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

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

16th February, 1972

Another embarrassingly large gap between posts. I really am hoping to get the rest of these lectures done very soon and then that the summer will be a good time to build up a good blogging rhythm.


At it’s heart penal practice (the exercise of criminal law) is a translation of wealth, the circulation of goods, and all movement of property. The penal mobilises and displaces wealth.

The results obtained through punishment: fines and confiscations

The results obtained through redemptions: redemption/reduction of fines and confiscations which threaten the hierarchy of social relations; the remissions purchased from superiors, particularly the king.


The results obtain through judicial charges: the guarantees left in the hands of judicial officials, purchases of judicial complaisance, soon when written procedures allow the proper judicial expenses.

These are all ways in which the movement of wealth is channeled by the judicial system.

Penal measures are inscribed between civil litigation and violent seizure. (Foucault emphasises that legal measures are not far from both arbitrary confiscation and civil law procedures, penal must then refer to criminal law which is of course what ‘code pénal’ refers to in France).

Foucault suggests that penality/the criminal code restrained arbitrary state seizures, but is also rooted in the most violent arbitrary acts of medieval kings. He mentions the persecution of Jewish and lombard (north Italian) lenders by Louis IX in the thirteenth century. That is Saint Louis, the Crusader king. This emphasis on the violence present in the rule one of the most sacral figures in the history of the French state, and even the modern European state is presumably no accident. Not only was Louis a canonised crusader, he appears in Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws with regard to the revival of Roman law and the formation of the modern French monarchy.

There is a brief indication in the text that Foucault mentioned Philip IV’s persecution of the Knights Templars. This was a notoriously bloody use of state power by someone who was label ‘le Bel’ (handsome) and was a major figure in consolidating the French state as a major European presence. Philip reacted to the power and the wealth of this order of crusader knights which also acted as a trans-European and Mediterranean bank with a explosion of torture and tortuous death, destroying the Templars on the pretext of heresy and seizing their considerable wealth. Foucault it seems thinks these should be remembered when thinking of the consolidation of the legalistic  and centralising French state in the seventeenth century.

Foucault continues these reflections on the French state in the high Middle Ages, with some oblique but recognisable references to the consolidation of southern France as part of the French state in the anti-Cathar (Albigensian) crusades of the early thirteenth century in which the autonomy of southern lords was crushed and property was transferred to new lords. The background to this is that southern lords protected both Jews and Cathar (Gnostic leaning) ‘heretics’ from the power of the Catholic Church. Under the leadership of the northern lord, Simon de Montfort, the political and religious autonomy of these areas were destroyed and the Cathars were persecuted into non-existence. De Montfort and his followers were greatly enriched. It should also be mentioned here that de Montfort was Earl of Leicester (in the east of the English Midlands) as well as a French territorial lord. His son, who had the same name, lead a baronial rebellion in England against the crown, called the first Parliament while in practice holding autocratic powers and was an aggressive anti-semite.

As Foucault points out in relation to France, usury was illegal but tolerated for Jewish financiers until kings found it convenient to cancel their own debts and expel Jews while seising their debts. This could create peasant support for the crown since the peasants ofter borrowed from Jews. There is a pattern here of tolerate illegality followed by violent arbitrary confiscation in the behaviour of the state which Foucault wants us to associate with the emergence of the early modern state.

Foucault’s suggestion for the early modern state is that ‘penality’ be seen as the development of state violence and an ambiguous relation with law into a regular system for circulating wealth at a time when there was not much circulation through an exchange economy. Wealth locked in landed property reaches other parts of society through a legal system of fines and confiscations accompanied by bribes and negotiated remissions of a kind which reinforce the authority of the royal state.

Foucault proceeds to give a background to seventeenth century penality going back even further into the Middle Ages. He sketches the process in which eleventh century nobles began to accept institutions of peace, that is limits on their personal and family struggles for land and wealth, so the constant wars between nobles. First families reached voluntary agreements. Then courts of mediation established peace agreements. Then the church imposed peace agreements. Finally the monarchy, Philippe Le Bel returns here, enforces peace particularly when it goes to war. This tension between aristocrats who assumed a right to pursue private wars and a monarchy which thought it should decide when there was a war, and that should only be against an enemy of the kind, therefore the state, went on until the seventeenth century. Foucault does not mention this prolongation of the medieval feuds, but presumably expected a French audience at least to have some idea about this.

Seventeenth century penality then emerges from a long process of regularisation of violence, now regulated by the state, primarily exercised by the state, as an instrument of state power and of a national economy with circulation wealth throughout all the land under the king.



Schmitt Not So Decisionist

Me at the group blog New APPS on Carl Schmitt. Opening two paragraphs below.

Nothing new to say about Schmitt here, but I think there is something to be said for clarifying in what ways Schmitt is not ‘Schmittian’ in some senses that influence some people. This issue came up in a teaching context recently and I think refers to a widespread tendency, which I believe can be tackled without hopefully falling into assault and battery on a straw man in order to clarify what is distinctive about Schmitt’s contribution.

The issue is of defining Carl Schmitt as a ‘decisionist’ who regards the question of who exercises sovereignty as arbitrary, as a question which begins and ends with the question who has the force to exercise sovereignty, with no regard for the legitimation of that sovereignty. This is severely one- sided, but does have some basis in some things Schmitt said, particularly in Political TheologyThe Concept of the Political, and Crisis in Parliamentary Democracy. The opening of Political Theology and a slightly later in the text quotation from Kierkegaard, with related discussion, is where decisionistic Schmitt seems most apparent.

Now read on

Republicanism and Nostalgia

My latest post at the group blog New APPS

The idea of a republic has been very tied up from the beginning with the idea of loss, even when linked with the hope for a new beginning. The first great political text of republican political theory may be the Funeral Oration of Pericles as reported (invented?) by Thucydides in The Peloponnesian War, where the defence of the Athenian form of self-government as tolerant and cultured, as well as heroic in war, is articulated in a speech of mourning. It is the loss of the lives of the citizen soldiers of Athens that provides an opportunity for putting foward the general greatness of Athens. So a rather immediate sense of loss is the moment for an imformal pit of republican theory. The speech itself is a model for later commentary on republics and democracy, including Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which echoes some phrases from Thucydides and is again a celebration of a republic driven in its rhetoric of passion but the immediacy of loss.

The model that Pericles, Thucydides, and other writers of Classical Greece, have for courage in war as a civic virtue, does not come from a republic though. It comes from the Homeric epics of the Mycenaean monarchs at war, kings and heroes from societies where those who rule states and command armies are close to the gods, and those commanded are from some lower order of life. Nevertheless Homer permeates the culture of classical Greece. Pottery surviving from Athens of that era suggests a fascination with the martial courage of Achilles, Ajax, and Odysseus, though many of Odysseus’ fights are wit mythical dangers rather than war in the most organised and politically defined sense. The broader nature of Odysseus’ struggles maybe give us an idea of a culture in which war seems to be part of a constant struggle with divine and natural dangers including fate and chance, along with the inevitability of death.

Now read on at this link

On Types of Republicanism

My latest post at the group blog New APPS

The academic literature on republicanism, in my experience, largely assumes one major distinction between kinds of republicanism. As I did not do conduct a major literature review just recently on the issue, I may have missed something, but it seems safe to say that the distinction I am getting onto is well established. That is the distinction between Roman and Athenian republicanism, with the two big names in the field, Philip Pettit and Hannah Arendt lined up on either side.

There are other distinctions between Pettit and Arendt, in the ways they approach political thouht but I will leave those aside here. In terms of general political thought, Pettit has a more individualised and reductive approach to rights, while Arendt refers to a lived experience of the political side of humanity. Pettit’s ‘Romanism’ is indeed a claim to avoid the supposed denial of individuality and the right to be free from the political sphere, apparently inherent in ‘Athenianism’. Arendt’s ‘Athenianism’ is a claim to deal with the role that politics has in the life of humanity, which can never just be ‘social’, so lacking the competition for power in a public space. There are ways we might try to equate those with differences in political position with regard to issues other than pure political structures, but I do  not believes that those really work out and that is again something I leave aside.

For the rest read on here.

Forgotten Republics of Political Theory. Me at the group blog New APPS

‘Forgotten Republics of Political Theory’ in NewAPPS

The emergence of republicanism as a major stream in political theory and philosophy, as well as history of political ideas, since I suppose the 1980s, but since the late nineties for political philosophy in the normative Rawlsian style, is a highly welcome phenomenon from my point of view. That does not mean I have no criticisms. For example, it seems to me that much of it has gone a bit far in the direction of equating the active liberty of the citizen in republics of the past with a very equality oriented sense of distributive justice. Despite the historical consciousness that republicanism has helped to bring more into theoretical discussions, some areas of historically oriented relevant discussion have not been dealt with adequately so far. This particularly applies to Foucault, and his discussions of antiquity, which is a strange omission in that Quentin Skinner claims to have taken inspiration from Foucault, at least in questions of method.

However, in the present post, I will focus on another issue, which is the narrow range of republics considered. The standard range is ancient Athens (sometimes compared with Sparta), Ancient Rome, Renaissance Florence (maybe compared with Venice), England in the era of the Civil Wars and the Commonwealth,  the political awakening of the British colonies in America, incorporating the foundation of the United States, and finally the French Revolution though that tends to be given less attention than the Anglo-American revolutions. Interest in Spinoza’s political theory has not in my experience led to much consideration of the Dutch Revolt and the Dutch Republic, though the republican impulse has probably led to a bit more attention being paid than would otherwise be the case

For the rest click here.

Expanding the Liberty Canon: Sophocles, the Tragedies of Oedipus and Antigone

Notes On Liberty

Sophocles (496-406BCE) was the second of the three great tragedian of ancient Athens, the first, Aeschylus, was discussed in my last post.  Sophocles is best known for a group of three plays known as the Theban plays, referring to the city of Thebes, which was one of major states of Ancient Greece when it was divided between many city states.

The three Theban plays should not be thought of as a trilogy strictly speaking. Ancient Greek tragedies were written in trilogies, but these plays were written separately at different times. They are what is left over from a number of trilogies by Sophocles, as is normal with ancient authors many of his texts are lost. The three plays fit together as story, but do not have the level of integration of plays written together for performance as a trilogy at the competitions where tragedies were initially staged.

The Theban plays…

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Carl Schmitt on Dictatorship. Reading the First English translation I


From the origin of the modern concept of sovereignty to proletarian class struggle 

[with an Appendix: The Dictatorship of the President of the Reich according to Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution]

Carl Schmitt

Translated by Michael Hoelzel and Graham Ward

Polity Press, Cambridge


(Die Diktatur: Von den Anfängen des modernen Souveräntitätsgedankens bis zum proletarischen Klassenkampf, first published in 1921)

Despite decades of scholarly and more political-journalistic interest in Schmitt in the English speaking world, this is the first translation of a major text by Schmitt from quite early in his career. There are some earlier essays and texts which have yet to be published and I can only hope that it will not be long before they appear somewhere. However, I am not aware of any plans along these lines at any publisher. Anyway the publication of Dictatorship in December of last year (publishers like to put the following year books published at the end of the year, so that they will seem like recent publications for longer) was a very welcome event. It came three years after the Polity publication of Writings on War (edited by Timothy Nunan), which itself came four years after the publication of Political Theology II: The myth of the closure of any political theology), translated by the same duo responsible for Dictatorship. So congratulations to Polity on their contribution to Schmitt publication as well as to Michael Hoelzel and Graham Ward for their contributions to Schmitt translation and scholarship.

The polity volumes on dictatorship and war add up to a good rounded introduction to Schmitt, through presumably the shorter texts The Concept of the Political, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, Political Romanticism and Political Theology will continues to play that role more. The trouble with this is that the shorter texts of Schmitt, certainly those four, tend to emphasise the aspect of Schmitt concerned with the exception, crisis, the enemy, and so on, when he is just as much the thinker of legality and constitutionalism rooted in traditional orders of social life. The emphasis on the more dramatic conflictual moments is not completely false to Schmitt’s thinking, but is a bit one sided, and may obscure the degree to which for Schmitt modern liberalism and use of statute law leads to the intrusion of crisis. That is Schmitt thought that the liberal emphases on individual point of view, constant legislative activity in parliaments, and constant parliamentary discussion, produced laws which more administrative measures than genuine laws, and political institutions that were too divided and self-obsessed to act as an expression of the prevailing assumptions in the community about the best forms of ordering and law. I don’t share Schmitt’s polemical stance in opposition, rather the contrary, but he is a great critic, and a critic who has influenced liberal and democratic thinkers, so should be studied carefully from a liberal point of view. With regard to gaining entry to Schmitt’s thought, a careful reading of Political Theology, putting dramatic statements about the state of exception there into historic context, is the best antidote among those four Schmitt texts, which tend to serve as the entry point.

A word on the translators is appropriate here, simply with regard to Hoelzl and Ward’s disciplinary place. Hoelzl is in a department of Religions and Theology (University of Manchester, where he is a lecturer in Philosophy of Religion) and Ward is in a faculty of Theology and Religion (University of Oxford, where he is a fellow of Christ Church and Regius Professor of Divinity). Religious and theological studies are not my area, and I am a pronounced non-believer, but if people working in these areas are are doing such important work in transmitting Schmitt then clearly there is admirable intellectual life going on significant beyond the narrower disciplinary boundaries.

What is also significant here is the importance to Schmitt of political theology and the history of the Catholic Church. As far as I can see Schmitt was not a very pious Catholic, and was perhaps more of a cultural Catholic than a real believer, but that does not lessen the importance of the Catholic background to his thinking. The importance is certainly not such that we can say he is a pure Catholic thinker or that we should try to find some Catholic message guiding every aspect of his thought, but it does mean that we should always be aware for Schmitt that the Catholic European Middle Ages was a high point with regard to integrating the orders of society, general understanding of justice, the state structure, statute laws, relations between states, and the church. Schmitt was no mere nostalgic and there so sense in his writing of a prettified organic feudal order where everyone happily knows their place. I find him less culpable from this point of view than various communitarian and christian socialist thinkers as with regard to this age, as to any other, Schmitt possesses a very acute and developed feeling for the constitutive conflicts and tensions. He also approaches the pre-Christian Roman Empire with respect, which of course fits in with a Catholic centred discourse, but Schmitt has more to say than that, and is very concerned with the republican period.

I had intended to start discussing the text of Dictatorship in this post, but the preliminary remarks kept growing and ended as a complete post. There will be at least two further posts discussing the main text

Nietzsche as Political Philosopher. The Book. Now Available

Nietzsche as Political Philosopher, a book I co-edited with Manuel Knoll, and to which I contributed a chapter , has been available directly from the publisher De Gruyter, or via internet book sellers for a day or two now.

My chapter has the title ‘A Comparison of Friedrich Nietzsche with Wilhelm von Humboldt as Products of Classical Liberalism’.

I also co-wrote a substantial introduction to the book with the other editor.

The introduction is divided into the following sections:

1. The scholarly debate about Nietzsche’s about Nietzsche’s political preferences and affinities

2. A brief overview of Nietzsche’s political philosophy

3. Nietzsche’s relation to some of the political ideas of his time

4. Selected influences of Nietzsche on political thought

Other contributors range from graduate students to some of the best known señor scholars in the field of Nietzsche studies. Very varied viewpoints about Nietzsche’s political affinities are represented as well as a broad range of topics, contexts, and approaches including discussion of Weber, Foucault, Laruelle, power, political materialism, political realism, genealogy, aristocratic radicalism, Bonapartism, democracy, liberalism, egalitarianism, physiology, naturalism, antiquity, the Übermensch/Overman, physiology, political materialism, colonialism, cultural history, will to power, care of the self, immoralism, nineteenth century history and culture, and various other themes.

It is a rather expensive academic editions I’m afraid, so this may be a book to order for your library rather than purchase individually. Unfortunately, a hardback from an academic press of this kind may simply be difficult for many people to see. Apologies to any readers of this blog in that position, I hope you can somehow find a copy online (it is available as a pdf and an e-book) or in physical space, to at least look at it if not own,  before very long, if you are interested. Keep trying all the angles.

Publication details

Publisher: Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/Boston MA

Date of Publication: July 2014

ISBN: 978-3-11-035945-9

e-ISBN: 978-3-11-035945-9

ISSN: 2191-5741

478 pages

Name and subject indexes

Description  the editors provided to De Gruyter

This collection establishes Nietzsche’s importance as a political philosopher. It includes a substantial introduction and eighteen chapters by some of the most renowned Nietzsche scholars. The book examines Nietzsche’s connections with political thought since Plato, major influences on him, his methodology, and his influence on subsequent thought. The book includes extensive coverage of the debate between radical aristocratic readings of Nietzsche, and more liberal or democratic readings. Close readings of Nietzsche’s texts are combined with a contextualising approach to build up a complete picture of his place in political philosophy. Topics include the relevance of Bonapartism and classical liberalism, Nietzsche on Christianity, the cultural history of Germany, the Übermensch, ethics and politics in Nietzsche, and the controversial question of his political preferences and affinities. Nietzsche’s political thought is compared with that of Humboldt, Weber and Foucault. The book is essential reading for anyone concerned with Nietzsche’s thought, political philosophy, and the history of political ideas.


Manuel Knoll and Barry Stocker

Introduction: Nietzsche as political philosopher page5image22161
I. The Variety of Approaches to Nietzsche’s Political Thought

Rolf Zimmermann

The “Will to Power”: Towards a Nietzschean Systematics of Moral-Political Divergence in History in Light of the 20th Century page5image428039

Rebecca Bamford

The Liberatory Limits of Nietzsche’s Colonial Imagination in Dawn 206 page5image552859

Nandita Biswas Mellamphy

Nietzsche’s Political Materialism: Diagram for a Nietzschean Politics page5image664077 II. Democratic, or Liberal, or Egalitarian Politics in Nietzsche

Paul Patton

Nietzsche on Power and Democracy circa 1876–1881 page5image812093

Lawrence J. Hatab

Nietzsche’s Will to Power and Politics page5image9144113

Barry Stocker

A Comparison of Friedrich Nietzsche and Wilhelm von Humboldt as Products of Classical Liberalism page5image10552135

Donovan Miyasaki

A Nietzschean Case for Illiberal Egalitarianism page5image11536155

III. Aristocratic, or Anti-Liberal, or Non-Egalitarian Politics in


Renato Cristi

Nietzsche, Theognis and Aristocratic Radicalism page6image2464173

Don Dombowsky

Aristocratic Radicalism as a Species of Bonapartism: Preliminary Elements page6image3672195

Phillip H. Roth

Political and Psychological Prerequisites for Legislation in the Early Nietz- sche page6image5000211

Manuel Knoll

The “Übermensch” as a Social and Political Task: A Study in the Continuity of Nietzsche’s Political Thought page6image6528239

IV. Ethics, Morality, and Politics in Nietzsche

Keith Ansell-Pearson

Care of Self in Dawn: On Nietzsche’s Resistance to Bio-political Modernity 269

Daniel Conway

“We who are different, we immoralists…” page6image9080287

Christian J. Emden

Political Realism Naturalized: Nietzsche on the State, Morality, and Human Nature page6image10408313

Tamsin Shaw

The “Last Man” Problem: Nietzsche and Weber on Political Attitudes to Suffering page6image11736345

V. Physiology, Genealogy, and Politics in Nietzsche

Razvan Ioan

The Politics of Physiology page6image13128383

Tom Angier

On the Genealogy of Nietzsche’s Values page7image2056405

Evangelia Sembou

Foucault’s use of Nietzsche 431

Notes on Contributors page7image3112449



The Future of the European Polity I: Overview

My latest post at the group blog New APPS

I originally intended Europe after Habermas and the Populist Surge,  to be a stand alone post and did not have any thoughts about promoting my own tentative views of European politics, and the appropriate theoretical references for discussion. It was just intended to be a timely account of the limitation of one approach to Europe and an indication of the role of one kind of theory in that approach.

I have been challenged to put forward my own views on the political and theoretical issues, and I do not think I can decently fail to respond, as clearly it is easy to take shots at someone else’s point of view that put forward an alternative, which might become a target itself, and might disappoint some people who agree with my critical remarks. Another aspect of putting forward your own views is that it requires more space then defining weaknesses in another point of view, and this process is going to take more than one post. The present post will set up an overview and will be followed by posts dealing with institutions, policies, and theory.

For the rest read on at New APPS