Reading Hardt and Negri’s Empire has really shed some light on the concept of “the multitude,” and how it differs from “the people.” The former term is akin to Sartre’s notion of the group-in-fusion; a group that is united but maintains its status as a multiplicity, one that resists bleak uniformity and mastery under the control of a singular sovereign of any sort. People, by contrast, is the term that (as far back as Hobbes) has come to be identified with the sovereign nation-state that is constituted of a singular consciousness, identity, and thus nationality. This term has been used to strengthen the power of the sovereign nation-state, by offering a limited amount of power to the people (voting, basic human rights, etc), while retaining the majority of such through subjugation and oppression – which are masked through the banner of “protection.” This leads Hardt/Negri to note that historically, nationalism, as understood as that ideology that creates a people, has been used by the sovereign system for imperial and colonial exploits. But not all nationalism is in toto bad. On the contrary, they note that “subaltern nationalism” can be used (and has been used) for revolutionary ends. They highlight one such manifestation of subaltern nationalism in the mid-twentieth century “black nationalism” movements in the US. This movement benefited greatly by using a pseudo-nationalism, one that united a minority against an oppressive dominating power. Many gains were achieved through this movement. However, there is a flip-side to this story (and all other subaltern nationalisms). While there is an element of progress and liberation, there is also an internalizing and micro oppression that occured. By emphasizing the unity of African Americans (more particularly African American males), black nationalism destroyed the multiplicity of the group. No longer were their recognized differences between class or regional affiliation or religious leanings. Rather, all were united under a singular, homogenized banner: African American. As Hardt/Negri point out, the problem with this latter effect is that the group is subject to the transcendent notion of “nation” that supposedly exists prior to the group’s constitution (thus indicating that subaltern nationalism was the telos of this “people”). The result is that one segment of the group is enabled to become the representative of the uniform nation (sovereignty only exits with and as a singularity); and because of the latter the group is ultimately subjugated by its own micro-nationalism. This negates the multiplicity of the community and the revolutionary potential falls also.
Reading this I couldn’t help but think about the christian church. Could not the exact same be said about the latter? Is is not the case that the church too is guilty of micro-nationalism? Yes, it is the case that there is a “unity” of the body. But this is where the concepts of “multitude” in Hardt/Negri and the “group-in-fusion” in Sartre are helpful; for the latter two concepts resist the homogenization and uniformity of nationalism while retaining a common purpose/praxis – the “unity.” Thus it seems to me that if the church is ever to achieve revolutionary ends (i.e. salvific ends) then it must reclaim – or perhaps merely claim – its posture as a multitude, and thus reject homogeneity and uniformity. And this latter can only occur through a rejection of sovereignty in all its guises – in other words, a commitment to immanence.