In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State
  • Catherine Chaput (bio)
Antonio Negri , Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State. Trans. Maurizia Boscagli. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2009. 384 pp. US$30.00 (pbk).

The republishing of Insurgencies ten years after its first English translation was, no doubt, propelled by the success of Antonio Negri's collaboration with Michael Hardt in Empire and its two follow-up texts, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (2004) and Commonwealth (2009). For all its success, Empire does not have the sustained and careful critical attention to detail that many of Negri's earlier texts employ. While many of us can read through Empire at a moderate pace without much difficulty, the same cannot be said for Insurgencies, which requires extended reading time and significant focus. Of course, this should not be surprising for a book of this range: Negri explores the relationship between constituent power (potentia) and constituted power (potestas) by surveying state formation and its attendant theories beginning with Machievelli and weaving his way through the English, American, French and Russian revolutions. In a sweeping study that spans five nation-states, five hundred years and dozens of theorists, Negri predictably concludes that the multitude's power to facilitate historical rupture becomes curtailed - spatially and temporally - through constitutionalism and its modernist rationality. [End Page 124] Constituent power, as he outlines it in the final chapter, works to evade this trap. As he puts it, 'there is no goal - there is only the radical continuity of the discontinuous, the continual reappearance of the time of strength as alternative, but at the same time as resistance, to the "realistic" and "sovereign" dissipation of time' (320). Against all dialectic forms, which inevitably end in constituted power, Negri offers an autonomous theory of constituent power that resists the notion of transgressing a particular antagonism in order to constitute itself on new ontological grounds.

The importance of privileging constituent power over constituted power occupies the entire first chapter (as well as Hardt's forward to the new edition). According to Negri, the history of democratic revolutions can be read through this power struggle: 'initially, constituent power infuses its dynamism into the constitutional system and then is itself reformed by the constitution' (7). Once constitutional power takes over, time becomes backward-looking and the revolutionary event ceases; however, the process of an always-emergent constituent power, once set in motion, never stops. Constituent power 'takes the form of a permanent revolution, in other words, a process in which the subject's independence is affirmed at the moment when it continually rolls back the enemy's oppression and simultaneously expresses, accumulates, and organises its own power' (31). Constituent power mobilises itself in the time and space specific to particular events rather than through the contractual obligations of constitutions; its democratic will founds itself on materialist ground and not through a transcendental conception of human rights. Belying his sympathies for a Marxism beyond Marx, Negri locates this democratising power in living labour - a power that constructs its own ontology through struggle. The task of this book, as he establishes it, is to explore the nature of constituent power through its eruptions in democratic revolutions and determine whether its materialist power can overcome the limitations of constituted power historically imposed upon it.

Negri looks to Machiavelli, the subject of his second chapter, for an inaugural definition of constituent power. Machievelli's historical positionality in the Renaissance moment - after feudalism and before modern nation-states - makes his arguments, especially as outlined in The Prince (c.1513), intriguing to traditional political theorists as well as those on the left (Louis Althusser's Machiavelli and Us (1998) or Antonio Gramsci's 'The Modern Prince' (1949), for example). What makes Machiavelli so interesting is that he locates the strength of the Prince in the people. For him, it is the multitudo and its 'will to power that explodes forward, radically transforms reality, and sets in motion an irresistible mechanism' (58). Reading the Prince alongside Discourses on [End Page 125] Livy (c.1517), Negri confirms the specifically democratic nature of governmental power in its people as opposed to its governing documents...