Michael Hardt is a philosopher and theorist best known for his collaboration with Antonio Negri on a trilogy of political treatises — Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth — that explore the dynamics of the contemporary global order.
Since its publication in 2000, the much-lauded Empire has been touted as the ‘Communist Manifesto of the twenty-first century’, though Slavoj Žižek — who first made the comparison — originally left the tribute in the interrogative, as though it remained to be ratified by posterity. True to its forebear, Empire cuts an unusual figure within the typically polemic, prescriptive genre of manifesto; its mode is one of sustained theoretical analysis animated by a forward-looking grasp of concrete political reality. Hardt and Negri have in the time since its publication secured their place among our most essential thinkers. Their work has consistently propelled dialogue about emergent political practice and has proven that there exist within the ever-fossilising Western intellectual tradition plenty of ideas and resources that are powerfully open, flexible and provocative.
We met with Michael in his office at Duke University on a winter’s afternoon. A small vase with cut daffodils in water sat on the desk, and a striking black-and-white image from the Genoa G8 Summit protests hung on the wall. During the interview he maintained, whether listening or speaking, a charming, quiet charisma. We were able to browse the spines of his library when he excused himself briefly, appealing to a quick errand to attend to elsewhere on campus. Ranged along one set of shelves set into two walls dense with hardbacks, we found copies of his books translated into more than a dozen languages: Slovenian, Portuguese, Arabic, Korean, Russian, Cantonese, Turkish and Italian, among others we couldn’t readily identify. Fifteen minutes later he returned, seemingly re-energised, and we continued the interview.