Notes for Michel Foucault The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France 1978-1979
Key concepts: interest, liberalism, phenomenal republic of interests, raison d'Etat, regime of veridiction, state, strategic logic, true price.
Related theorists: .
10 JANUARY 1979
(2) In short, we could call this the study of the rationalization of governmental practice in the exercise of political sovereignty.
(3) In other words, instead of deducing concrete phenomena from universals, or instead of starting with universals as an obligatory grid of intelligibility for certain concrete practices, I would like to start with these concrete practices and, as it were, pass these universals through the grid of these practices. . . . I start from the theoretical and methodological decision that consists in saying: Let's suppose that universals do not exist. And then I put the question to history and historians: How can you write history if you do not accept a priori the existence of things like the state, society, the sovereign, and subjects? It was the same question in the case of madness. . . . So what I would like to deploy here is exactly the opposite of historicism: not, then, questioning universals by using history as a critical method, but starting from the decision that universals do not exist, asking what kind of history we can do.
(4) The state is at once that which exists, but which does not yet exist enough. Raison d'Etat is precisely a practice, or rather the rationalization of a practice, which places itself between a state presented as given and a state presented as having to be constructed and built. . . . To govern according to the principle of raison d'Etat is to arrange things so that the state becomes sturdy and permanent, so that it becomes wealthy, and so that it becomes strong in the face of everything that may destroy it.
(5) In other words, the state is not a household, a church, or an empire. The state is a specific and discontinuous reality. The state exists only for itself and in relation to itself, whatever obedience it may owe to other systems like nature or God. The state only exists through and for itself, and it only exists in the plural.
(5) So, we have mercantilism with the police state and European balance: all of this was the concrete body of this new art of government organized in terms of the principle of raison d'Etat.
Foreshadowing of protocol with internal regulation of governmental rationality.
Broadly speaking, this is how I tried to describe this way of
governing called raison
I would now like to place myself around the middle of the eighteenth
century—with the qualification that I will talk about in a
moment—when Walpole said: “quieta
non movere” (“let
sleeping does lie.”). I think it is around this time that we are
forced to note an important transformation that in a general way will
be a characteristic feature of what could be called modern
governmental reason. . . . it consists in establishing a principle of
limitation that will no longer be extrinsic to the art of government,
as was law in the seventeenth century, but intrinsic to it: an
internal regulation of governmental rationality.
(10) To say that there is a de facto limitation of governmental practice means that a government that ignores this limitation will not be an illegitimate, usurping government, but simply a clumsy, inadequate government that does not do the proper thing.
(11) Internal regulation means that there really is a limitation that is general while being de facto, that is to say, that, whatever happens, follows a relatively uniform line in terms of principles valid at all times and in all circumstances.
(11) No, the principle of this limitation is not to be sought in what is external to government, but in what is internal to governmental practice, that is to say, in the objectives of government.
(12) Inasmuch as the government of men is a practice which is not imposed by those who govern on these who are governed, but a practice that fixes the definition and respective positions of the governed and governors facing each other an in relation to each other, “internal regulation” means that this limitation is not exactly imposed by either one side or the other, or at any rate not globally, definitively, and totally, but by, I would say, transaction, in the very broad sense of the word, that is to say, “action between,” that is to say, by a series of conflicts, agreements, discussions, and reciprocal concessions: all episodes whose effect is finally to establish a de facto, general, rational division between what is to be done and what is not to be done in the practice of government.
(13) The whole question of critical governmental reason will turn on how not to govern too much. The objection is no longer to the abuse of sovereignty but to excessive government.
(13) I think that fundamentally it was political economy that made it possible to ensure the self-limitation of governmental reason.
(15) The economic question is always to be posed within the field of governmental practice not in terms of what may found it by right, but in terms of its effects: What are the real effects of the exercise of governmentality? Not: What original rights can found this governmentality?
(16) Nature is something that runs under, through, and in the exercise of governmentality. It is, if you like, its indispensable hypodermis.
(16) success or failure, rather than legitimacy or illegitimacy, now become the criteria of governmental action. So, success replaces [legitimacy].
(19) The emergence of this regime of truth as the principle of the self-limitation of government is the object I would like to deal with this year.
Formation of apparatus of knowledge-power, liberalism, biopolitics.
The point of all these investigations concerning madness, disease,
delinquency, sexuality, and what I am talking about now, is to show
how the coupling of a set of practices and a regime of truth form an
effectively marks out in reality that which does not exist and
legitimately submits it to the division between true and false.
(20) What is this new type of rationality in the art of government, this new type of calculation that consists in saying and telling government: I accept, wish, plan, and calculate that all this should be left alone? I think that this is broadly what is called “liberalism.”
(22) only when we know what this governmental regime called liberalism was, will we be able to grasp what biopolitics is.
17 JANUARY 1979
(29) The question of frugality has, if not replaced, at least overtaken and to an extent forced back and somewhat marginalized a different question which preoccupied political reflection in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and even up to the start of the eighteenth century, which was the problem of the constitution.
(30) The market, in the very general sense of the word, as it operated in the Middle Ages, and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was, in a word, essentially a site of justice. . . . What had to be assured was the absence of fraud. In other words, it was the protection of the buyer.
(31) When you allow the market to function by itself according to its nature, according to its natural truth, if you like, it permits the formation of a certain price which will be called, metaphorically, the true price, and which will still sometimes be called the just price, but which no longer has any connotations of justice. It is a certain price that fluctuates around the value of the product.
The market as site of veridiction-falsification for governmental practice.
(32) But what is discovered at this moment, at once in governmental practice and in reflection on this governmental practice, is that inasmuch as prices are determined in accordance with the natural mechanisms of the market they constitute a standard of truth which enables us to discern which governmental practices are correct and which are erroneous. . . . In this sense, inasmuch as it enables production, need, supply, demand, value, and price, etcetera, to be linked together through exchange, the market constitutes a site of veridiction. I mean a set of verification-falsification for governmental practice. . . . The market now means that to be good government, government has to function according to truth.
Polygonal/polyhedral relationships rather than single cause; enough to show possibility to establish intelligibility.
In fact, in order to reach an understanding of how the market, in its
reality, became a site of veridiction for governmental practice, we
would have to establish what I would call a polygonal
or polyhedral relationship
the particular monetary situation . . . continuous economic and
demographic growth . . . access to governmental practice . . .
finally a number of economic problems being given a theoretical
(33-34) In other words, I do not think we need to look for—and consequently I do not think we can find—the cause of the constitution of the market as an agency of veridiction. . . . Let's say that what enables us to make reality intelligible is simply showing that it was possible; establishing the intelligibility of reality consists in showing its possibility.
(35) You can see that all these cases—whether it is the market, the confessional, the psychiatric institution, or the prison—involve taking up a history of truth under different angles, or rather, taking up a history of truth that is coupled, from the start, with a history of law.
(36) The critique I propose consists in determining under what conditions and with what effects a veridiction is exercised, that is to say, once again, a type of formulation falling under particularr rules of verification and falsification.
Suggests political significance to historical analysis; transition to regime of veridiction applied to history of computing.
What is important is the determination of the regime
enabled them to say and assert a number of things as truths that it
turns out we now know were perhaps not true at all. This is the
point, in fact, where historical analysis may have a political
significance. It is not so much the history of the true or the
history of the false as the history of veridiction which has a
(39) So, there is a shift of the center of gravity of public law. . . . The problem becomes how to set juridical limits to the exercise of power by a public authority. Schematically, we can say that at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century there were basically two ways of resolving this. The first I will call the axiomatic, juridico-deductive approach, which was, up to a point, the path taken by the French Revolution—we could also call it Rousseau's approach.
(40) The other approach does not start from law but from governmental practice itself. . . . The question addressed to the government at every moment of its action and with regard to each of its institutions, old or new, is: Is it useful? For what is it useful? Within what limits is it useful? When does it stop being useful? When does it become harmful? This is not the revolutionary question: What are my original rights and how can I assert them against any sovereign? But it is the radical question, the question of English radicalism; the problem of English radicalism is the problem of utility.
(41-42) On one side you have a juridical conception of freedom: every individual originally has in his possession a certain freedom, a part of which he will or will not cede. On the other side, freedom is not conceived as the exercise of some basic rights, but simply as the independence of the governed with regard to government.
Strategic logic like layer models, replacing dialectical logic; Weizenbaum heuristic over illusion of rigorous theory.
(42-43) When I say two routes, two ways, two conceptions of freedom and of law, I do not mean two separate, distinct, incompatible, contradictory, and mutually exclusive systems, but two heterogeneous procedures, forms of coherence, and ways of doing things. . . . I suggest replacing this dialectical logic with what I would call a strategic logic. A logic of strategy does not stress contradictory terms within a homogeneity that promises their resolution in a unity. The function of strategic logic is to establish the possible connections between disparate terms which remain disparate. The logic of strategy is the logic of connections between the heterogeneous and not the logic of homogenization of the contradictory. So let's reject the logic of the dialectic and try to see—this is what I will try to show in these lectures—the connections which succeeded in holding together and conjoining the fundamental axiomatic of the rights of man and the utilitarian calculus of the independence of the governed.
Interest is principle of exchange and criterion of utility; government becomes only interested in interests, thin phenomenal film as only possible surface of intervention.
Exchange on one side and utility on the other: obviously, the general
category covering both or for thinking both—that is, exchange which
must be respected in the market since the market is veridiction, and
utility to limit the power of the public authorities since it must
only be exercised where it is positively and exactly useful—is, of
since interest is the principle of exchange and interest is the
criterion of utility.
(45) Government is only interested in interests. . . . It deals with the phenomena of politics, that is to say, interests, which precisely constitute politics and its stakes; it deals with interests, or that respect in which a given individual, thing, wealth, and so on interests other individuals or the collective body of individuals.
(46) The insertion of this thin phenomenal film of interests as the only sphere, or rather, as the only possible surface of government intervention, is what explains these changes, all of which must be referred back to this reorganization of governmental reason.
Liberalism questions utility value in phenomenal republic of interests, as thin film possible surface of government intervention where exchange determines value.
(46) In its new regime, government is basically no longer to be exercised over subjects and other things subjected through these subjects. Government is now to be exercised over what we could call the phenomenal republic of interests. The fundamental question of liberalism is: What is the utility value of government and all actions of government in a society where exchange determines the true value of things?
24 January 1979
Foucault, Michel. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France 1978-1979. Trans. Graham Burchell. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print.