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

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

1st December, 1971

A continuing discussion of popular sedition in which the poorest resist levels of taxation beyond their thresh hold of endurance. Peasant and then town people joined the disturbances, though the urban participation was more sporadic. There were different motives and different strategies at different times, so that in the towns disturbances were directed at the militia and soldiers while in the countryside it was freedom of movement that was targeted.

Despite the variations, all the participations in sedition regarded themselves as part of one movement, that of those in bare feet (les Nu-pieds). The sedition largely, but not exclusively, targeted state representatives engaged in taxation whether through setting up the system, administering the system, benefitting from the contracting out of taxes to private individuals, or the judicial supervision of the system. The seditions was not therefore immediately directed against the rich in an undifferentiated kind of way.

Under this attack, the fiscal apparatus of the state lost social groups it was used to seeing as supporters. A large part of the nobility did not benefit from the system of state taxation in the way that the high nobility did. The bourgeoise (presumably merchants) were losers from the system because the taxation reduced exports and demand from sectors of the population whose incomes were reduced by taxation. The members of the parlements (local courts, full explanation given in the last post) lost from the tax system because it reduced their own rent from lands and because they exacted charges for judicial services, which were less easy to pay when taxes reduced the income of those who might use the courts.

This kind of conflict between state apparatus on one side and the aristocracy with the bourgeoisie on the other side goes back to the time of Philippe le Bel, that is Philip the Fair, King Philip IV who reigned from 1284 to 1305. The state had only intervened when it could rely on the support of some part of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. The system changed in the sixteenth century during the reign of Henry IV (reigned 1589 to 1610) in the stabilisation that followed the end of the Wars of Religion (that is wars between Catholics and Protestant Huguenots, 1562 to 1598).

Henry IV relied on the landowners  (aristocracy presumably) and bourgeoise economically and on the members of parlements for they money they gave to but their office. Until the early eighteenth century, state order rested on there elements. The first element was the that of of the agents of the king, themselves divided between the three areas of taxation, administration, and justice, a system that was in decline but still there. The second element was the citizen militia, the militias were controlled by the urban patricians. The third element was the parlement, which had divided, fractionalised and become autonomous with regard to different localities and functions since the time of Saint Louis. (That is King Louis IX, the Crusader king who reigned from 1226 to 1270, one of the main figures in the history of the medieval French state. It was Louis who instituted the parlement as a single central body within the system of royal justice). These three elements of order could of course be reinforced by the army.

The nobility, the bourgeoise as merchants and the bourgeoise as members of parlements (though this is also known as the nobility of the robe, that is aristocrats who were not in the army and might be related to the landowning military aristocracy or even overlap with it) were necessary to state defined order but were very liable to withdraw support from that order during the seventeenth century because of depressed economic circumstances.

The army was the institution most directly benefitting from the concentration of feudal rents via the royal system of taxation, so was the most reliable institution of state order, though as Foucault points out, it was were the aristocracy sought power, so perhaps hinting at divided interests for the aristocratic army officers. Foucault refers to a period from Richelieu to Louis XIV in France, where justice was armed, was clearly dependent on the army.

(Richelieu refers to Armand Jean du Plessis, 1585-1642, born into the lower aristocracy who became a Cardinal in the Catholic church and Duke of Richelieu. Rising in state service to become Chief Minister to Louis  XIII, he became one of the major actors in the development of the modern French state and a leading example of skill in early modern state craft. The emergence of an eighteenth century art of government is a major theme for Foucault and this account of government in the seventeenth century can be seen as part of the context for that. Richelieu died close in time to Louis XIII, opening the reign of the child king Louis XIV, during which France as reigned by Louis XIII’s widow Anne of Austria in co-operation with Richelieu’s acolyte Cardinal Mazarin. After Mazarin’s death in 1661, the now adult Louis XIV took complete power and established himself as -the model of an absolute European monarch until his death in 1715.)

2 thoughts on “Blogging Foucault’s most recently published lectures, Théories et institutions pénales. II

  1. Pingback: , since | Progressive Geographies

  2. Pingback: Barry Stocker on Foucault’s Théories et institutions pénales lecture course | Progressive Geographies

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