The Appearance of an Interminable Natural History and its Ends Foucault’s Lectures on The Birth of Biopolitics at the Collège de France 1979
While the analysis of liberalism fills much of The Birth of Biopolitics, the focus of Foucault’s discussion is on the dynamic, equivocal and enigmatic contemporary condition at the intersection of welfare governance, biopolitics and neo-liberalism of the late seventies. This article examines The Birth of Biopolitics as a prolongation of Security, Territoriality and Population by analyzing how Foucault frames liberalism in the wider historical context of governmentality.
In Foucault’s view, governmentality should be understood as a secular rationalization of the art of government. While the pastoral power of the Catholic Church was wielded against the backdrop of eschatology and the imminence of the end of worldly power, the early modern concept of reason of state brought with it the idea of an interminable history. Governmentality and reason of state spring from an undecided and precarious European balance of power between competing states. In order to measure up to external competition, individual states are required to develop a system of policing that collects detailed knowledge of the body politic. Insofar as the logic of the population as a collection of living beings comes to the fore as a primary target of government intervention, the imperatives of biopolitics and the politics of health arise.
Liberalism forms an important modification of the double heritage of reason of state and biopolitics. This is a rationalization of government that, rather than breaking with the fundamental assumptions of governmentality, critically addresses the basic criteria for good government. Stressing the necessity for good government to acknowledge and incorporate the self-regulation of the population it governs, liberalism thus articulates a new kind of naturalness intrinsic to the population springing from the interaction between individuals motivated by self-interest. As a basic principle for its understanding of governing, liberalism embraces a natural history without any transcendental horizons, a secular and tragic natural history in which freedom can never be taken for granted insofar as its participants constantly constitute a danger for one another. It is also a mode of history in which the art of government is constantly called upon and forced to organize and secure the conditions for the exercise and development of freedom. For Foucault, thus, the liberal art of government is not a position to be affirmed or denied. Rather, the liberal art of government draws the outline of an experience of historicity that is an experience of an ongoing and unsettling, but also unending, crisis.
Becker, Gary, S., François Ewald, and Bernard E. Harcourt, “Becker on Ewald on Foucault on Becker: American Neoliberalism and Michel Foucault’s ‘Birth of Biopolitics’ Lectures (September 5, 2012),” University of Chicago Institute for Law & Economics Online Re-search Pa-per No 614; University of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No 614: 1-20. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2142163
Behrent, Michael C., “Liberalism without Humanism: Michel Foucault and the Free-Market Creed, 1976-1979,” Modern Intellectual History 6:3 (2009), 539-568. https://doi:10.1017/S1479244309990175.
Behrent, Michael C., and Daniel Zamora (eds.), Foucault and Neoliberalism. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2015.
Botero, Giovanni, The Reason of State . New Haven: Yale University Press, 1856.
Brown, Wendy, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution. Near Futures. New York: Zone Books, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1080/10848770.2019.1575075
Erlenbusch-Anderson, Verena, “The Beginning of a Study of Biopower: Foucault’s 1978 Lec-tures at the Collège de France,” Foucault Lectures III:1 (2020), 5-26. https://doi.org/10.22439/fsl.vi0.6151 Result score too low
Foucault, Michel, Surveiller et punir. Paris: Gallimard/Seuil, 1975. https://doi.org/10.3917/sr.002.0231
Foucault, Michel, Histoire de la sexualité 1: La volonté de savoir. Paris: Gallimard/Seuil, 1976.
Foucault, Michel, “Michel Foucault: La sécurité et l’État” , in Dits et Écrits III, 383-388. Paris: Gallimard, 1994. https://doi.org/10.4000/books.enseditions.1238
Foucault, Michel, “Power and strategies” , in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972-1977 by Michel Foucault, ed. Colin Gordon, 134-145. New York: Pan-theon Books, 1980. Result score too low
Foucault, Michel, “Powers and Strategies” , in Dits et Écrits III, 418-428. Paris: Galli-mard, 1994.
Foucault, Michel, “‘Nous nous sentions comme une sale espèce’” , in Dits et Écrits III, 415-418. Paris: Gallimard, 1994.
Foucault, Michel, “La politique de la santé au XVIIIe siècle” , in Dits et Écrits IV, 725-742. Paris: Gallimard, 1994. https://doi.org/10.4000/books.enseditions.1238
Foucault, Michel, “‘Omnes et singulatim:’ vers un critique de la raison politique” , in Dits et Écrits IV. Paris: Gallimard, 1994. https://doi.org/10.3917/deba.041.0005
Foucault, Michel, “‘Omnes et singulatim:’ Towards a Criticism of Political Reason” [text of two Tanner lectures delivered at University of Stanford October 10 & 16, 1979], in Michel Foucault: Essential works of Foucault 1954-1984. Volume III. Power, ed. James D. Faubi-on, 298-325. London: Penguin Books, 2000. https://doi.org/10.22439/fs.v0i1.573
Foucault, Michel, “Espace , savoir, pouvoir” , in Dits et Écrits IV, 270-285. Paris: Gal-limard, 1994.
Foucault, Michel, “Space, Knowledge, and Power” , in Power, ed. James D. Faubion, 349-364. London: Penguin Books, 2000.
Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1995.
Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality. Volume One. London: Random House, 1978.
Foucault, Michel, Sécurité, Territoire, Population: Cours au Collège de France, 1977-78. Par-is: Gal-limard/Seuil, 2004. https://doi.org/10.7202/014590ar
Foucault, Michel, Naissance de la biopolitique: Cours au Collège de France, 1977-79. Paris: Gal-limard/Seuil, 2004.
Foucault, Michel, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College De France, 1977-78, ed. Arnold I. Davidson, and Graham Burchell. Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave Mac-millan UK, 2007. https://doi.org/10.22439/fs.v0i5.1412
Foucault, Michel, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979, ed. Arnold I. Davidson, and Graham Burchell. Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2008. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276408097812
Justi, Johann H.G., Grundsätze der Policey-Wissenschaft . Göttingen: Sauer und Au-ver-mann, 1969.
Quesnay, François, Maximes générales du gouvernement économique d’un royaume agricole, , in Œuvres Économiques complètes et autres Textes. Vol. I . Paris: L’institut national d’études démographiques, 2005. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1053837200009895
Raffnsøe, Sverre, Marius Gudmand-Høyer, and Morten S. Thaning, Michel Foucault: A Re-search Companion. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137351029
Raffnsøe, Sverre, “Michel Foucault’s Confessions of the Flesh. The Fourth Volume of the History of Sexuality,” Foucault Studies 25:2 (2018), 393-421. https://doi.org/10.22439/fs.v25i2.5593.
Raffnsøe, Sverre, Morten S. Thaning, and Marius Gudmand-Høyer, “Philosophical Practice as Self-modification: An Essay on Michel Foucault’s Critical Engagement with Philoso-phy.” Foucault Studies 25 (2018), 8-54. https://doi.org/10.22439/fs.v25i2.5573.
Raffnsøe, Sverre and Dorthe Staunæs, “Learning to Stay Ahead of Time: Moving Leadership Experiences Experimentally,” Management & Organizational History 9:2 (2014), 184–201. https://doi.org/10.1080/17449359.2014.891794.
Smith, Adam, The Wealth of Nations . London: Everyman’s Library, 1910.
Thatcher, Margaret, “Interview,” Women’s Own 1987, October: 8-10.
Copyright (c) 2020 Sverre Raffnsøe, Knut Ove Eliassen
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors retain copyright to their work, but assign the right of the first publication to Foucault Studies. The work is subject to a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license, but despite these restrictions, authors can take for granted that Foucault Studies will permit articles published in Foucault Studies to be translated or reprinted in another format such as a book providing a full reference is made to Foucault Studies as the original place of publication.