David Armitage on Security, Territory, Population

By David Armitage

Early in “Society Must Be Defended”, Foucault had seen his concerns shifting and a new research programme emerging. “Until now it has been disciplines; for the next five years, it will be war, struggle, the army.” That was then (1975); this is now (1977-78), in Security, Territory, Population, and, as previous discussants (notably Partha Chatterjee) have observed, we are in a still different set of concerns. War and struggle are–almost–gone; the army makes only fleeting appearances. One small index is Foucault’s retreat from his aphoristic revision of Clausewitz: twice in “Society Must Be Defended”, he calls politics “the continuation of war by other means”; now, in STP, Clausewitz is the straight man again (e.g. 305-05, Eng. trans.). Gone are civil war, the race war, the other internalisations of external struggle. In their place, emerging slowly across STP, are the mechanisms of governmentality–that “ugly word” (118), as Foucault teasingly calls it.

The transition, loss even, away from war demands some explanation and may be part of our dialogue this evening. My own remarks will centre on two broad–very broad!–aspects of STP: time and space. Central to Foucault’s account of the emergence of (secular) governmentality from the near Eastern/Christian pastorate in the early modern period is a new “historical and political temporality”, an “open historicity” (259, 260). This is non-eschatological time, without direction or teleology, and therefore opens up a space for the interaction between states in what for the first time can be perceived as an international arena rather than an intra-imperial (or Imperial) one. His account here parallels contemporaneous but non-coincident narratives in the anglosphere–e.g. Pocock’s Machiavellian Moment (1975) or Bull’s Anarchical Society (1977)–just as his genealogy of the modern state rhymes with Quentin Skinner’s in The Foundations of Modern Political Thought (1979). What might we make of this distant dialogue–the asking of similar questions in the late 1970s?

One answer, at least to account for Foucault’s specific version of the answers, is the element of space that captures his attention at this moment, between SMDB and STP. In a 1976 interview, he spoke of “these spatial obsessions, which have indeed been obsessions for me”, in part as reaction against the tenacious tendency to treat space as “the dead, the fixed, the undialectical, the immobile” (in contrast to time: “richness, fecundity, life, dialectic”). STP is bookended by two spatial moments–the early focus on the town, especially the planned town in Bourbon France, and the emphasis at the end on “the urbanization of the territory” (337) as a synecdoche for governmentality tout court. Discipline (over bodies) and security (over populations) are exercised by sovereigns (over territory) in the “disciplinary treatment of mulitiplicities in space” (17). What is the role of space in the unfolding of Foucault’s account of emergent universals–security, *territory*, population? Is territory effaced or assumed in his argument? Can we, to follow one of his own thought experiments, imagine space away from his account and find it untouched, unchanged? And what work do the similar gestures towards time do, in framing the genealogy of governmentality out of the pastorate?

One final side note. There is an odd but significant lacuna at the heart of STP. Central to most parallel genealogies of the early modern state among states (e.g. Skinner’s and Bull’s) is Thomas Hobbes. Foucault neutralised, even expelled Hobbes along with Machiavelli in SMDB; Machiavelli returns (only to be further exiled) but Hobbes is the Cheshire Cat of STP, a lingering smile, but not the theorist of the sword-wielding pastor, Leviathan. Why not?

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