Society Must Be Defended

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* Book: Society Must Be Defended. Michel Foucault.



From the Reading Notes of Michel Bauwens, 2006:

This book is a transcript of his more lively lectures at the College de France in 1975-76, and deals with power.

The judicial edifice around power in the West was always about royal control, its prerogatives or limits, by those for and against monarchical power. Since the 'middle of the Middle Ages', it used Roman law. The theory of right aimed at providing legitimacy to that power, and to mask 'domination'. It is framed in terms of sovereignty and obedience, and Foucault wants to show how it is about domination and subjugation. He does so by looking at the extremities and margins, where violence is exercised.

His approach is also bottom-up, starting from the daily exercise in a local situation, and so up the chain towards overall domination processes. Who are the concrete agents, what apparatus do they use, these are his questions.

- "An important phenomena occurred in the 17th-18th centuries. A new mechanism of power appeared to be incompatible with sovereignty, which applies to bodies and what they do, rather than to land and what it produces."

It extracted time and labour, rather than commodities and wealth. It was exercised constantly through surveillance rather than periodically through tax and obligation. This non-sovereign power is disciplinary power.

So we have a right of sovereignty, used as justification, with the mechanisms of discipline, concealed by the former. The disciplines used their own discourses and apparatuses of knowledge and norms, rather than law.

Today, with norms invading all fields, resistance uses the language of rights to defend itself against 'norm-alisation', but this is a mistake, says Foucault. We should look to a new right that is not based on sovereignty, and is also anti-disciplinary. What he wants to do then is analyzing relations of domination, and see whether these are based on force, and ultimately, on war. Politics, as a continuation of war, rather than as its Clausewitzian opposite.

Foucault explains this historically: before the acquisition of the power of war by states, war infected the whole social body. It is only the state which cleansed the social body of it, and displaced it to its frontiers (17th-18th cy). At that time, a discourse became important that said that the law was not only born from war, but still suffused with it. "Peace is waging a secret war", peace is a coded war, waiting to be decoded. The discourse is binary (us vs them), and its proponents saw themselves not as universal subjects, but as adventurers of another force (thereby rejecting a universalist tradition that started in Greece). He sees this discourse emerging in 1630 England with the Levellers and the Puritans, then amongst the aristocrats opposing Louis XIV in France, eventually becoming the ideology of a race war.

It is also a discourse of class struggle, but will eventually become the dominant discourse of Power itself, when it wants to use the State for normalisation against a sub-race, using eugenics, etc .. But it is only at the end of the 19th cy that it became 'racism'. Before that, it had an interesting 'counter-historical' function., useful against a official history which was a justification and glorification of power.

Foucault call the official history a 'Roman history', while the new forms are of a prophetic type, more related to the Biblical, which it sometimes uses, i.e. it was a matter of positioning 'Jerusalem' against 'Rome'. Roman history wants to pacify, counter-history wants a war on unjust power and declares new rights.

Foucault shows that in the minds of the men of the Middle Ages, the were still continuing Roman history, they were still in Antiquity, and furthermore, following Indo-European modes of order. Only in the 16th cy would a break occur. What Foucault is describing is how race struggle histories (Franks against Greeks), became class struggle histories. Marx explicitely acknowledged his debt to the French bourgeois class struggle historians. The latter were seen as revolutionary, a reaction to the racial purity narratives.

- "Whereas the discourse of the struggle between races was a weapon to be used against sovereignty - which was no longer guaranteed by magico-juridical rituals, and thus needed medico-normalizing techniques - the new discourse defended sovereignty.

The originality of Nazism was to reinvent State racism into a story of race struggles. The Soviets converted class struggle into a kind of class racism.

Turning to Hobbes, Foucault summarizes his constitution of sovereignty theories :

   - 1) by 'institution' i.e. representations tired of permanent struggle: the people let themselves be represented
   - 2) by acquisition: the defeated, in their will to live, accept it
   - 3) 'natural thesis': metaphor of child vs parents

Foucault insists that Hobbes in fact ignores war or no war, sovereignty is always accepted. In fact, Leviathan can be seen as a polemic against the discourse of war, prevalent in the English Civil War. He then describes the internal historical situation in England, and how the debates reflected the different views on the conquest, and the respective primacy of Saxon rights vs. "Normandisation". The Stuarts argued the Conquest gave them absolute rights; the parliamentarians insisted that William had accepted to uphold Saxon laws; while the radical Levellers and Diggers argued that Conquest had started a conquest of non-right, a 'political historicism' that Hobbes wanted to defeat.

Foucault then discusses the history of public right, and the competing explanations (France as Frankish-Germanic vs France as Gallic post-Roman), up to the struggle of the nobility under Louis XIV to create a counter-history to fight against absolute power. From this point on, because of the creation of a new subject that speaks its own history (the French nobility), history could no longer simply serve power. History is no longer the State talking to itself, but a history of a 'group of people following common rules', such as the nobility, called a 'nation'.

Citing Boulainvilliers discussion of the Frankish invasion and why it succeeded, Foucault notes that Gaul was exploited by monetary taxes for the mercenaries, which impoverished them, while the new Frankish warlords only asked for taxes in kind. So a Gaul farmer could farm, protected by the arms of the military aristocracy. Boulainvilliers was in fact the historian who invented the concept of feudalism! He also had an interesting theory concerning the Church, since the Gaulish-Roman aristocracy, had lost both its lands and its administrative role levying taxes for the Romans, it massively found refuge in the Church, using it as a base to influence the population and found its new power.

They were natural allies of the Frankish sovereigns who wanted to establish absolute power, against their own Germanic warrior class. Their knowledge of Latin and Roman Law established the link with Roman public law.

Boulainvilliers defines war not as an event or a battle but as the military organization and orientation of the society, which defines its social structure. He attempts to analyze, using this grid of the economy of war (i.e. who has weapons or not), how the strong (the Frankish aristocracy), became weak, and vice versa, i.e. the king using the people to create a standing army against the nobles. According to him, it is precisely what makes them strong, i.e. the warrior ethic, which made them forget knowledge and education, meaning they would eventually lose out.

Boulainvilliers sees a permanent class struggle between aristocrats and the people as necessary for the health of the state. It is based on freedom, defined as the ability to deprive others of it, and thus completely opposed to equality. Equality may have been the 'law of nature', but was completely defeated by the 'laws of history'.

For the first time we have an interpretation of history which can be proven right or wrong, rather than a mythological construct.

Machiavelli saw power as the prerogative of the prince, so power was political, but not historical. But with Boulainvilliers, we have the birth of a political-historical field.

Foucault also gives an interesting interpretation of tragedy (Racine) whose role was not so much psychological, as political. It is to show the underside of sovereignty, the private man behind the king, when he breaks down. But it was not seen as a threat to sovereignty, which is why Louis XIV asked Racine to be his biographer.

Behind the ideology of the Enlightenment as the progress of Reason, Foucault sees the different process of the birth of discipline.

What were once polymorphous local knowledges carried by artisans, amateur scholars, etc ..., becomes a organized, centralized, and hierarchical system of disciplines, controlled by universities and scientific bodies, which edict norms processes and consensus, and henceforth anything born outside of it will be disqualified.

Foucault goes on to describe the monarchist historians, and finally, the bourgeois historians. The common argument is that knowledge is not pursued for its own sake, but that it is a tactical weapon, there is always motivation behind research. (f.e. women's studies are the result of feminism). But the positive result is that history becomes much broader (longer time frame) and deeper. For example, bourgeois historians extend their research to Gaul history (before the Frankish invasions) and look at municipal rebellions after this invasion. The French Revolution would lay claim to the Roman city and to the 'Champ de Mars' gathering (popular assemblies not restricted to the warrior class) , and chase the nobles away as descendants of the Frankish invaders. Napoleon would merge both mythologies. Foucault next discusses the inversion in ideas produced by Seyes in the 'Third Estate'.

This famous book which prepared the French Revolution states that a nation is a group of individuals capable of producing (agriculture, trade, ..) and of forming apparatuses (magistrates, Church, Army, ...). Only the Third Estate can already do that, yet it has no power in the State. It is this mismatch that has to be corrected to create the 'nation'. The inversion is that the nation is no longer defined by its past, but by its future and present potentiality. It is only here that the concept of war makes place for a concept of civic struggle. Rather than politics as an extension of war, we get the opposite: war becomes an exception. The role of the State is no longer domination. Another inversion is that history no longer serves to illuminate a glorious origin that went astray, but on the contrary, it starts with the intensity of the present, and shows what led up to it. Foucault calls this 'grid of intelligibility', which complements the other one, the 'grid of totalisation', a history that is written both in terms of a initial rift but on the way of its totalising completion.

Chapter 11 tackles Biopower. Classical sovereignty meant that power had the right over life and death of its subjects: "Make die and let live". This is transformed in the 19th cy, when it becomes: "to make live and let die".

The new biopolitics are a combination of a discipline of the body, trained through institutions, and the regulation of the population, instituted by the state.

Indeed, the end of the 17th cy saw the birth of the disciplinary technology of labor, and of the control of bodies more generally. First as individuals, but later as a mass, as a species, a stage reached at the end of the 19th cy. We went from anatomo-politics to biopolitics. Birth rates, mortality rates, longevity, endemic illness, etcc.. became the object of government. If death is now a private affair, it is because it is no longer an important ritualized transfer of power, from the sovereign to the divine, but more 'outside' of power, which no longer concerns the 'make die'. Examples like the atomic bomb show that biopower now far exceeds the sovereign right, which is decreasing and replaced by disciplinary power.

It is when biopower becomes triumphant, "make live", an the sovereign power to kill declines, that racism intervenes as part of the biological normalisation of the rae: some (abnormals, inferiors), must be eliminated for others to flourish. Interesting to note is that Foucault sees Nazism as the culimination of disciplinary and biopower, and not as regressive, as it combined biopower with an absolute sovereign right to kill": "it was a racist state, a murderous state, a suicidal state". The latter because it believed that exposing its own population to extreme danger would make it stronger and superior. Also surprising is that Foucault says that 19th cy socialism and anarchism , including the Commune, was inherently racist, as it did not have a critique of biopower. Whenever the need arose in the context of struggle, killing and its justifications, replaced economic measures. It was only with the Dreyfus affair , and the newfound dominance of social democracy, that this situation changed.

- Concluding essay:

If the problem of the 19th cy ha been that of poverty ('too little wealth'), the th question of the 20th cy was that of power ('too much power'). According to Foucault, there was a strange kinship between liberal democrats and totalitarian states, since the latter used techniques invented by the former.

Foucault's work was a dialogue on labor, with Marx. He differed in that he saw subjugation and power as not established in production and the factory, but prior to that by the discipline imparted through school and other institutions. He was also in dialogue with Freud (and the Freudo-Marxists in particular) on sexuality, but where the former saw only repression, Foucault saw a lot of positive discourse, which allowed it to become an object of the medical disciplines.