Michael Hardt has a new piece in The Nation that checks the current situation to see how well Empire is holding up. Well, he doesn't put it quite that way, but he nonetheless finds "that imperialism is no longer an adequate concept for understanding global power and domination, and clinging to it can blind us to the new forms of power emerging today." A familar thesis.
Seems to me that the argument hinges here on a rather strange metaphoric construction, where Hardt compares the current sitaution to an older form:
The internal dynamic of Empire is analogous to a collaboration between a monarch and a group of aristocrats. The monarch in most cases today is the US government, but in some cases it's the IMF or other powers that act monarchically. The aristocratic powers in this analogy include the other nation-states of various levels, the corporations, the supranational institutions and various nongovernmental organizations. This analogy helps, first, to draw attention to the hierarchies among these powers in the ruling structure and, second, highlights the fact that the monarch cannot act unilaterally, depending constantly on the aristocrats, among other things, to finance its wars and pay its debts. The Bush Administration thought it could dictate the terms of global order unilaterally, but it was a monarch who failed to gain the support of the aristocrats and was thus doomed to failure.
What do you think? I have to say, I found the piece rather thin, and this central metaphor very creaky. It's not that I unequivocally disagree with Hardt, but I'm not sure that this adds all that much to our understanding of the what's afoot, espeically in comparison to something like this.
What do you think?