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HARDT, M. e NEGRI, A. Empire. 2000. Capitulo 2.5

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I am persuaded no constitution was ever before so well calculated
as ours for extensive empire and self government.
Thomas Jefferson
Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always
to meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrange-
ment without loss of essential form.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
In order to articulate the nature of imperial sovereignty,
we must first take a step back in time and consider the political
forms that prepared its terrain and constitute its prehistory. The
American Revolution represents a moment of great innovation
and rupture in the genealogy of modern sovereignty. The U.S.
constitutional project, emerging from the struggles for indepen-
dence and formed through a rich history of alternative possibilities,
bloomed like a rare flower in the tradition of modern sovereignty.
Tracing the original developments of the notion of sovereignty in
the United States will allow us to recognize its significant differences
from the modern sovereignty we have described thus far and discern
the bases on which a new imperial sovereignty has been formed.
The American Revolution and the
Model of Two Romes
The American Revolution and the ‘‘new political science’’ pro-
claimed by the authors of the Federalist broke from the tradition of
modern sovereignty, ‘‘returning to origins’’ and at the same time
developing new languages and new social forms that mediate be-
tween the one and the multiple. Against the tired transcendentalism
of modern sovereignty, presented either in Hobbesian or in Rous-
seauian form, the American constituents thought that only the
republic can give order to democracy, or really that the order of
the multitude must be born not from a transfer of the title of power
and right, but from an arrangement internal to the multitude, from
a democratic interaction of powers linked together in networks.
The new sovereignty can arise, in other words, only from the
constitutional formation of limits and equilibria, checks and bal-
ances, which both constitutes a central power and maintains power
in the hands of the multitude. There is no longer any necessity or
any room here for the transcendence of power. ‘‘The science of
politics,’’ the authors of the Federalist write,
like most other sciences, has received great improvement. The
efficacy of various principles is now well understood, which
were either not known at all, or imperfectly known to the
ancients. The regular distribution of power into distinct depart-
ments; the introduction of legislative balances and checks; the
institution of courts composed of judges, holding their offices
during good behaviour; the representation of the people in
the legislature, by deputies of their own election; these are
either wholly new discoveries, or have made their principal
progress towards perfection in modern times. They are means,
and powerful means, by which the excellencies of republican
government may be retained, and its imperfections lessened
or avoided.1
What takes shape here is an extraordinarily secular and immanentist
idea, despite the profound religiousness that runs throughout the
texts of the Founding Fathers. It is an idea that rediscovers the
revolutionary humanism of the Renaissance and perfects it as a
political and constitutional science. Power can be constituted by a
whole series of powers that regulate themselves and arrange them-
selves in networks. Sovereignty can be exercised within a vast
horizon of activities that subdivide it without negating its unity
and that subordinate it continually to the creative movement of
the multitude.
Contemporary historians, such as J. G. A. Pocock, who link
the development of the U.S. Constitution and its notion of political
sovereignty to the Machiavellian tradition, go a long way toward
understanding this deviation from the modern concept of sover-
eignty.2 They link the U.S. Constitution not to baroque and count-
erreformist Machiavellianism, which constructs an apologia of state
reason and all the injustices that derive from it, but to the tradition
of republican Machiavellianism that, after having inspired the pro-
tagonists of the English Revolution, was reconstructed in the Atlan-
tic exodus among European democrats who were defeated but not
vanquished.3 This republican tradition does have a solid foundation
in Machiavelli’s own texts. First of all, there is the Machiavellian
concept of power as a constituent power—that is, as a product of an
internal and immanent social dynamic. For Machiavelli, power is
always republican; it is always the product of the life of the multitude
and constitutes its fabric of expression. The free city of Renaissance
humanism is the utopia that anchors this revolutionary principle.
The second Machiavellian principle at work here is that the social
base of this democratic sovereignty is always conflictual. Power is
organized through the emergence and the interplay of counterpow-
ers. The city is thus a constituent power that is formed through
plural social conflicts articulated in continuous constitutional pro-
cesses. This is how Machiavelli read the organization of republican
ancient Rome, and this is how the Renaissance notion of the city
served as the foundation for a realist political theory and practice:
social conflict is the basis of the stability of power and the logic of the
city’s expansion. Machiavelli’s thought inaugurated a Copernican
revolution that reconfigured politics as perpetual movement. These
are the primary teachings that the Atlantic doctrine of democracy
derived from the republican Machiavelli.4
This republican Rome was not the only Rome that fascinated
Machiavelli and guided the Atlantic republicans. Their new ‘‘science
of politics’’ was also inspired by imperial Rome, particularly as it
was presented in the writings of Polybius. In the first place, Polybius’
model of imperial Rome grounded more solidly the republican
process of the mediation of social powers and brought it to a
conclusion in a synthesis of diverse forms of government. Polybius
conceived the perfect form of power as structured by a mixed
constitution that combines monarchic power, aristocratic power,
and democratic power.5 The new political scientists in the United
States organized these three powers as the three branches of the
republican constitution. Any disequilibrium among these powers,
and this is the second sign of Polybius’ influence, is a symptom of
corruption. The Machiavellian Constitution of the United States
is a structure poised against corruption—the corruption of both
factions and individuals, of groups and the state. The Constitution
was designed to resist any cyclical decline into corruption by activat-
ing the entire multitude and organizing its constituent capacity
in networks of organized counterpowers, in flows of diverse and
equalized functions, and in a process of dynamic and expansive
These ancient models, however, go only so far in characterizing
the U.S. experience, because in many respects it was truly new and
original. In very different periods, Alexis de Tocqueville and Han-
nah Arendt both grasped the novelty of this new ideology and new
form of power. Tocqueville was the more cautious of the two.
Although he recognized the vitality of the new political world in
the United States and saw how the synthesis of diverse forms of
government had been forged into a regulated mass democracy, he
also claimed to have

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