Toni Negri in Memoriam

Bue Rübner Hansen
2 min readDec 19, 2023
Antonio Negri, 1933–2023

One of the true greats of the left is dead.

Toni Negri was a thinker and militant who everyone who took theory and leftist politics seriously had to have an opinion about. Agree or not, he challenged people to think deeper, even if many didn’t take the challenge as much as retreat into their old certainties.

This quality of Toni’s was born by his passionate commitment and endless curiosity about the transformative and revolutionary potentials that are there at any moment. He was someone who, wherever he went, was more interested in visiting local social centres and social movements than in speaking in great lecture halls, although he did also did that, and to often great effect.

As a thinker of potentia and crisis, his aim was always to inspire and sustain commitments and belief in our power to shape the future. This practice left him vulnerable to accusations of naïve optimism, but in these dark times, where cynicism and defeatism are recurrent temptations, perhaps it is true that the optimism of the will requires a little optimism of the intellect?

The text that most influenced me by Negri was his essay on Keynes from the late 1960s, which is a powerful analysis of the political and economic subtext of the social compacts and welfare statism of the depression and post-war era. It is a text that should be on the reading list of every democratic socialists, and a keystone for understanding why the hopes of Syriza and Sanders, Podemos and Corbyn failed to materialize.

I only read Empire after the US’s attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. But unlike others, who saw these events as a refutation of the thesis of the book, I continue to find it useful if read in a deflationary way: as a description not of a new world order, but as a (neo)liberal project for such an order, which ran into crisis in the early 2000s, and which is in tatters today. Yet many of the institutions of this project remain with us today, and Empire helps us elucidate their logic, and avoid the creeping nostalgia that the current breakup of international order is encouraging.

However we assess Negri’s contributions today — and they are many and varied, filled with gems and opportunities to advance by criticizing him — we must celebrate his ambition and method and make it our own: to keep fighting without nostalgia and with a constant openness to the potentials of our times, however deep its crises.

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Bue Rübner Hansen

researcher, writer, editor writing about whatever extends democracy. mostly in #spain #denmark #uk & #europe but eager to provincialize them all