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Paul Patton “Agamben and Foucault on Biopower and Biopolitics”

Patton, Paul 2007. Agamben and Foucault on Biopower and Biopolitics. – Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 203-218.
His “correction” of Foucault consists of the claim that the entry of bare life into the sphere of political calculation and the exercise of sovereign power involved no radical transformation of political-philosophical categories. (205)

His “completion ” of Foucault draws upon his own account of the manner in which bare life was originally included in the political realm, namely in the fo rm of an “inclusive exclusion,” in order to suggest that the decisive feature of modernity is not so much the emergence of biopolitics as the manner in which a phenomenon originally situated at the margins of poli tical order “gradually begins to coincide with the poli tical realm” (HS, 9). (205)

Whereas police government operated on the principle that there could never be too much government regulation, liberalism operated on the converse principle that there is always too much government. Instead or supposing that the population was in need of detailed and constant regulation, liberalism relied upon a conception of society and the economy as naturally self -regulating systems that government should leave alone. (207-208)

In comparison with the techniques of disciplinary power, biopower required the development of new mechanisms and new forms of knowledge to identify its objects and to facilitate its exercise. However, it remained a technology of power exercised by the state over people insof ar as they are living beings and insof ar as they belong to populations. In this sense, it enabled effective government by the sovereign of the biological life of the subjects. In the context of Foucault’s definition of the concept, this is how Agamben’s phrase “the entry of zoe into the sphere of the polis” must be understood. (209)

Homo sacer is not the same as simple natural life, since it is, as Agamben later notes, the natural lif e of an individual caught in a particular relation with the power that has cast him out from both the religious and the political community. (210)

In this sense, homo sacer is not simply pure zoe bur zoe caught up in a particular “status.” This status is defined by “the particular character of the double exclusion into which he is taken” (H S, 82). The double exclusion in terms of which this figure is defined mirrors the exceptional status of rhe sovereign; hence Agamben’s hypothesis that the figure of the sovereign and the figure of homo sacer are inextricably linked. (210)

In eff ect, Agamben’s argument relies on an equivocation with regard to the two senses of the term bare lift. While in the context of his analysis of sovereign ty, “bare life” is identified with the sacred lif e or status of homo sneer, in the context of his critical remarks about modern democratic politics he identifies it with the natural life of zoe. (211)

This right is strange because, ro the extent that the sovereign really does have the right to decide whether subjects live or die, the subject is, as it were, suspended between life and death. Qua subject, he or she has no right to live or die independently of the will of the sovereign: “in terms of his relationship with the sovereign, the subject is, by rights, neither dead nor alive. From the point of view of lif e and death, the subject is neutral, and it is thanks to the sovereign that the subject has the right to be alive or, possibly, the right to be dead.” In this sense, since the lif e of the subject is entirely encompassed within the sp ere of the sovereign’s power, it is biopolitical power in Agamben’s other sense of the term (homo sacer) . (213)

The life of the subject in the terms of the classical theory of sovere ignty , as Foucault defines it, is structurally identical to the bare lif e of the homo sacer : it is biological existence doubled by its exclusive inclusion within the political sphere. In this sense, Foucault’s analysis of classical sovereign right removes the need for any correction on this point. (214)

In the end, the difference between his approach and that of Foucault is not so much a matter of correction and completion as a choice between epochal concepts of biopolitics and bare
life and a more fine-grained, contextual, and historical analysis intended to enable specific and local forms of escape from the past. (218)

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