War and Empire

Por Olavo Carvalho *

In 1995, I expounded in “O Jardim das Aflições” (“The Garden of Afflictions”) the theory that the new worldwide Empire that was being formed concurrently with economic globalization was a phenomenon rather different from anything that had been known up to then as “imperialism”. Notwithstanding the praise received from both domestic and foreign critics, the book remained marginalized, never being cited in any prevailing discussions, whether in the media or in the academic realm.

Five years later, Mr. Antonio Negri earned quite a bit of money and widespread applause selling the same theory in his book “Empire”, co-authored by Michael Hardt. Mr. Negri’s concordance with me starts at the beginning of the process, which dates back to the 18th century, and continues up to the explicit localization of the seat of imperial government, which we both placed in the United Nations building, and not in the White House. Between these two extremes, we also agreed on the definition of the Empire as a new civilizational paradigm and not just a mutation of old imperialisms and colonialisms.

It never occurred to me that Mr. Negri, whom I don’t know from Adam, had plagiarized me. He just had a slower brain, which wasn’t his fault, and I didn’t have a marketing lobby working for me, which wasn’t my fault. Other essential differences between us are as follows:

1) I could not claim among my intellectual merits participation in a political homicide, whereas Mr. Negri lists among his accomplishments his thoughtful cooperation with the assassins of Aldo Moro – which, let’s face it, has an irresistible sex appeal to the ostensibly cultured press.

2) Mr. Negri described as centers of libertarian reaction to the imperial ascension exactly those mass movements in which I saw the unmistakable hand of the Empire itself.

3) Mr. Negri, loyal to the Marxist habit of explaining everything in terms of economics, saw the Empire as a political superstructure of globalized capitalism, and thus could not help but end up making the U.N., at least implicitly, an agency at the service of capitalism. Since most of the capital is in the U.S., the result was that the diagnosis which distinguished between imperialism and Empire ended up disproving itself and being exposed as nothing more than a new pretext to cudgel the U.S.

I have no argument regarding the first point, where Mr. Negri’s superiority is indisputable. As far as the second, the giant worldwide “pacifist” movement in support of Saddam Hussein shows with global eloquence that mass movements in which Mr. Negri saw a “utopian alternative” to the U.N. Empire (and his co-author Hardt still insists on this, with blind obstinacy, in the March 19th Folha de São Paulo) are tentacles of the U.N. itself, working to strangle the last remaining national sovereignties capable of creating problems for it: American, British, and Israeli.

Lastly, events of recent weeks (actually, of recent years, that is, since the Durban conference) have proven clearly which side the U.N. is on. Furthermore, they have shown which side American neoglobalists are on, including the mainstream media: at the service of the U.N. and against their own country.

As I explained in “The Garden of Afflictions”, there is within the U.S. a basic conflict between imperial and national forces, or between adherents of the U.N. and those of the American nation, the latter aligned with Israel, the former with the worldwide revolution which today unites Communists, neo-Nazis, Islamic radicals and various two-bit anti-American interests in a global pact of support for the genocidal tyranny in Iraq, and, in general, of everything rotten in the world. In short, all that is really useful in Mr. Negri’s book are the parts in which it coincides with mine. All the rest is imperious propaganda camouflaged as “alternative utopia”.

One subject I did not bring up in my book and which is too long to discuss here is: how did revolutionary Islam become the funnel through which all anti-American and antidemocratic currents now flow? To sum it up bluntly, and promising to come back to the subject someday, let me say that:

1) Islamic radicalism, the product of European-educated Muslim intellectuals, and which dates back to the ’30s, is to traditional Islam what liberation theology is to Christianity. It empties the Islamic tradition from its spiritual content and transmutes it into the ideological formula of world revolution. President Bush, whom our semi-literate intellectuals try to dismiss as a hick, understood this point perfectly, and vehemently refused the indecent proposal of giving the war against terrorism the connotation of an anti-Islamic crusade.

2) This formula, because of its universalist character and its enviable dialectical refinement (after all, one of its creators is Roger Garaudy, accomplished Hegelian scholar), brings together and transcends all the anticapitalist and antidemocratic currents of the twentieth century, from rank Nazism – passing through its more refined versions, such as the anti-humanism of Martin Heidegger, the deconstructionism of Paul de Man, the nihilism of Foucault – to the diverse forms of communism: Stalinist, Maoist, Trotskyist, Gramscian, etc. As its pioneer Said Qutub has prophesied, the destiny of the Islamic revolution is to absorb and surpass – in Hegelian fashion – all other revolutions. Thus the apparent miracle of solidarity between leftists and neo-Nazis at the anti-Bush protests, and the anti-Israeli intrigues of the U.N.

Of course, embarking on a life-and-death struggle against the worldwide revolution – and indirectly, against the neoglobalism of the U.N. – the American nation itself is taking on imperial responsibilities. What could come to be an American Empire, born from the rubble of the revolutionary project and the virtual cadaver of the U.N., is something that will only begin to become clear from here on. Neither I nor Mr. Antonio Negri know in advance what it will be like, and that is the fourth and final difference between us: he thinks he does know.

* Olavo de Carvalho, filósofo, brazilian philosopher, journalista e writer brazilian.


1. Translated by Ted Angell

2. Proof Reading: Jacqueline Baca

2. Article originally published in the newspaper “O Globo”, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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