Blogging Foucault’s most recently published lectures, Théories et institutions pénales. VIII 1972

(Commentary on Theories et institutions pénale. Cours au Collège de France, 1971-1972. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2015)

19th January 1972

Foucault continues his discussion of 17th century rebellion in Normandy in the era of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, now moving on from the events to the aftermath. Philippe Séguier, the Chancellor, working under Richelieu, was the royal man in charge of restoring and reinventing order in Normandy. In Foucault’s account he increasingly appears as the focus of a new kind of power, acquiring some of the morally ambiguous heroism or anti-heroism surrounding Richelieu, the most famous architect of the early modern French state and of of the most influential European state architects of the time in Europe.

Foucault may not be deliberating playing on the association of Séguier with Richelieu’s role, the stuff of historical novels and mythologised history, but the changing place of the king’s person and body is one theme of these lectures. The main thrust of that change is that sovereignty is less associated with the body and person of any individual. Accordingly, Louis XIII is almost completely absent from Foucault’s reconstruction of the history, and even Richelieu has become a rather shadowy presence.

Séguier is at the centre but does not emerge as a personality. He is  not directly given the mixture of grandeur and immoralism conventionally attributed to Richelieu, though at least a little of that sticks to him, since he is at the centre of a process which Foucault describes as both brutal and creative. The process is one in which the restoration of order in Normandy, particularly Rouen, is also part of the emergence of a more bourgeois and less feudal order.

Foucault describes this emergence in terms of two paradoxes. The first paradox is that the population must be disarmed to prevent future popular uprisings, but arming some part of the population is necessary in order to have sufficient forces available to uphold state order. The second paradox is that the state is reducing the ability of feudal lords to gather rents, but needs to raise revenues which it had tended to raise by centralising the proceeds of feudal rent.

The solution for the first paradox is to arm the ‘bourgeoisie’, the prosperous urban citizens outside the aristocracy, so the merchants and upper professionals. Foucault refers to a social cleavage between the bourgeoise and aristocracy on one side pitted against the peasants, labourers and artisans on the other side. The arming of the bourgeoise as a local pro-state militia foreshadows the formation of a national guard after the 1789 Revolution and similar measures taken in Italian states during the nineteenth century. Foucault does not refer directly to the event of 1789 and after, but it is not possible to avoid some sense of a retrospective  historical perspective here, even if Foucault is one of the main critics of historical teleology. The Italian history of the nineteenth century is at no point an obvious interest of Foucault’s, but is worth mentioning as part of the afterlife of the 1789 Revolution, and for emphasising how important what Foucault discusses here is.

The solution for the second paradox is for the state to raise revenues from taxes on land. Here Foucault sets up a context for the major French economic ideas of the seventeenth and eighteenth century around Mercantilism and Physiocracy, which he had already discussed in The Order of Things and its sequel Archaeology of Knowledge. Mercantilism is particularly associated with Louis XIV’s minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, in association with general process of consolidation of state revenues through keeping wealth in France, that is economic protectionism, and stat projects to promote production in France.

Foucault is sceptical about the results of this process in his brief remarks here referring to it as a long term effort which did not find a good answer. The Physiocrats are the eighteenth century economists associated with free trade, laissez-faire, and the priority of agricultural land in national wealth. The Physiocratic ideas of tax on land are seen by Foucault as an attempted solution to the mid-seventeenth century problem. In terms of state power, the problem is a wish to reduce the power of a feudal land owning class and of law courts made up of local notables, parlements (further discussion of this institution in earlier posts), while finding some property owning support for the regime. The solution must include a tax raised by the state through a central bureaucracy, which the state must make seem aligned with the interests of the bourgeoise against ‘feudal’ privileges.

The state bureaucracy becomes active in efforts to support the bourgeoise through security measures, public works and so on, providing the conditions for Mercantilist state policy. In summary, the rise of a class of private property owners is assisted by the state, or at least the state attempts to gain the loyalty of the bourgeoisie through measures that supposedly assist it. There is a hint of the issue of changing forms of punishment when Foucault states that the penal measures of the expanding royal bureaucracy do not have incarceration at the centre. As Foucault discusses elsewhere, the Physiocrats disputed the efficacy of such measures and Foucault appears sympathetic to their critiques. If we think about Foucault’s own alignment, he seems to be aligned both with Marxist leaning accounts of popular struggle and class politics, and with liberal leaning critiques of statist policies.

Papers I’ve recently posted on (political philosophy, philosophy and literature, ethics)


I have not been very regular in adding new papers to my account, but yesterday I added some draft papers and some ‘published’ papers. The ‘published’ papers are mostly galley proof versions which are not under the copyright of the publisher and are mostly to be published soon rather already published. A list of titles linked to the relevant page appears below. Most, if not all, of these papers appeared in some form previously on the blog broken up into parts of approximately 800 words each. is a free service allowing anyone to set up a page which enables them to post papers and follow papers posted by other users. There is no requirement to be affiliated with any institution and there is no requirement to post anything on your own page. I have heard of people complaining about being obliged to register with when someone posts a link. I do not think there is any cause to complain about the requirement to go through a simple registration process and use the service for free. I do not exclude the possibility of posting my papers on a personal webpage at sometime, but at present is by far the easiest way for me to do so and the ease extends to those using the service to read the papers posted, which can be read in the browser or downloaded to the device you are using.

Published Papers 

Review essay of: The Crisis of the European Union A Response, by Jürgen Habermas. Galley proof version for ID: A Multidisciplinary Journal of World Affairs 5 (2015).
Galley proof for chapter in Nietzsche as Political Philosopher Eds. Manuel Knoll and Barry Stocker De Gruyter, 2014
Stocker, Barry (2015) “Ethical Life in Kierkegaard and Williams”,

Kilikya Felsefe Dergisi, (3) pp. 68-82

Blogging Foucault’s most recently published lectures, Théories et institutions pénales. VII 1972

(Commentary on Theories et institutions pénale. Cours au Collège de France, 1971-1972. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2015)

At last I’ve managed to pick up this series of posts again. I hope to get the rest of this out without much interruption, but I can’t guarantee it.

12th January 1972

Foucault continues with a detailed discussion of the reaction of the French monarchy to an uprising in Normandy in the seventeenth century, in the reign of Louis XIII, when the effective head of the French government was Cardinal Richelieu. The king is not mentioned by name in this lecture and even Richelieu, who has a mythical aura himself as the Great European Statesman of the 17th century and as the architect of the French State, is absent.

Deliberately or not, Foucault adds emphasis in this way to the theme of the growth of a depersonalised state detached from the person of the king, and certainly his body. Foucault refers to the Medieval political theology of the monarch and the idea of the two bodies of the king. This is an idea associated with the work of the German historian Ernst Kantorowicz in his book of the 1950s, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology. It is the editors of the lectures who add the reference, but Foucault’s invocation is clear enough.

There are some questions here about how Foucault regards Kantorowicz’ study and his whole career (in short Kantorowicz was more than just another academic Medievalist) and as he does refer to ‘political theology’ in the lecture, there is an issue of his attitude to Carl Schmitt, who did write a well known book with that title and comes to most minds pretty quickly in connection with ‘political theology’. I won’t follow up these issues in this series of posts, but they are certainly worth considering and might guide some of my future inquiries.

Foucault alludes to the political theology of Medieval kings to emphasise a transition from a state that in significant part exists in the body of the king to a state that exists in an apparatus of appointed career bureaucrats. The ‘two bodies’ idea is that the king exists as a normal human body and as a sacred body, so is like Christ, combining the physical and sacred. The power of the Chancellor Séguier who restores ‘order’ in Normandy is distinctly removed from the presence of the king.

Of course it is not a new type of arrangement for a representative of the king to handle local affairs, it was never possible for the king to be simultaneously present everywhere. What is different, as Foucault explains, is that the Normandy judicial, business, municipal and church elites had no opportunity to appeal directly to the king. The power of his representative, and of the administrative apparatus in general, was absolute and beyond appeal.

Séguier is described as arriving in Normandy combining the military and judicial powers of the state and breaking down the boundaries between them, so is both an occupying force and a constituting form of authority, suggesting that legality and sovereignty are expressions of state military force and the product of civil war and conquest. Foucault refers indirectly here to the distribution of state powers in Medieval conceptions between bodies which were under the monarchy, but could not be overthrown by the monarch. The fusion of the judicial and military power is itself a major departure from Medieval tradition.

Foucault’s account is possibly shaped by Montesquieu’s understanding of the distinction between monarchy and despotism in The Spirit of the Laws, which is a speculative comment on my part, but there is no doubt that Montesquieu represents an important stage in thinking about these issues and that Foucault is in some way part of a tradition of French thinking that includes Montesquieu, a figure discussed by Émile Durkheim, whose sociological theory is certainly part of the background to Foucault’s work, and Louis Althusser who was one of Foucault’s teachers.

The powers that Séguier combines are the central functions of the state as understood by a various thinkers, and can be found in even the most minimal state. One implication of Foucault’s historical account is that the liberalism, or art of government, he will later describe for the eighteenth century and had already discussed to some degree in work in the 60s on the history of political economy, which emphasises the distinction between law and state force emerges from the kind of ‘absolutist’ royalist state Foucault is describing in the 17th century.

The situation for liberal theory, certainly in 18th century theories of civil society is a bit more complex than a naive belief in the absolute separation of law and force. I can’t get into that here, but it can at least be said that a naive formalist kind of liberalism does not fit with all the early liberal classics. Where Foucault’s own thinking fits in here is another question to big for the present series of posts, but we should be careful about where we place him. It is also an idea of early liberal classics, John Locke and Wilhelm von Humboldt spring to mind, that the king (executive governmental branch) is chief judge and army commander, in which case Séguier became a version of the king, even if his crude fusion of powers overrode Medieval sensibilities.

The full significance of Séguier’s ‘reign’ (not a word used by Foucault, but an appropriate extension of his commentary, if not necessarily a ‘correct’ interpretation of his ‘real’ meaning) then is that the Medieval restraints are overthrown as local elites are ignored along with normal legal procedures and rules for composing local bodies. The elites cannot appeal to the king (or even Richelieu). Suspected rebels are given tortuous forms of death sentence without right of appeal, without more than one judge, and without a written judgement, all violations of procedure. Parlements (see previous posts for discussion of these bodies which combined judicial and representative functions) were packed with men chosen by Séguier, who were not members of the families who traditionally filled these posts. The poor were fined to a level they could not pay and the aristocracy was held responsible for the debt.

After the rebellion was quashed to the satisfaction of Séguier and his masters in Paris, some normality returned including respect for local institutions and elites. There was no taking back the demonstration of centralised power though, which was expressed in more regularised way through the already present centralisation of feudal rents in the hands of the state. Later rebels had to work on the basis of the knowledge that they had to strike at a power above the local institutions which were no longer absolutely guaranteed in their authority. Foucault here maybe alludes to the French Revolution of 1789, a long way in the future, or possibly the Fronde of the 1660s, an aristocratic uprising against the new absolutism at a time when the boy Louis XIV was king, while his mother Anne of Austria (who was Spanish), ruled in conjunction with Richelieu’s disciple and replacement Cardinal Mazarin (who was Italian).

Assessing Elections in Poland and Argentina in the Context of Populism and Liberalism in Europe and South America II (liberalism in the classical sense of course).

Reblogged from my recent post at the group blog  Notes on Liberty.

The Argentine election was for the state president, who is head of government as well as head of state. An expected first round victory for the Peronist party (formally known as the Justicialist Party) candidate Daniel Scoli disappeared as he failed to clear 45%. He is clearly ahead of Mauricio Macri, Mayor of Buenos Aires, running on behalf of a three party centre-right alliance which contains the less statist, and populist elements of Argentine politics, but at least the hope exists of a second round triumph over the Peronists.

The third candidate is also a Peronist, showing the difficulty of overcoming that legacy and why even just turning the Presidential election into a competition between a Peronist and a non-Peronist is a victory of some kind. The sitting President Christine Kirchner pushed at the limits of the Argentine constitution, which prohibits more than two terms for any President, by alternating in power with her late husband Nestór Kirchner. If he had not died in 2010, we might now be looking forward to a fourth consecutive term in power for team Kirchner.

For the rest read on here.

Any comments should be posted at Notes on Liberty, not here.

Assessing Elections in Poland and Argentina in the Context of Populism and Liberalism in Europe and South America I (liberalism in the classical sense of course).

Reblogged from my recent post at the group blog  Notes on Liberty

Election results I’ve seen today from weekend elections in Argentina and Poland and the more general thoughts they have inspired. Rather longer than I anticipated so posted in two parts, though not separated in time given that I am articulating immediate reactions.

The Polish parliamentary election has been bad news for those who share the perspective of Notes on Liberty in that Law and Justice, a social-national-religious sort of conservative party with strongly statist and populist inclinations, has taken over from the more open market/open society inclined Civic Platform. However, a new party, Modern (strictly speaking ‘.Modern’, but I’ll ignore that in the future as too likely to be mistaken for a typo, it is at least worth noting as suggesting a technocratic commitment to a digital age, reminiscent of the development of the e-state in post-Communist Estonia) which leans towards liberty in economic and social spheres, in comparison with most of Civic Platform and even more in comparison with Law and Justice, has entered the National Assembly, compensating for some of the votes lost by Civic Platform to the populist right.

For the rest read on here.

Any comments should be posted at Notes on Liberty, not here.

Barry Stocker on Foucault’s Théories et institutions pénales lecture course

Originally posted on Progressive Geographies:

c9d71a6be7Barry Stocker has been making a series of posts on Foucault’s Théories et institutions pénales lecture course, which appeared earlier this year – an English translation is likely to be a couple of years away, since The Punitive Society has just come out, and Subjectivity and Truth will be the next one.

Dates below are those of Foucault’s lectures, with links to Barry’s posts on them.

24th November, 1971 – includes a useful discussion of the notion of a parlement

1st December, 1971 – part onepart two; part three

15th December, 1971

22nd December, 1971

I’ll add further links as they become available.

My review of the course was published at Berfrois earlier this year.

View original

Blogging Foucault’s most recently published lectures, Théories et institutions pénales. VI 1971

(Commentary on Theories et institutions pénale. Cours au Collège de France, 1971-1972. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2015)
22nd December, 1971

There is quite a lot of recapitulation of the previous lecture, perhaps suggesting that Foucault was particularly eager to maintain the unity of his discussion in the previous lecture with the discussion he now enters into of the claims of the central state. As he repeats from the previous lecture the entry of ‘armed justice’, that is external military units enforcing central state authority in Normandy with the old archbishop’s seat Rouen as the central concern here, results in summary execution and torture of supposed rebels.

As Foucault mentioned in  the previous lecture, there is a return of civil order and what Foucault expands on the latter part of this lecture is the way that the local agents of civil order are subordinated to the crown, or in practice the figures at the head of the state judicial, administrative and governmental apparatus. The subordination and the central rejection of traditional local mediation represents a shift in the functioning of power that Foucault emphasised in the previous lecture.

He refers now to a sixteenth century understanding of a monarchy restrained by three elements: religion, justice, ‘police’. These three elements look like the central supports of monarchy, so suggest a view of government as depending on elements that also limit it. It seems like an anticipation of Montesquieu, and that may not be an accidental outcome of Foucault’s design. Even if it is an accident, it is highly meaningful with regard to the context in which we might evaluate Foucault’s thought.

The three restraints are attributed to Seyssel, who appears to be the archbishop Claude de Seyssel, living in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, and who was a tutor to King Louis XII as well as a translator of Thucydides, though Foucault himself does not make this clear. The idea of restraint by religion in Foucault’s account refers to the right of even a simple preacher to challenge the king. Justice refers to the role of the parlements, the local courts who registered royal edicts as law and sometimes issued remonstrances against those edicts which offended them. ‘Police’ does not refer to ‘police’ as understood in modern English but to the structure and hierarchy of offices in the realm, over which the king presided but which he could not dissolve.

Foucault suggests that the suppression of the revolt in Normandy undermined and even directly contradicted those restraints which were deeply rooted in medieval France, if not necessarily in exactly the forms late seventeenth century rebels and local notables might have assumed appropriate. Foucault presents what is in outline a familiar picture of the world of feudal privileges and particularisms distributed between localities and within the social hierarchy giving way to a world of the centralised state underneath autocratic monarchies. The France of this time, with the  centrality of Richelieu also indicates that monarchist ‘despotism’ could include a redistribution of power from the monarchy to the chief minister as head of a state machine.

The particularities emphasised by Foucault are that in Rouen the archbishop appeals to Séguier, Richelieu’s subordinate so twice removed from the place of the king to mediate between people and king. This hope is denied as Séguier’ expectation is that all the people of Normandy will submit directly to the ‘King’ (in practice the state directed by Richelieu), so that all the guilty will be punished and the innocent protected, according to the administration of royal justice. So the archbishop has no role in either protecting the people, or notables, in general, or in those cases where he believes they should be spared from royal justice.

All three restraints on monarchy have been eroded away here, as the archbishop represents religion and traditional social hierarchy in direct ways, and maybe in a less direct way justice, since the Catholic church had a long tradition of cannon law and judicial privileges. More directly the archbishop is the ally of the  class of those who sit in the parlements. Generally all intercession by local notables and attempts to identify a limited class of people who revolted and deserve punishment is rejected. The representatives of the monarchy demand the application of ‘equity’, of general principles of justice which apply to all equally and must be applied without privilege or exemption.

In this respect, Foucault alludes to a genuine ideal which has some value in comparison with the demands of traditional authority for special recognition. The ideal has some genuine value but is applied with extreme violence which in itself lacks restraint by principles of justice.  There is a clear allusion here to future popular revolutionary ideals which will take up the claims of the monarchist state to represent pure justice and will claim to have a superior basis for equity in new political institutions to represent the nation or the people.