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Mitchell Dean “Demonic Societies”

Dean, Mitchell 2001. “Demonic Societies”: Liberalism, Biopolitics, and Sovereignty. – Hansen, Thomas Blom; Stepputat, Finn (eds). States of Imagination. Ethnographic Explorations of the Postcolonial State. Durham; London: Duke University Press, 41-64.

It is thus fair to say that Foucault’s analyses of the arts of government, with some significant exceptions and indications in his lectures, are largely “internalist”. That is, they ignore the international arts of government that are the condition of these relatively autonomous, sovereign, territorially bounded states, and the practices that assign populations to specific states in the modern system of states. (42)

This is not the place to rehearse the details of Agamben’s appreciative critique of Foucault, but he does indicate the possibility that Foucault has underestimated the extent to which sovereign forms of power were constituted in relation to notions of life. […] However, Agamben himself may risk a lack of attentiveness to the specific character of modern biopolitics. (44)

Foucault’s statement, then, locates the problem of political danger in the combination, the “tricky adjustment” between two modes of exercising rule. The shepherd-flock game, or what he elsewhere calls pastoral power, has its birth in Hebraic and early Christian religious communities. Its genealogy concerns its transformation into centralized and largely secular exercise of power over populations concerned with the life and welfare of “each and all” with the development of the administrative stat in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The city-citizen game has its sources in Greco-Roman antiquity and notions of the polis and res publica and concerns the treatment of individuals as autonomous and responsible political actors within a self-determining political community. This mode of exercising power has been transformed by modern liberal and republican doctrines, notions of direct and representative democracy, and, most crucially, by the key status of citizenship being granted to certain members of the population within the territorial state. (45)

The genealogy of the welfare state seems to be bedeviled by this problem of trying to find a norm of provision that can adjust the competing demands of a subject of needs with the free political citizen. (45)

Very broadly, then, this retranslation of Foucault’s sentence on the demonic nature of modern states amounts to something like the following: All versions of what might loosely be called modern arts of government must articulate a biopolitics of the population with questions of sovereignty. And it is the combination of these elements of biopolitics and sovereignty that is fraught with dangers and risks. (46)

Drawing on the work of Robyn Lui-Bright (1997), we might say that there is an internal and external side of biopolitics. There is a social form of government concerned to govern the life and welfare of the populations that are assigned to certain states; there is also a kind of international biopolitics that governs the movement, transitions, settlement, and repatriation of various populations, including refugees, legal and illegal immigrants, guest workers, tourists, and students. This international biopolitics is a condition of the assignation of populations to states and thus of social government of any form. (47)

Sovereignty undergoes its own transformation: in the juridical theories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as those of Thomas Hobbes and Samuel von Pufendorf, he finds a more limited account of the sovereign right of death as conditioned by the defense of the sovereign. The end of sovereignty is, however, the continuation of sovereignty itself: it is caught in a kind of “self-referring circularity” (Foucault 1991: 95). Thus, Foucault argues that, if we take Pufendorf’s definition of the end of sovereign authority as “public utility” and seek to define the content of public utility, we find little more than that subjects obey laws, fulfill their expected tasks, and respect the political order. (48)

Foucault suggests that internally, however, in western European societies from the Middle Ages sovereignty is principally conceived as a transcendent form of authority exercised over subjects within a definite territory. (49)

One aspect of the democratization of sovereignty has been to create a universal language of rights by which efforts are made to regulate the conduct of sovereign states by various international governmental agencies. Another is that sovereignty and the language of rights has proven polyvalent enough to accommodate the claims of movements for self-determination among indigenous and other colonized peoples. (49)

The relation of the arts of governing and sovereignty is not the replacement of one by the other but each acting as a condition of the other. On the one hand, the existence of nominally independent sovereign states is a condition of forcing open those geopolitical spaces on which the arts of government can operate. On the other hand, a set of supernational agreements and regulations of populations is a necessary condition of the world inhabited by these sovereign states. (50)

Liberal government is a particular form of articulation of the shepherd-flock game and the city-citizen game. It assembles a pastoral power that takes the forms of a biopolitics of the administration of life and a form of sovereignty that deploys the law and rights to limit, to offer guarantees, to make safe, and, above all, to justify the operations of biopolitical programs and disciplinary practices. (51)

Mass slaughters may not necessarily or logically follow from the forms of political rationality and types of knowledge we employ, but they do not arise from a sphere that is opposed to that rationality and knowledge. It is crucial to realize, as Peukert argues in his book Inside Nazi Germany, that racism was a social policy, that is, a policy that was concerned with the elimination of all those who deviated from an ever more detailed set of norms and the reshaping of society into a “people of German blood and Nordic race; four-square in body and soul”. (59)

The key point for Foucault is that National Socialism is regarded as a particular articulation of specific elements of biopolitics and its knowledge of populations and individuals and sovereignty. It is not simply the logic of the bureaucratic application of the human sciences that is at issue but the reinscription of racial discourse within a biopolitics of the population and its linkage with themes of sovereign identity, autonomy, and political community. This form of sovereignty has been drained of all its potential to claim and protect rights by the removal, following Bauman (1989: 111), of all counterbalancing resourceful and influential social forces. (59)

The Chinese policy thus inscribes sovereign elements (of decree, interdiction, punishment, and reward) within a detailed biopolitical intervention into the intimate lives of its population. It does this not in the name of the fatherland, blood, and racial purity, but in terms of the targets envisaged by the plan. On one point, it is clear that Chinese policy is nonliberal in that it does not rely on the choices, aspirations, or capacities of the individual subject. (61)

Foucault’s analysis of National Socialism is a striking contribution to this problem for a number of reasons. First , it shows that this case of what might be thought of as, to put it mildly, a nonliberal or authoritarian form of rule is composed , like liberal rule, of biopolitical and sovereign elements. It also places National Socialism, like liberalism, within the development of a government of biopolitical processes. This does not mean that we should efface the differences between liberal and nonliberal rule. (61)

The more general argument advanced here is that modern politics must combine the resources of a biopolitics based on population, life, procreation, and sexuality with the deductive logic of sovereignty based on right, territory, death, and blood. Moreover, this biopolitics captures life stripped naked (or the zoe that was the exception of sovereign power) and makes it a matter of political life (bios). (62)

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