Political Technique, the Conflict of Umori, and Foucault’s Reading of Machiavelli in Sécurité, Territoire, Population

  • Sean Erwin Barry University
Keywords: Machiavelli, Foucault, Political Technique, Raison d’État


This article examines Foucault’s interpretation of Machiavelli in his 1978 lecture series, Sécurité, territoire, population. I argue that Foucault’s interpretation in these lectures deliberately misrepresents Machiavelli. This misrepresentation allows him to develop later traditions in political thought in a way that precludes any importance Machiavelli might have had for the concerns of these later authors. Further, thorough analysis of Foucault’s reading of Machiavelli uncovers a common thread between the two authors. For Machiavelli, the political is a space articulated by an immediacy of princes to peoples and generated from the fold formed by the difference between the qualities of the political humors. For Machiavelli, this difference of the humors—unstable and porous as it is—between those who desire to dominate and those who desire not to be dominated is immanent to the political. Read from this perspective Foucault’s critique of the tradition in anti-Machiavellian literature develops a reading of Machiavelli that, even if it misrepresents him, breaks Machiavelli free from the place his thought generally occupies in the history of raison d’État. The paper then closes developing the notion that Foucault’s interpretation of Machiavelli points in the direction of a clear theme shared by the two — the theme of historically generated political technique(s).