Notes and quotes on "The Foucault Effect Studies in Governmentality"

In the last couple of weeks, I have been become fascinated with the the history of policing. Originally, the word police was synonymous with policy as we know it today e.g. civil administration, but slowly it began to take a different tact around the time when the modern state and economy were coming into their own. According to the etymology dictionary, the first force so-named in England was the Marine Police, set up 1798 to protect merchandise at the Port of London.

Among my many problems with the study of political science is the preoccupation with institutional structure. The FCC might be structured a certain way, but how does it work? How does it act? How does it make people feel they should act? Why do laws have the power that they do? There is a niche in the study of government, I think, that could be filled by merging sociology, political science and law. As such, I am currently reading “The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality” and I thought I would share some of my notes and quotes:

  • Foucault saw it as characteristic (and troubling) property of the development of the practice of government in Western societies to tend towards a form of political sovereignty which would be a government of all and each, and whose concerns would be at one to ‘totalize’ and to ‘individualize.’
  • Political theory attends too much to institutions and too little to practices. All too often, there is discussion of “what is the best government?”, to which libertarians will counter, “should we have government at all?” The problem is that there is government. So the issue is not on first principles, but on the actions and practices of government, i.e. governmentality.
  • “The state has its reasons which are known neither to sentiment nor to religion.”
  • Public choice economics and Foucault’s governmentality are not separated by area of interest but in methodology.
  • For Foucault, the defining characteristic of the police state is the marginalization of the distinction between government by law and government by decree.
  • Pasquino – Before the development of classical liberalism in the 18th century, the economy was a specific form of sovereignty (explaining mercantilism) but not an autonomous one, separate from others.
  • Via Wikipedia – Justus Lipsius' ideas about the ideal citizen—a man that acts according to reason, is answerable to himself, is in control of his emotions, and is ready to fight—found wide acceptance in the turbulent times of the Reformation. This Lipsian view, translated to politics, entails rationalization of the state and its apparatus of government, autocratic rule by the prince, discipline dispensed to subjects, and strong military defence. These principles lie at the foundation of the early modern state.
  • “Greater social complexity brought a greater deployment of authority. People had to be coached, as it were, for the task created by the more populous society and the claims which it made on its citizens.”
  • Hobbes – “Man is not fitted for society by nature, but by discipline.” This seems to suggest that Hobbes does not completely believe that the state of nature could exist.
  • The invisible hand is the first real expose on the self perpetuating logic of the market. It is natural law extended to economics/business.
  • For Foucault, liberalism is not the liberalism of current economists or that of Marxists who see it as industrial-capital apologists, but as a style of thinking concerned essentially with governing – how government is possible, what can it do, and what ambitions must it give up in order to accomplish what it desires.
  • Ones identity changed as one passed from the oikos to the polis. It was in the second domain that one styled ones existence. Being part of the polis is an enduring feature of Western culture.

First published Aug 6, 2011