ever-accelerating dis-organization: a mass of isolated individuals, manipulated by “opinion leaders” and behavior shapers in the political, economic, and moral spheres, whose persuasive communications aim at inculcating individualistic and consumption values or else social conformity to prevailing societal norms. In fact, the condition of “multitude” is probably the best asset that the new order can rely on to weaken the resistance of the social body over which it seeks to rule. Hardt and Negri’s work is obviously not trivial, nor completely without merit. At its worst, though, it can reek of faulty - and overintellectualized thought: fraught with often abstruse lexicon, full of useless, bookish references in the tradition of the superficial salons; their theorization eventually misses the point, leading the reader nowhere. Still, their basic scientific intuition remains true. 

And this should reinforce our long-term faith in science to expose, illuminate, and resolve the main issues of our time. It is hard, of course, to write these words in the shadow of America and Britain’s 2003 intervention in Iraq - the incursions and excesses of “Empire” - and not fear that the forces of darkness are amassing at the edges of the woods. Recent developments have demonstrated that demagogic Western politicians can be, in their own ways, as dangerous as the authoritarian leaders of the Third World. Consider the discourse of the American political authorities. Consistently, they have failed to articulate any substantive, credible explanation for the conflict with Iraq. While President Bush has often opined that “they hate what we are”, he has failed to explain WHAT are “we”? and WHO are “they”? Following Al Qaeda’s attack, collective American identity was even more consciously defined as “freedom” (sic) granted by God (White House press conference, March 6, 2003). This amounts to a kind of a delirium tremens - at the same time dogmatic and ethnocentric - serving the aim of mobilizing people against an exaggerated enemy, obfuscating hidden agendas for ideological aggrandizement, justifying unwarranted extensions of American power, and dissimulating the real stakes wagered behind the scenes, notably those in relation with American policy in the Middle East. In such a way one sees that the September 11 attacks worked in a way that the hijackers likely never anticipated, by giving vent to twin dangerous traits of American collective psychology: self-centeredness and manichaeanism.

Of course, it is not merely the governments of the Anglo-Saxon countries who are culpable. While abstaining from war might have appeared prima facie evidence of noble intent (as the French, German and Russian political leaders wished us to believe), exploiting fear in order to implement imperialist interests (as that same triumvirate actually did) was cynical and no less morally suspect than the acts of their English-speaking NATO allies. The hidden interests of these three “peace-loving” states underlay their vociferous opposition, which worked to exploit the pacifist feelings of their citizens; above all, the French government was in fact planting the seeds for the long-term construction of a distinctive, anti-American, “European” imperialism. The value of such a strategy is obviously dubious, as this imperialism forwards a policy little different from the American one: economic liberalism, multi-ethnicity, and interpersonal individualism; with only an additional touch of state bureaucracy. If truth be told, today’s European Union is nothing but a projection of the old French imperialism - Germany being politically diminished since World War II, and the Southern European and the smaller countries being to some extent dependent on the Franco-German coupling. Its replication lies in reliance on the cheap and docile human reserves of Africa (the old French Empire) and the Eastern European countries (the German zone of influence - even during and certainly since the period of Soviet domination). In sum, the U.S. government actually invokes the dictators of the Third World as a scapegoat, but the EU, too, uses the same stratagem when it takes America as a mirror to promote a distinctive European imperialism, or when it condemns the ancient dictatorships of Eastern and Central Europe. “Counter Empire” - the theme at the heart of  both The Two Towers and the Iraq conflagration - is where we emerge. Hardt & Negri say that the counter-Empire must also be a new global vision, a new way of living in the world. This is a track that is more fecund than others, and this is why we created this Review: to serve as a tool for disseminating progressive ideas. Rather than believing in a would-be “power of the multitude”, we feel instead that a better awareness by the educated middle-classes of the different nations would be an efficient vector of resistance and transformation.

Today we publish TISR’s eighth issue. The articles all come from members of the Asia Pacfic Sociological Association (APSA), an organization of more than one hundred members from nations spanning the Asian region – from Australia to China, South Korea to Indonesia, Japan to the Philippines. Nearly all of these contributions are based on presentations at the 5th APSA assembly, held in Brisbane, Australia, in July 2003. As you will see, all of these articles bear in some way on the themes addressed above; themes that are consistently among TISR’s favorites, such as international politics and terrorism, globalization and its effects on various societies, and global migratory flows.

We begin with intimations of counter-empire: resistance to Western ideas and practices. James Goodman refers to this as “counter-globalism” which he sees embodied in local responses to those aspects of globalization driven by private corporations and associated with a dramatic internationalization of the state. Interrogating these local responses, Goodman argues of external ideas, structures and practices has worked “naturally” to reconstitute political community. Further, far from being dissolved by globalization, national identity appears to be brought into greater relief, with a concomitant rise in expressions of nationalism. The author sees counter-globalist social movements as constituting a range of dialogues across national differences, working to define and further the pursuit of common aspirations. At the same time, by deliberately transcending the national framework, such movements create “cosmopolitan nationalism”. Such raise the possibility of contesting and democratizing the process of transnational integration that currently so effectively disempowers national systems of democratic representation. For Goodman this does not mean an end to national politics, rather its realignment.  

Another angle with which globalization is treated here is in Pam Nilan’s study of community leaders-in-formation in Indonesia. Focus group interviews with members associated with the three major religions reveals the intimate linkage between religion and politics in this society. For instance, every time respondents were asked about religion they talked about politics, and vice versa. Significantly, prior to the Bali bombing of October 12, 2002 respondents expressed strong anti-Western sentiment. For them, Western cultural and technological hegemony was identified as a prime threat to cultural integrity. Consistent with Giddens’ characterization of global modernity, respondents articulated a widespread belief that global trends and structures threatened to undo local historical traditions and identities. In turn, this apparently was stimulating local resistance in the form of a resurgent religious fundamentalism. Nilan’s study suggests that political consciousness operates within discourses of religious loyalty, charismatic leadership, the normalization of political violence, and elements of anti-Westernism. Conspicuously absent, Nilan observes, is any consideration of economic and social policy formation, along with informed debate on actual models and processes of political governance. In a separate section, three contributions focus on comparisons across national cultures.

The first is Rosemary Cant’s examination of elderly care in three nations. She notes some important paradoxes when viewed in relationship to other trends associated with globalization. For instance, while manufacturing has generally migrated to low wage countries, for the infirm the reverse is true. Elder-care work, increasingly de-institutionalized but also increasingly in demand, is steadily being provided by non- or low-paid workers - often immigrants. Looking at three different contexts - Singapore, Canada, and Australia - Cant notes that "care ideologies" and "rights ideologies" are perceived in different ways in each place; at the same time, the general trend is for this work to be provided in the home (rather than outsourced to institutions), conducted by un- or underpaid workers, and supervised by professionals. Important, too, is the fact that such care work is an increasing proportion of the work available in developed countries, and that migrant or guest workers have latched onto care jobs as a means of relocating temporarily or permanently to these countries. Such trends, obviously, have a bearing on the economic and social dimensions of the globalization phenomenon. When it comes to globalization, observing phenomena in situ is signal; for it enables us to determine whether values, behaviors, and other social phenomena are the same or different when compared across contexts. In turn, this assists in discerning whether such phenomena - if the same - elicit uniform responses from the indigenous cultural contents and constituents. 

This is the theme of T.J.M. Holden’s article on color in television advertising. Comparing ads from Japan, America and Malaysia, the author shows that a large number of significatory practices are shared across cultures. Implicitly, this suggests that certain meanings are not delimited by national or regional boundaries, but rather are shared by various (but otherwise distinguishable) human populations. At the same time, Holden points to numerous localized practices, which do not transcend national/cultural borders. Context-specific meanings serve to underscore the limits on globalization; they indicate the large degree to which cultures communicate in distinct, unique ways. Coloration becomes more than a semiological tool; it provides insight into societal ontology. It can be used to explain how cultures have been organized, how they “think” and even suggest, at times, why they act.  

In a final selection in this section, Rebecca McHughe and Raphael Jane Prasetyo tackle the issue of “social capital”, a concept that has become increasingly popular as a tool for social analysts and policy-makers. Noting that the World Bank is taking active steps towards practical implementations of social capital-informed programs, the authors seek to question the value and limitations of this concept, particularly as applied to the Asian region. Rather than criticize or debunk, McHughe and Prasetyo’s main purpose is to encourage greater input from researchers and theorists in applying localized, contextualized understandings to a previously global concept. In the process the the authors present a brief overview of the concept’s evolution, outline specific ways it is being used in social scientific research, consider some important criticisms, and discuss implementation of social capital projects by the World Bank. By placing this discussion within the context of the Asian Values debate, questions surrounding the applicability of social capital in the South East Asian region today are fruitfully addressed. So, too, is the overarching message that any intervention requires greater local contextualization, as opposed to universalized application. As the foregoing articles suggest, contexts are crucial to understanding the activities associated with globalization. But so, too, are the groups located in particular national contexts. This is the focus of a final set of articles.

One such group are Asian artisans and craft workers. According to Tim Scrase, this relatively large collection of skilled or semi-skilled workers, “have been particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of global economic change and re-structuring brought about by...economic liberalization policies in Asia and elsewhere in the third world.” In stark contrast to the so-called “postmodern consumer” the artisan remains stuck in a pre-modern world of work:  characterized by precarious production, marginalized existence, and the ever-changing desires of a whimsical global consumer market. For the majority, life “fluctuate(s) between work and unemployment, income and poverty”. This has ramifications for the craft, itself. For, the globalization of artisanal crafts has worked to separate craft production from the actual artisan and raises the possibility that the craft might even disappear altogether. Despite this prospect, though, Scrase remains upbeat. He argues that unlike work produced by displaced or marginalized wage workers, artisan crafts carry with them a piece of the artisan’s identity; an identity communicated far and wide as it circulates in global consumer markets.  

Another type of labor group is women workers. This population commands the attention of P. G. Dhar Chakrabarti, who utilizes a Time Use Survey to make visible the toil of women so often left invisible in statistical studies. Doing so, he demonstrates that women’s work is underestimated in India’s statistical system. This is partly due to the nature of their work itself and partly due to the prevailing male dominated values that organize and police the social system. Following a systematic enumeration of gender differences in workloads, Chakrabarti moves to matters of policy. He argues that absent any arrangement for work-sharing, employment programs for women’s empowerment will only increase women’s burden, and he suggests measures that would represent positive changes. Another policy-directed, statistical contribution is Jung Hoon Han and Scott Baum’s investigation of residential mobility in the Republic of Korea. The authors address two broad questions of keen interest to those studying mobility: why households and individuals move and what distinguishes movers from non-movers? As with research undertaken in other cities, a wide range of factors appear influential. These include housing dissatisfaction, life cycle changes, period of residence, and housing and dwelling characteristics. Mobility bears, the authors show, close correspondence to other areas of social, economic and political change; understanding why households move, as well as the extent of such mobility, is important in suggesting social, economic and policy changes in urban areas. As shown by the variety of these topics, there is a wide assortment of ways in which “globalization” and the edification of a new international order may affect our lives. 

The International Scope Review will contribute to sort these influences out and illuminate appropriate means for facing their implications. In existence for four years now, TISR may not yet be an old lady, but it has stood the test of time. It will continue, despite all difficulties, to enlighten its readers on the evolution of society - neither favoring, nor shying away from, the darkest problems and the most promising solutions.