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

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

1st December, 1971 (continued)

The use of armed force (the army as central to the inner 17th century development of the French state as outlined in the last post) is part of the royal power’s institution of  a new system of repression. This involved undermining the seigneurial system of repression and justice (I presume Foucault is referring to the medieval system of royal agents, which as I failed to explain in the last post was restricted to the parts of France where the king ruled directly, as opposed to areas where medieval variations of sovereignty and rights within a kingdom meant the monarchy had less power), undermining the bourgeois role in local militias and justice (presumably as members of parlements, an institution discussed in the last two posts), and limiting the powers of parlements  despite the serious conflicts that resulted. The new system of armed repression, centrally concerned with the system of taxation, entered the cracks and weaknesses of the old system to subvert and subordinate it.

Foucault acknowledges that the process just described has a starting point in the ways the king was the fount of justice in the Middle Ages along with changes in the royal administration of justice in the Middle Ages and before the seventeenth century. Nevertheless there is a new system of repression which developed within royal justice (in the traditional sense) as it had coexisted with and been superimposed on the feudal system. It is possible to see the changes from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century as part of a continuum of changes in the same system, but there is a rupture and a new system which can be grasped at the same time as seeing continuity.

The innovations of the seventeenth century include new police officials, increased use of imprisonment, lettres de cachet (another French institution which enable the monarchy to imprison without trial, often at the request of apparently injured subjects), and a major royal ordnance on criminal justice of 1670. Foucault suggests we see this as part of a movement from feudal to statist justice. The repressions that Foucault has just discussed in Normandy, are part of a resistance to a system of centralising feudal rents, but the reaction to this sedition is statism incompatible with feudalism.

(Foucault refers to the limited and uneven sovereignty of the king in a feudal system where aristocratic landlords and the church exercise a high level of localised sovereignty, moving to a system of a more impersonal kind of central sovereignty exercised by an expanding central state bureaucracy which has greater and more uniform powers throughout state territory, taking functions from the church and feudal aristocracy). In this process the bourgeoise, resisting feudal rents and taxes based on centralisation of such rents is allied with members of the parlements (sometimes identified by Foucault as part of the bourgeoise itself, since the members are a new kind of nobility devoted to peaceful state service rather than a mixture of feudal land ownership and military service to the king, there is a famous old distinction between the noblesse d’epée [sword] and noblesse de robe, which refers to this. Foucault is perhaps sometimes unclear about how he thinks the bourgeoise fits in here, but that can also be seen as a function of an ambiguity in which the bourgeoise seeks noble status through parlements and the aristocracy becomes more bourgeois through that kind of service).

Foucault frames conflicts of the seventeenth and eighteenth century with regard to the bourgeois-aristocratic alliance against centralisation, starting with the ‘age of Richelieu’ (who was discussed in the last post’), i.e. 1621-1642, going through the Fronde (uprisings against royal power, 1648-1653, participants included François de La Rochefoucauld, author of the Maxims), the failed attempt of Louis’ XV’s minister Maupeou to repress the parlements in the early 1770s, and the parlement revolt just before the 1789 Revolution (presumably the Remonstrance [protest] of the Paris parlement against tax changes in 1776), along with the conflicts associated with Jansenism (a rigourist Catholic tendency named after the Belgian Bishop Cornelius Jansenius, which was in conflict with the Pope and the Jesuits, which for a while suited the French monarchy, until Louis XIV found it preferable to repress Jansenism as the enemy of a centralised monarchy resting on a homogenous kind of Catholicism, Blaise Pascal was a notable associate. of the Jansenist current).

While the bourgeoise was sometimes allied with the parlements and the aristocracy against centralising royal power, it was opposed to the parlements as a system of justice, and was sometimes allied with royal power against it. The bourgeoisie was oppose both to the expanded royal power of the lettres de chachet and to the feudal remnant represented by the parlements, which Foucaults suggests they became more openly opposed to in the eighteenth century (perhaps to some degree thinking of how late eighteenth century ‘Pysiocratic’, i.e. free trade, economic policies with centralising monarchical power) culminating in the abolition of parlements after the 1789 Revolution.

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

  1. Pingback: , since | Progressive Geographies

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

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