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

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

I’m picking up on this after an unintended break since November last year. I should now be able to keep going at a regular pace (at least on post a week) until I reach the end.

26th January 1972

Foucault refers to the role of the royal official Philippe Séguir in putting down a popular rebellion in seventeenth century Normandy, which he describes in the previous lectures.

He lists three aspects of the process:

  1. The use of the central state and the impossibility of using local authority.
  2. The central state lack its own means of repression
  3. He has to use old means which were not adapted to the repression

These problems led to the creation of three new institutions.

  1. Intendants of justice forming a centralised system under the king.
  2. The use of the police for repression rather than the army, less expensive and more preventative than the army.
  3. The use of deportation or imprisonment as a means of punishment not involving destruction of wealth.

This new system reacted to new forms of popular struggle and was reacting to popular struggle against power rather than simple law breaking. Delinquency itself is a product of this system. The system created constant surveillance. The newness of the system was concealed in the form of laws and customs for bans and threats. It defines the nature of delinquency. It allowed the prevention of popular sedition through through the punishment of delinquency. of penal-delinquency is an effect of the duality repressive-seditious. In this case effect is to be taken as product, condition of maintaining in existence, displacement and concealment.

The new institutions were juxtaposed with the old localised forms of justice, so that they were contained but not eliminated. The new system of justice and power protected the old system of feudal rents. The feudal system had judicial institutions appropriate both to direct feudal fees or in the indirect feudal system of sale and purchase of offices. The justice system within feudalism itself generated profits protected by the new system. However, the new system pushed the old system to become one purely concerned with profits from land and commerce, so reduced what it was protecting.

The new system was not a means of raising money as the feudal system of justice was. Unlike the feudal system of justice (in which offices were bought and sold for the fine collection possibilities), it was not a form of private property. The new system increased the separation between justice and political power, since local notables had less power as

judges and the monarchy was appointing judges, not making judgements.

The new system was tied to the birth of capitalism. The old system privileged the land owners and took money from the bourgeoisie. The new system was more favourable to capitalism as it reduced the importance of local feudal courts and gave the bourgeoise new opportunities for investment. The reduction of local sedition created favourable conditions for the growth of capitalism. Decisions were more favourable to capitalism. The system was more oriented towards the mobile productive capital of the bourgeoisie. It formed an essential part of the bourgeois nineteenth century state.

This system progressed through the Maupeou Conciliation (reducing the power of traditional courts, parlements in favour of the monarchy, 1768), the measures of the 1789 Revolution) and the Imperial Reaction (presumably Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule as Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1814, perhaps to be taken to cover the entire period of his supremacy which goes back to 1798). These completed the work of separating justice from the local raising of revenue and making it part of state administration rather than the property of landowners.


Kierkegaard’s Subjectivity and Foucault’s Style of Life-Juridification Distinction

My latest post at the New APPS group blog

Continuing from my last post on ‘Style of Living versus Juridification in Foucault’, there seems to be me to be something to be gained by thinking about Kierkegaard’s ethics here, even if Kierkegaard’s Christianity and Foucault’s aesthetic self seem rather distinct. The emphasis in Foucault on style or aesthetics of life or existence seems to be be already the object of criticism, in Kierkegaard’s account of the aesthetic (as a mode of life rather than with regard to the appreciation of art and beauty). However, Foucault does refer on occasion to the self as acting on itself in Kierkegaard. So Kierkegaard has a particular importance in suggesting that the self is not just an observing consciousness.

Kierkegaard’s attitude to the self , and modes of living, is in some degree structured by an understanding of the relation between individuality and the state as a political entity. It is an understanding that draws on Hegel, but which tries to resist what Kierkegaard takes to be an absorption of the self into history and communal morality in Hegel’s philosophy. That continuation of aspects of Hegel includes a distinction between antique and modern communities, which itself draws on an enormous amount of earlier thought going back to the Renaissance regarding the distinction between antiquity and the present. [Read on here]



Style of Living versus Juridification in Foucault (my latest post at the group blog New APPS)

I’m making a brief exploration of one of the most significant oppositions in Foucaut’s thought, which has not been discussed that much in my experience, but I may well have overlooked some vast bibliography. In any case, there is a major polarity in Foucault between the style of living in antiquity, related to care of the self, and in which ‘style’ can be replaced by ‘aesthetics’ or ‘techne’, while ‘living’ can be replaced by ‘existence’, in ways I do not think make much difference to the current discussion. There is also a relation with the discussions of the government of the self and the use of pleasure.  I am not getting into references and precise context, but outlining the general field.

The most obvious opposition to ‘style of living’ is the emergence of ‘subjectivty’ in the sense of some deep subject behind speech and action. Foucault’s understanding of this refers in large part to the development of the confessional in Christianity, with the standard Catholic confession in private to a priest taken as the end point. There is a suggestion in this historical discussion of a historical preparation for the development of assumptions about the sıbject that come to inform Descartes, and what follows Descartes with regard to consciousness and subjectivity.

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Answer to a Question on Foucault and the Invisible Hand

I was responding recently to a query from a graduate student back in Britain about Foucault and liberalism, focused around he famous ‘invisible hand’ in Adam Smith, in which self-interest in the market place promotes a general welfare. There is some debate about how important the idea of the ‘invisible hand’ is in Smith, but it is widely used and understood as shorthand for his view that a more ‘liberal’ form of political organisation, with more free trade allows general economic improvements that do some extend flow from self-interest rather than charitable intentions or a public plan, and I levee aside questions about the meaning of the ‘invisible hand’.

I’m  not going to reproduce a private message and a private response as a post, but my response was about the right length for a post, and after some revision, will convey some of my current thoughts on Foucault.

In his treatment of David Hume and Adam Smith, Foucault is connecting them with a model of art of government in which governemnt limits itself, so that the lower level can flourish. That lower level was seen by Smith, Hume, and others, in terms of nature, of a kind of spontaneity that owes nothing to state action (including the invisible hand) , invented laws, or designed institutions, because natural processes make them redundant, or create such designs through the development of human co-operation, without a conscious overall plan. There is some ambiguity in these authors, as assumptions about the dominance and desirability of  ‘natural order’ as the basis of social institutions, are undercut by discussion of the value of institutions and the right kind of state action, but not to the extent that eliminates the natural order aspect.

Foucault is wary of any idea of a natural social order independent of human design, but is also highly wary of rationalistic total designs or constructions that claim to be neutral with regard to power and various kinds of discourse. In his writing on neoliberalism’, he displays some sympathy for the way that a non-moralistic view of economic efficiency, or value, can challenge the impositions of moralistically justified state power, or other expressions of power. One of the things he thinks characterises ‘neoberalism’, at least in its Freiburg University Ordo liberal manifestation. That is in the group of free market Austrian influenced economists in Germany from the 20s, 30s, and 40’s who had some influence on post-war German reconstruction, as Foucault notes, through their ideas on the need for a less statist more market based economic model for post-National Socialist Germany.

The Freiburg/Ordoliberalismus current recognises the role of institutions and rules, which to some extent are designed, in promoting markets.  This is different from the ways totalitarianism might try t encourage economic activity, because it is more rules based and less based on direct forms of intervention. That is basis of  the ‘Ordo’ in Ordoliberalismus. Foucault further emphasises the Husserlian phenomenological influence on Ordoliberalismus and linked the ‘anti-naturalism’ in Husserl’s account of conscciousness with the critique of naturalism in Smith and Hume. That is Foucault looks at Husserl’s criticisms of taking ‘natural’ psychological states as the basis for the philosophy of pure ideas and structures of consciousness  and sees that as entering into ways in which ‘Neoliberalism’ distances itself from that natural order aspects of Hume and Smith.

Foucault’s relationship with liberalism, in all its forms, is shaped by his resistance to idendeifying power with just the legalistic sovereigty of the central state.  ‘Disciplinarity’, as discussed in Discipline and Punish, is emergent or spontaenous in its totality, rather than the product of the design of a sovereign. In that sense it is an example of spontaneous or emergent order in Hayek. For Hayek, generally speaking the spontaneous order formed over time through co-operation between individuals is preferable to state designs and the products of a sovereign political will. However, this must be balanced with Hayek’s acceptance that there are significant areas of legitimate stare activity, which can include income maintenance, basic public services, administrative courts, and stabilisation of the economy, though the total of such activities should be less than what the state stated to take on after about 1870.

‘Disciplinarity’ is not pure spontaneous order, it includes elements that are the consequence of design, as in the prison reforms plans of the Enlightenment and later, even if they always fail to achieve their goal of moral, human, or religious reform and rehabilitation. Disciplinarity is I believe rather ambigouous in the evaluation Foucault gives to it. To some degree it is an expression of the creativity of power, and the formation of a kind of individualism which has some benefits from Foucault’s point of view, but he is certainly arguing for arguing for a critical renewal, as he finds the individuality of disciplinarity too isolating and inclined to rigid internalisaiton of norms.

Foucault was not a complete rejectionist with regard to disciplinarity, or all the other forms of power including biothetics, which is tied up with his account of disciplinarily and neoliberalism,  as he was not  an anarchist, which seems to be the inevitable conclusion of total rejection of power.  Nevertheless, he did certainly the currents of localist and workerist anarchism in French history as a corrective to political and economic power concentrations; and regarded the anarchocapitalism he connected with America, as also offering a challenge to the administrative (disciplinary or bioethical)  power of the state.

Like Foucault, Smith and Hume also had critical attitudes to concentrations of economic power backed by the state, whether feudal-monarchist remnants or more recent developments. They were also very ambiguous between being radical critics of the Whig (I take this to cover Tories as well, who had really accepted the classic Whig agenda by the late 18th century) mercantile-aristocratic liberal leaning British state and being intellectual pillars of it. There is plenty of ambiguity in Foucault, but I think his ambiguity leaned further towards a Tom Paine style radicalism than Smith and Hume tended towards. Though there are some elements of Foucault’s thinning sympathetic to Hayek, consciously or unconsciously, including his account of Ordoliberalismus, the strong sense of opositionism, the wish to be with the marginals and the lower orders (some of the time anyway, no need to pretend that Foucault was not a privileged academic of upper middle class origin, with some very bourgeois and intellectualist aspects to his life style), removes him from the Burkean element in Hayek, the preference for the evolution of traditions and old hierarchies in a more inclusive and open direction over radical challenge.

I should finish by emphasising that there is an element in Hayek, as in Smith and Hume, which is challenging of tradition and sceptical of the self-justification of old elites, so that there is no clean neat line between Hayek or the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers on the one side, and radical anti-conformist, egalitarian challenges to power and tradition, of a kind which clearly motivate Foucault, motivated him so thoroughly he could see the power interests embedded in various forms of state encouraged, or imposed, welfare he labelled as ‘bioethics’, and which have become central to ‘progressive’ politics.



Michel Foucault, La société punitive: an editorial curiosity (2014)

This post from the Foucault News blog provides an interesting supplement to my recent blogging on Foucault’s Collège de France lectures on the punitive society, from Graham Burchell, who is translating these lectures and has translated many others.

Foucault News

Michel Foucault, La société punitive: an editorial curiosity

by Graham Burchell, 2014

Graham Burchell is the translator into English of the lectures Foucault delivered at the Collège de France. With thanks to Graham Burchell for sending this note to Foucault News.

Translating Foucault’s Collège de France lectures, La société punitive, I have come across the following curiosity, which, unless I am mistaken, no one has commented on before now. In the “Résumé du cours”, p. 261, discussing the model of talion (lex talionis, an eye for an eye), Foucault remarks that this model was never proposed in a detailed way, but that it did enable different types of punishment to be defined. He then gives, apparently, two examples from Beccaria’s Dei delitti e delle pene. The first is: “Les attentats contre les personnes doivent être punis de peines corporelles (the penalty for violence against…

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Foucault ‘s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, XI.2 & XII

The concluding post

The second half of the lecture of 25th March, 1981

(The last post mistakenly refers to the 18th March instead of the 25th March. This has now been corrected)

I found this part of the lecture to be largely recapitulating material from earlier lecturers, so just a couple of points.

Firstly, an emphasis in Gaius Musonius Rufus (the first century Roman Stoic and member of the Senate) on the idea of the husband of the moral teacher of the wife, her guide to correct living. Foucault emphases the tension with the equality in marriage otherwise emphasised in Musionius Rufus, with regard to adultery and legal status, which in both cases are a departure from earlier antique assumptions. Moral inequality coexists with strict equality in other matters for Musonius Rufus in the ideal marriage, which he also regards as isolated from other social relations, and as the scene of a self-control, self-mastery strong enough to control wayward sexual desire.

Secondly an emphasis in Epictetus (the Greek Stoic educated in Rome by Rufus Musonius) on a self-mastery that goes beyond the Socratic capacity (which Foucault describes with reference to both Xenophon and Plato) to resist desire, calling for a self-mastery that resists the existence of desire, so that no test or Socratic courage is necessary to resist desire for a beautiful boy or woman.

Lecture of 1st April, 1981
This is the concluding lecture in the series. It includes, on a couple of occasions, a definition of one of the terms used by Foucault that has become most famous, ‘governmentality’. How far everyone who brings this terms into their work on social science, history and so on has given much thought to what the term means is unclear to me, and others have commentated on the apparently undefined overuse. Anyway, what Foucault says here, more in the way of a quick definition than a complete elaboration, is that governmentality refers to the government of the self and the government of others.
‘The government of self and others’ is of course the title of Foucault’s 1982-1983 lecture series at the Collège de France and refers to antique ‘governmentality’ there as it does here, so the brief definition does not necessarily cover all of Foucault’s usage. That is a topic I can’t go into right now, but it is at least worth pointing out that here is a definition of governmentality, and it does not seem very connected with the (over)generalised use.

Getting back to to the issues of sexuality, desire, and so on, in this lecture Foucault brings in governmentality, because he is concerned at this point with how the move towards the Stoic understanding of aphrodisias is connected with changes in the nature of antique government. That is the move from republican government in Rome and Greek city states with a en element of democracy and a strong element of competition between aristocrats, to the more imperial, monarchical and despotic forms of government.

Foucault seems mostly concerned with the move from Republic to empire, monarchy despotism in Rome during the first century BCE and for Foucault’s purposes that is conveniently close to a new wave of Graeco-Roman Stoicism, which left more complete texts than the earlier Greek wave, in the first and early second centuries CE, covering Musonius Rufus, Seneca and Epictetus, and which gets another new wind in the second century in the Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius even if that is not generally considered one of the most rigorous expressions of Stoic thought. That a Roman Emperor authored a Stoic or Neo-Stoic work, which is a philosophical literary classic is very helpful to Foucault’s argument.
Foucault also refers, much more briefly, to the termination of the full independence of the Greek city-states, as the result of the fourth century BCE expansion of Macedonian power under Philip II confirmed by Alexander the Great. The correlation is very neat in that the first stoic philosopher, Zeno of Citium, was born towards the end of the fourth century BCE, but there are less texts from the first wave of Stoicism, and it is later developments that preoccupy Foucault.

Foucault argues that the republican politics, dominated by competing aristocrats, was suited to the attitude that an active mature man incorporates intimate relations with women and boys, that is with social inferiors, into into his way of living. That activity is very suited to the emphasis on the active political participant who recognises no superior, as all citizens are equal, at least in principle, and is engaged in a constant competition to exercise some power.

The take over by despotic rulers deprives the active competing aristocrats of any political role other than that of administering the state in the ruler’s service. In this situation, demonstrating capacity to govern self and others through relations with boys and women becomes irrelevant, and the self-restraint implicit in the idealisation of marriage becomes more appropriate. In the republican time, it is shameful for a man to have been the ‘passive’ partner in a same sex relationship and is enough to exclude citizens in later life (‘passive’ partners are presumed to be boys/young men seeking favours from older men, and therefore close to prostitutes, if not exactly the same) from office and even from any political activity.

The shame of sexual ‘passivity’ continues in the period of despotism in the way Roman historians, particularly Tacitus and Suetonius, represent ‘bad’ emperors who are shown to lack sexual restraint and ‘passivity’ in literal sexual terms (Nero) or in becoming the instrument of their wife (Claudius). They were thought of as connected with the east, seen as irrational (this particularly applies to Elagabalus/Heliogabalus though he came after Tacitus and Suetonius, and has precedent in the scandal caused by Mark Anthony’s liaison with Cleopatra of Egypt). Marcus Aurelius (again after Tacitus and Suetonius) was seen as good and and as sexually restrained, as fitting with Neo-Stoic writing.

Christianity takes up these Stoic attitudes to sex, the idealisation of restraint and equality within marriage, which are in some degree the product of politics acceding to Foucault, and creates an emphasis on desire or concupiscence, as a dominant feature of human life. This goes back to the earlier integration of sexual themes in the republican aristocracy round activity and government, but gives it a less political context, and a context in which the ideas and practices of subjectivity are forming.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014