An historical and political conceptualisation of ‘the multitude’
The concept of ‘the multitude’ has been rejuvenated by contemporary political theorists, such as Paolo Virno, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. They conceive of this category as the agent of social and political change in the twenty-first century. This project has two aims. Firstly it will investigate historical theorisations of ‘the multitude’. It will start with the Italian republican theorists, Marsilius of Padua and Machiavelli. Here it will consider the following: the role the multitude played in the formation of the political community; whether its activity was performed internal to, or external to, the polis; and the relationship between ‘the multitude’ and other socio-political categories, primarily the people. It will then turn to the seventeenth century political philosophers, Hobbes and Spinoza. Their writings coincided with the formation of the modern nationstate. Hobbes’s and Spinoza’s conceptualisation of ‘the multitude’ will be considered primarily in light of this development.
The second half of the project critically examines the contemporary political viability of ‘the multitude’. Particular attention will be given to three themes. Firstly, the relationship of ‘the multitude’ to institutions, whether established or nascent. Next, using the work of Ernesto Laclau, the potential of ‘the multitude’ to establish an alternative hegemony; and finally, the possibility of ‘the multitude’ becoming the sole socio-politicalidentity on a global scale will be considered and dismissed. The project will conclude by assigning a strictly limited role to ‘the multitude’ and will call for a more reflective, substantial theorisation of social and political agency for the twenty-first century.
How did early modern political theorists and philosophers consider the inter relationship between ‘the multitude’ and the people?
What happened to ‘the multitude’ during modernity? Did they disappear, were they silenced, or driven underground?
How precisely does ‘the multitude’ operate?
Can ‘the multitude’ coexist with other socio-political categories?
Can a policy of ‘being-against’ form a constructive, substantial political programme?
Should intensive, ‘vertical’ struggles be considered as a more effective political strategy than extensive, horizontal struggles?