Saturday, September 26, 2009

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics - Chapter Six

I have provided a summary of notes on the sixth lecture given by Michel Foucault at the College de France 1978-79, published under the title The Birth of Biopolitics. The lecture was originally given on 14 February, 1979.

• Foucault wants to emphasise the singularity of neo-liberalism, and not to say that it is a return to old economic theories (Adam Smith), it is another term for market society (Marxism) or that it is the generalization of a form of state power. For Foucault, it differs from liberalism in that liberalism was concerned with how to ‘contrive a free space of the market within an already given political society’, whereas neo-liberalism is concerned with ‘how the overall exercise of political power can be modeled on the principles of a market economy’ (p. 131).

• Competition is both rigorous in its internal structure but historically fragile, and therefore needs the active support of government – it is not a state of nature (laissez-faire)

1939 Walter Lippmann Colloquium in Paris – emphasises the need for an active policy to maintain a market economy – classical liberalism is seen as naïve in this respect, as ‘the problem is not whether there are things that you cannot touch and things that you are entitled to touch … [but] the problem is the way of doing things, the problem, if you like, of governmental style’ (p. 133).

• The problem of monopolies provides a recurring question for neo-liberalism, as it suggests that competition may contain its own negation – the question becomes one of showing how other factors – most notably law – can maintain monopoly, raising the question of the need to understand specific political-institutional frameworks in the development of capitalism. They shift the question away from intervention to prevent monopoly, or even to support it, to one where ‘non-intervention is necessary on condition, of course, that an institutional framework is established to prevent either individuals or public authorities intervening to create a monopoly’ (p. 137)

• Eucken (1952) – liberal government must intervene through regulatory actions and through organising actions. Regulatory actions are those policies which set the rules of the game. Neo-liberalism recommends a focus on price stability, and not policies such as full employment. Organising actions are those which set up the framework for commercial activities e.g. European agricultural policy.

• Social policy marks a major point of difference between Keynesian economics and what in France was known as the economics of the Popular Front, and neo-liberalism. Keynesianism recommends a redistributive social policy that modifies the effects of the market and economic competition, through social provision of essential goods and services (welfare state), redistributive taxation, and greater social spending as a reward for economic growth. The ordoliberals argue that social policy and economic policy cannot be founded on contradictory principles, as a social policy premised upon equalizing outcomes will undercut the economic mechanisms of the market. They favour private provision over social provision, social policy based upon individuals rather than collective groups, and a policy which maintains and encourages risk-taking rather than one which compensates for economic risk.

• German social policy under the social market economy could not be based upon such principles due to popular resistance, and it marks an important point of differentiation between German ordoliberalism and the American neo-liberalism of the Chicago School. Its core principle, however, is that social policy should not be a counterpoint to economic policy, and the German ordoliberals want a ‘policy of society’ rather than a ‘government of society’

• The new art of government is one that seeks to generalize the enterprise form throughout society. A range of social conditions are identified as correlates for this including: promoting access to private property; encouraging medium-sized towns and private home ownership; decentralizing economic activity; developing policies favourable to small business; and planning urban environments in order to minimize environmental degradation. This is what Rüstow referred to as a Vitalpolitik, or a ‘politics of life’, that ‘is a matter of making the market, competition, and so the enterprise, into what could be called the formative power of society’ (p. 148).

• One consequence of the enterprise society is that it has the potential to multiply sources of dispute, and hence it typically requires considerable legal arbitration and judicial activism.


djbtak said...
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db said...

Hey Terry - thanks heaps for these summaries, I've never looked at these lectures in detail... once again I am struck by both the ambition of Foucault's analysis and the sheer scale and person-hours in his archival labour. Aside from that, the analyses do come across as accurate and even quite prophetic on the style front

Terry Flew said...

db Thanks. We've built a very modest Web site for the discussion group:

Usefully, this links to Claire O'Farrell's site. Claire has a treasure trove of Foucault materials, and was in fact at these lectures in Paris in 1979. She is a fantastic person to be participating in the discussions.

We are recording these, and plan to have the podcasts up soon.