The Common in Copenhagen
By Michael Hardt
The common is quickly becoming the primary terrain of political struggle in the age of globalization. I have just returned from Copenhagen, where during the past two weeks the COP15 UN Climate Summit has been the scene of intense negotiations over the management of the common. Primarily at stake is how and to what extent we will share the common wealth in this world and also how we will counter the destructive forms of the common that threaten our societies and forms of life on earth.
When I say that the common is centrally in play in the processes of globalization I refer on the one hand to the land, the forests, the sea, the atmosphere—in short, something like what was traditionally called the commons. On the other hand, the common also names a range of results of human production and creativity, such as ideas, images, code, knowledges, information, and affects. The question of climate change refers primarily to the first of these but the relation between these two notions of the common was also an important factor in Copenhagen. I will return to this briefly below.
Once we conceive of the Copenhagen summit as a struggle over the management of the common, it is useful to separate this struggle into two relatively separate scenes. One scene took place inside the official meetings at the Bella Conference Center, where admission was strictly limited to government representatives, approved NGOs, some journalists, and other select participants. I spent most of my time, however, at the second scene, outside the official meetings, among social movements and activists, whose presence represented an important encounter between the activist traditions focused on environmentalism and those relating to the various aspects of globalization.
The official meetings were the stage for a series of intense, high-level negotiations about the form and hierarchies of the emerging structures of global governance that Antonio Negri and I refer to as Empire. It is even more clear today than ten years ago, when we starting thinking in these terms, that no single nation-state, like the United States or China, can "go it alone" and rule the global system. Any attempts at unilateralism are now doomed to failure. Instead we saw at Copenhagen an example of how the emerging structures of global governance are being constructed within and among three distinct tiers.