A Grammar of the Multitude
Globalization is forcing us to rethink some of the categories—such as “the people”—that traditionally have been associated with the now eroding state. Italian political thinker Paolo Virno argues that the category of “multitude,” elaborated by Spinoza and for the most part left fallow since the seventeenth century, is a far better tool to analyze contemporary issues than the Hobbesian concept of “people,” favored by classical political philosophy. Hobbes, who detested the notion of multitude, defined it as shunning political unity, resisting authority, and never entering into lasting agreements. “When they rebel against the state,” Hobbes wrote, “the citizens are the multitude against the people.” But the multitude isn't just a negative notion: it is a rich concept that allows us to examine anew plural experiences and forms of non-representative democracy. Drawing from philosophy of language, political economics, and ethics, Virno shows that being foreign, “not-feeling-at-home-anywhere,” is a condition that forces the multitude to place its trust in the intellect. In conclusion, Virno suggests that the metamorphosis of the social systems in the West during the last twenty years is leading to a paradoxical “Communism of the Capital.”
The metamorphosis of social systems in the West, during the 30s, has at times been designated with an expression as clear as it is apparently paradoxical: socialism of capital. With this term one alludes to the determining role taken on by the State within the economic cycle, to the end of laisser-faire liberalism, to the beginning of Welfare… The metamorphosis of social systems in the West, during the 1980s and 1990s, can be synthetized in more pertinent manner with the expression: communism of capitalism.
If we can say that Fordism incorporated, and rewrote in its own way, some aspects of the socialist experience, then post-Fordism has fundamentally dismissed both keynesianism and socialism. Post-Fordism, hinging as it does upon the general intellect and the multitude, puts forth, in its own way, typical demands of communism (abolition of work, dissolution of the State, etc.). Post-Fordism is the communism of capital.
“I'm still working through the consequences of Virno's arguments. It's only by delineating the new grounds of affect and subjectivity that characterize the post-Fordist, network society, that we can even begin to think about tactics of political transformation. This is what grounds my current work-in-progress on postmodern aestheticism, and I've found Virno's book richly suggestive.”
— Steven Shaviro