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Michel Foucault “The Political Technology of Individuals”

Foucault, Michel 2000. The Political Technology of Individuals. – Foucault, M. Power: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984. New York: The New Press, 403-417.

Reason of state, first, is regarded as an “art,” that is, as a technique conforming to certain rules. These rules pertain not simply to customs and traditions but to a certain rational knowledge. […] The art of governing people is rational on the condition that it observes the nature of what is governed, that is, the state itself. (406)

In a few words, reason of state refers neither to the wisdom of God nor to the reason or the strategies of the prince: it refers to the state, to its nature, and to its own rationality. (407)

1) The first of those ideas is the new relation between politics as a practice and as knowledge. It concerns the possibility of a specific political knowledge. […] The state is something that exists per se. It is a kind of natural ob-ject, even if the jurists try to know how it can be constituted in a le-gitimate way. The state is by itself an order of things, and political knowledge separates it from juridical reflections. Political knowledge deals not with the rights of people or with human or divine laws but with the nature of the state which has to be governed. […] A government, therefore, entails more than just implementing general principles of reason, wisdom, and prudence. A certain specific knowledge is necessary: concrete, precise, and measured knowledge as to the state’s strength. (407-408)

2) The second important point derived from this idea of reason of state is the rise of ne w relationships between politics and history. (408) Politics has now to deal with an irreducible multiplicity of states struggling and competing in a limited history. (409)

3) […] since the state is its own finality, and since the governments must have for an exclusive aim not only the conservation but also the permanent reinforcement and development of the state’s strengths, it is clear that the governments don’t have to worry about individuals—or have to worry about them only insofar as they are somehow relevant for the reinforcement of the state’s strength […] the individual becomes pertinent for the state insofar as he can do something for the strength of the state. […] From the state’s point of view, the individual exists insofar as what he does is able to introduce even a minimal change in the strength of the state, either in a positive or in a negative direction. (409)

The marginalistic integration of individuals in the state’s utility is not obtained in the modern state by the form of the ethical community characteristic of the Greek city. It is obtained in this ne w political rationality by a certain specific technique called then, and at this moment, the “police.” (409)

When people spoke about police at this moment, they spoke about the specific techniques by which a government in the framework of the state wa s able to govern peo-ple as individuals significantly useful for the world. (410)

[…] “the police” appears as an administration heading the state together with the judiciary, the army, and the exchequer. But in fact it embraces all those other administrations, and, as Turquet says, “it branches out into all of the people’s conditions, everything they do or undertake. Its fields comprise justice, finance, and the army.” (411-412)

So, as you see, the police in this Utopia [Turquet’s] include everything, but from a very particular point of view. Men and things are envisioned in this Utopia in their relationships. What the police are concerned with is men’s coexistence in a territory, their relationships to property, what they produce, what is exchanged in the market, and so on. It also considers how they live, the diseases and accidents that can befall them. In a word, what the police see to is a live, active, and productive man. Turquet employs a very remarkable expres-sion. He says, “The police’s true object is man.” (412)

Police as practice/administration: In short, life is the object of the police. The indispensable, the useful, and the superfluous: those are the three types of things that we need, or that we can use in our lives. That people survive, that people live, that people do even better than just survive or live: that is exactly what the police have to ensure. (413)

This systematization of the French administrative practice seems to me important for several reasons. First, as you see, it attempts to classify needs, which is, of course, an old philosophical tradition, but with the technical project of determining the correlation between the utility scale for individuals and the utility scale for the state. The thesis in De Lamare’s book is that what is superfluous for individuals can be indispensable for the state, and vice versa. The second impor-tant thing is that De Lamare makes a political object of human happiness. (413)

Now happiness is not only a simple effect. Happiness of individuals is a requirement for the survival and devel-opment of the state. It is a condition, it is an instrument, and not simply a consequence. People’s happiness becomes an element of state strength. And, third, De Lamare says that the state has to deal not only with men, or with a lot of men living together, but with society. Society and men as social beings, individuals with all their social re-lations, are now the true object of the police. (414)

Police as discipline: And hence, last but not least, “police” became a discipline. It was not only a real administrative practice, it was not only a dream, it was a discipline in the academic meaning of the word. (414)

Die Politik is basically for him the negative task of the state. It consists in the state’s fighting against its internal and external enemies, using the law against the internal enemies and the army against the external ones, von Justi explains that the police {Polizei), on the contrary, have a positive task. Their instruments are neither weap-ons nor laws, defense nor interdiction. The aim of the police is the permanently increasing production of something new, which is supposed to foster the citizens’ life and the state’s strength. The police govern not by the law but by a specific, a permanent, and a positive intervention in the behavior of individuals. (415)

We can say now that the true object of the police becomes, at the end of the eighteenth century, the population; or, in other words, the state has essentially to take care of men as a population. It wields its power over living beings as living beings, and its politics, therefore, has to be a biopolitics. Since the population is nothing more than what the state takes care of for its own sake, of course, the state is entitled to slaughter it, if necessary. So the reverse of biopolitics is thanatopolitics. (416)

The failure of the major political theories nowadays must lead not to a nonpolitical wa y of thinking but rather to an investigation of what has been our political way of thinking during this century. (416)

I think that the main characteristic of our political rationality is the fact that this integration of the individuals in a community or in a totality results from a constant correlation between an increasing individualization and the reinforcement of this totality. From this point of view, w e can understand why modern political rationality is permitted by the antinomy between law and order. (417)

Law, by definition, is always referred to a juridical system, and order is referred to an administrative system, to a state’s specific order, which was exactly the idea of all those utopians of the be-ginning of the seventeenth century and was also the idea of those very real administrators of the eighteenth century. I think that the conciliation between law and order, which has been the dream of those men, must remain a dream. It’s impossible to reconcile law and order because whe n you try to do so it is only in the form of an integration of law into the state’s order. (417)

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