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Hardt's Empire Creates a Stir in the Humanities

Story by
Nancy Joseph

It’s rare for a weighty book about globalization—with references to philosophers like Hegel and Kant—to reach a broad audience. It’s more rare for such a book to sell so briskly that bookstores can’t keep up with demand. But that’s just what has happened with Empire, co-written by A&S alumnus Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. 

Michael Hardt

Michael Hardt 

Reviewers for influential publications including The New York Times, Time, and The Nation have hailed Empire. “Does it have the staying power and broad appeal necessary to become the next master theory?” poses Emily Eakin of The New York Times. “It is too soon to say. But for the moment, Empire is filling a void in the humanities.” 

The United Kingdom’s Sunday Times goes a step further, stating, “Hardt is not just bent on saving the world. He has also been credited with dragging the humanities in American universities out of the doldrums.... [Empire] presents a philosophical vision that some have greeted as the ‘next big thing’ in the field of the humanities, with its authors the natural successors of names such as Claude Levi-Strauss, Jacques Derrida, and Michael Foucault.” 

Hardt, who earned his PhD in comparative literature from the UW in 1990 and is now an associate professor at Duke University, spent four years writing the book with Negri, who lives in Italy. 

“We were dissatisfied with the common conceptions of global order and, in particular, with the tendency on the left to see U.S. imperialism as the defining form of power,” explains Hardt. “We both thought imperialism was no longer the form of global rule and that the U.S. nation-state was not in control of global affairs. Our hypothesis is that instead there is a new form of global power, which we call Empire.” 

Hardt is surprised—and pleased—that Empire’s message is reaching such a broad audience. “We hoped the book would stimulate discussion about globalization and democracy,” he says. “It seems to be doing just that.”