Thursday, September 24, 2009

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics - Chapter Two

Following from yesterday's post, I have provided a summary of notes on the second lecture given by Michel Foucault at the College de France 1978-79, published under the title The Birth of Biopolitics. This lecture was given on 17 January, 1979.

• Liberal art of government is ‘not something other than raison d’Etat, an element external to and in contradiction with [it], but rather its point of inflection in the curve of its development’ (p. 28) – idea of frugal government - the permanent question of ‘too much and too little’ government – the ‘question of liberalism’ is the frugality of government rather than constitutionalism

• The market becomes ‘the site of truth’ of liberal government (p. 30) – move from the market as a site of justice (setting of just prices), to market mechanism as generator of a natural, normal price through supply and demand

• ‘Inasmuch as prices are determined in accordance with the natural mechanisms of the market they constitute a standard of truth which enables us to discern which governmental practices are correct and which are erroneous’ (p. 32) – the market as a ‘site of verification-falsification for governmental practice’

• There is no singular cause of the rise of the market as the ‘site of truth’ of liberal government, but arises from a complex set of developments in C18th Europe

• History of truth is always coupled with the history of law – rejects the critique of European rationality associated with Frankfurt School and romanticism

• Foucault notes that in France faculties of law were long coupled with faculties of political economy – C18th economists also tended to be theorists of public law (Beccaria, Adam Smith, Bentham)

• ‘There is a shift in the centre of gravity of public law … the problem becomes how to set juridical limits to the exercise of power by a public authority’ (p. 39)

• Difference between the axiomatic, juridico-deductive approach to law (Rousseau and French Revolution – Rights of Man), and the approach that starts from governmental practice itself, and asks what would be the ‘desirable limits’ of government in terms of limits to its spheres of competence – ‘the problem of English radicalism is the problem of utility’ (p. 40)

• ‘We have therefore two absolutely heterogeneous conceptions of freedom, one based in the rights of man, and the other starting from the independence of the governed … they have different historical origins and I think they are essentially heterogeneous or disparate’ (p. 42) – the ambiguity between these is a feature of both C19th and C20th liberalism

• Centrality of concept of interests to the new art of government. ‘Government is only interested in interests … It deals with the phenomena of politics, that is to say, interests, which precisely constitute politics and its stakes; it deals with interests, or that respect in which a given individual, thing, wealth, and so on interests other individuals or the collective body of individuals’ (p. 45)

• ‘Liberalism posed the fundamental question of government, which is whether all the political, economic, and other forms which have been contrasted with liberalism can really avoid … formulating this question of the utility of a government in a regime where exchange determines the value of things’ (p. 47)

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