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

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

1st December, 1971 (continued and concluded)

The goal of the bourgeoise in its shifting struggles/alliances with the aristocracy and the monarchy described in previous posts on this lecture is a unitary repressive system, which is statist, judicial, and policed. A unitary system that is masked by the claim that the judiciary is independent of the state and the police, creating the idea of neutrality between classes, rather than the reality of promoting bourgeois interests.

The other side of the bourgeois movement towards a unitary system is the popular revolts which do not have that goal, and in Foucault’s account do not seem to have any goal other than a kind of rebellion as restoration of lost rights and a mimicry of royal power. Foucault singles out the Normandy example of sedition he has already discussed as the most radical revolt, particularly by way of comparison with Aquitaine (another more southern part of western France associated with England in medieval history, the Duke of Normandy conquered  England in 1066 and Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II of England in the next century bringing the Duchy of Aquitaine with her), where a leading aristocrat loyal to the king had quickly restored order.

Foucault suggests that the Norman revolt attracted a large part of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, because it was more radical, leaving the upper classes in  a position where they saw the only hope of order in a calming alliance with the lower class protest, rather than because they sympathised with that protest (though what Foucault has already said suggests that they may to some degree welcomed a reaction to intrusive royal power) .

In Normandy the protest presented itself as a movement of the poorest who to some degree stood outside legality. It was not a movement of complete criminality and radical illegality, like those who refused to pay taxes or were outright brigands. The revolted adopted the signs and rituals of royal power sot that documents like state documents in appearance were signed, like the king’s signature, and circulated on behalf of the revolt.

There was no one king figure in the revolt and different individuals wrote  a ‘signature’ on different documents, but there was a wish to use the substance of royal power and all its signs even while in conflict with the king. The insurrectionists ran courts and an administration, issuing documents, making arrest, ordering punishments. They raised troops in another participation in the expressions of royal power, and exercised discipline over soldiers. Even the attacks on the property of those they considered enemies were dressed up in the rituals of official power.

They were not against law, but for a law which both claimed to be the law of the king and was a new exercise of law (Foucault seems to suggest that the participants in the revolt themselves did not understand the possibilities of the new law they were exercising in a manner that followed the old law). This exercise of power in very proper official ways did not make the sedition any more acceptable to the forces of  old order, even if at the local level some of those people co-operated with the sedition.

The end of the revolt was followed in the long term by a historical covering over of that period of new power. The old order was re-established as a reconquest of territory, a re-appropriation of power, and a redistribution of the instances of power, so as a radical reaction against a radical revolt nor just as a normal restoration of order after some localised disturbance.

(Foucault seems to gesture at a war of conquest and a formation of the state through internal colonisation. The already loose sovereignty of the monarchy was shaken by the revolt but the journey to a unitary state is hastened in a process which is a form of conquest of territory and colonisation, imposition of a strong power over the periphery, even if as restoration rather than expansion. The growth of internal state is inherently a kind of a conquest as well as a kind of civil war. The civil domain in question is changed first by the revolt and then by the restoration of order which is more than just restoration. These revolts are to some significant extent against loss of medieval privileges and exemptions, but create a new kind of power, which stimulates a reaction advancing the kind of power the revolt resisted. So Foucault elevates the achievements of the Normandy revolt in relation to comparative historical neglect, but implicitly has a pessimistic view in which they stimulated what they rejected).


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

  1. Pingback: Blogging Foucault’s most recently published lectures, Théories et institutions pénales. V | Stockerblog

  2. Pingback: , since | Progressive Geographies

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

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