Friday, September 25, 2009

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics - Chapter Four

I have provided a summary of notes on the fourth 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 31 January, 1979.
• State-phobia is a recurring theme across the political and ideological spectrum. Foucault rejects a theory of the state as being like an ‘indigestible meal’ (p. 77), instead focusing upon how activites are brought under governmental rationality or etatisation. ‘The state is not a universal nor in itself an autonomous source of power … The state is nothing else but the mobile effect of a regime of multiple governmentalities’ (p. 77).

• German neo-liberalism rises to prominence in aftermath of WWII. Focus of post-WWII European economic policies was reconstruction, planning, and social objectives, all of which pointed towards greater governmental intervention in the key economic processes along Keynesian lines. Focus of German economic administration in 1948 was upon the removal of price controls and restoring market mechanisms at the earliest opportunity.

• Ludwig Erhard (1948): ‘Only a state that establishes both the freedom and responsibility of the citizens can legitimately speak in the name of the people’ (quoted on p. 81).

• Erhard’s statement not only refers to the obvious need to renounce the recent Nazi past, but also reflects the question on the conditions on which a new German state can be founded if there is not historical or juridical legitimacy. The proposal is that economic freedom can in itself constitute the basis for political sovereignty. Germany as a performative state where ‘the economy, economic development and economic growth, produces sovereignty; it produces political sovereignty through the institution and institutional game that, precisely, makes this economy work’ (p. 84). ‘All these economic partners produce a consensus, which is a political consensus, inasmuch as they accept this economic game of freedom’ (p. 84).

• The German neo-liberal policy was at odds with British neo-Keynesianism of the time, and had its critics on the left and among the unions in Germany at this time. It also appeared to be at odds with Christian doctrine of a social economy. It was therefore proposed that the German liberal order could be a ‘middle way’ between capitalism and socialism, with each of the other categories ambigiuously defined.

• German social democracy (SPD) turns from its Marxist inspired socialism towards an acceptance of the market economy and private property at the Bad Godesberg Congress of 1959, as long as it is compatible with ‘an equitable social order’ and does not produce monopolies. Foucault does not approach this as an SPD sell-out of its Marxist/socialist principles, but rather as an indicator of the extent to which the neo-liberal program had constituted the revised basis of the German state itself.

• ‘What socialism lacks is not so much a theory of the state as a governmental reason, the definition of what a governmental rationality would be in socialism. That is to say, a reasonable and calculable measure of the extent, modes, and objectives of governmental action’ (pp. 91-92).

• ‘In actual fact, and history has shown this, socialism can only be implemented connected up to diverse types of governmentality. There is no governmental rationality of socialism. It has been connected up to liberal governmentality, and then socialism and its forms of rationality function as counter-weights, as a corrective, and a palliative to internal dangers’ (p. 92) – it can also function as the internal logic of the administrative apparatus of a police state, where there is a fusion of government and administration (Soviet/Eastern European model)

• There is a consistent questioning of what is “true” socialism – was it the Germany of Helmut Schmidt, Erich Honecker, or something else – but we never ask what is “true” liberalism, as liberalism is not concerned with conformity to texts, but rather with more pragmatic logics of governmentality.

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