Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What if the Empire isn't really American?

James K.A. Smith: The Gospel of Freedom, or Another Gospel? Augustinian Reflections on American Foreign Policy

Much of the contemporary critique of “empire”—especially from theological quarters—tends to be a hasty, at times na├»ve, invocation of an epithet to describe America as the world’s bully. Stepping just a couple of rungs above Michael Moore (which doesn’t get one too far up the ladder), this reactionary opposition—to the Bush administration in particular—tends to keep the notion of Empire tethered to the sovereignty of a particular nation-state. But Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have convincingly suggested in Empire—and more recently, Multitude—that we are dealing with a new mode of Empire that is unhooked from territories and (modern) nation-states, and linked to a network of “flows” of a transnational market. Too much of the theological critique of “American Empire” is reacting as if we lived in an age of (modern) imperialism where sovereign nation-states are the principal actors and where empires are governed from a territorial capital.

But the thrust of Hardt and Negri’s analysis is to show that our age of Empire is post-imperialist; therefore, the nexus of Empire is not linked to or directed by a sovereign state, as the language of “American Empire” would suggest. Rather, Empire is post-national, and therefore any diagnosis and critique of imperial realities must abandon now antiquated imperialist paradigms, including all of the critical apparatus that was marshaled in opposition to such modern accounts of sovereignty. Granted, the United States continues to play a central role in Empire, but not as the territorial seat of imperialist power. There remains a link between America and Empire, but not as a qualifier: not American empire, but rather America serving Empire, even perhaps America as privileged colony of Empire, now understood as a transnational network of “flows” of capital through a global market that transcends territorial control. Post-imperial Empire means that the market has taken on a life of its own as a rather Frankenstein-ish creation of modernity that eludes the control of modern nation-states. Empire has outgrown the constraints of national sovereignty. Its anthem is no longer “Rule, Britannia!” or some other national hymn; its anthem is more on the order of, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke!”

I think Smith is on to something here.

The Empire we live in is in many way one of Corporations and of Culture. When Congressmen talk about taxing Hedge Fund managers at the same rate as mere Businessmen the managers threaten threaten to flee abroad. Corporations hide profits in the most favorable haven. The World certainly doesn't like our politics, but more than that they don't like the lawless irresponsible way of doing business and the kudzu culture that tear through societies everywhere.

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