7/13 | Security, Territory, Population

with special guests David Armitage, Harvard University, Jeremy Kessler, Columbia University, and Adam Tooze, Columbia University

Following a sabbatical year (1976-1977)—during which Foucault took leave from lecturing at the Collège de France to finish volume 1 of The History of Sexuality (published on 17 November 1976), to lecture in Brazil, to reflect on the emerging “nouveaux philosophes,”  and to continue to engage political issues, assembling Soviet dissidents at the Récamier theatre in June 1977 and protesting the extradition of the Baader-Meinhof lawyer, Klaus Croissant, in November 1977 (see Chronology p. 49-52, D&E I)—Foucault turns his attention in January 1978 in his lectures on Security, Territory, Population to the study of a new paradigm of governing and new mode of power that he originally labels “security.”

Foucault explores in these 1978 lectures what he considers to be a contemporary, emerging form of governing—one that was actually in the very process of organizing itself in the United States and in Europe at the time (“le système, disons, contemporain … qui est en train de s’organiser actuellement“) (STP French edition, p. 8). This is a softer, more liberal form of governing—by contrast to the more facially coercive forms of juridical or disciplinary power—that would preoccupy Foucault for the rest of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Foucault models this new art of governing on American neoliberalism, using as his very first illustration, in the opening pages of his first lesson on 11 January 1978, the “very simple” example of the neoliberal economic theory of crime and punishment, drawing silently but directly on Gary Becker’s famous article from 1969, “Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach.”[1] This new form of governing, Foucault suggested, raises an entirely new spectrum of questions revolving around the equilibrium of crime and punishment: How to maintain socially beneficial levels of violent crime? How to punish just enough, but not too much, to minimize social costs? How to organize prevention using predictions and new tools of statistics?

By means of this first illustration, Foucault elaborates on the several constitutive elements that had formed the kernel of the notion of biopower—alternatively referred to as “this new technology of power, this biopolitics, this biopower” (SMBD p. 243)—that he had developed so provocatively in the final lecture of Society Must Be Defended on 17 March 1976 and the final part of The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, “The Right of Death and Power over Death.” In the previous lectures, Society Must Be Defended, Foucault had already begun to develop the constitutive elements of “security” mechanisms (SMBD p. 246-249) and “populations” (SMBD p. 243-250). What these new elements compose is precisely a set of economic processes revolving around achieving equilibrium points for the security and regulation of distinct populations, including optimizing birth and mortality rates, health and welfare, and environmental conditions of a population (SMBD, p. 243-246). They constitute a mode of governing that relies on statistics to maximize behavior and on risk analyses to achieve optimal levels (at the level of the full population rather than the individual).

Foucault would  famously oppose this new mode of governing to both the juridical and disciplinary power, using a set of comparisons that we are now familiar with (e.g. the regulation of lepers, the plague, and smallpox; 3 types of cities; the policing of grain markets versus physiocratic natural order). And although there is some continuity in terms of key concepts (security, population), at least from the last lecture of 1976, there is a distinct break as Foucault puts behind him the publication of Discipline and Punish (1975) and History of Sexuality, Vol. 1. (1976) and turns his attention to the contemporary puzzles of liberal regulation.

Over the course of these 1978 lectures, Foucault abstracts from the narrow concept of “security mechanisms” to develop the higher-level notion of “governmentality” (“gouvernementalité“), a term that is intended to capture the set of “institutions, procedures, analyses, and reflections, the calculations and tactics that make possible the exercise of this power that has as its principal target the population, as its major savoir political economy, as its essential technical instrument the dispositifs of security” (STP French edition, p. 111). The larger concept of gouvernementality then becomes not only a descriptor of this type of securitarian regulation, but also a label to define different forms of governing (so eventually, the term will be used to describe disciplinary mechanisms as well as security mechanisms narrowly defined, see STP French edition, p. 354-55).

In order to fully understand the new form of neoliberal governmentality, Foucault sets out to trace a genealogy of this new mode of governing. It starts, in these 1978 lectures, with an analysis of the Christian pastoral model of caring for one’s flock—a mode of governing he had begun to explore two years earlier in Abnormal (19 and 26 February 1975)—then turns quickly to a discussion of 16th and 17th century debates over of emerging doctrine of “raison d’État” (national security interests or political necessity), and then proceeds through an exploration of the 18th century liberal economic reasoning of the Physiocrats and Adam Smith. This genealogy would only reach its object the following year in Foucault’s lectures on The Birth of Biopolitics (1978-1979), where Foucault would start by analyzing three types of 20th century neoliberalism—namely, German Ordoliberalism in the pre-war period, French or “Giscardian” neoliberalism of the 1970s, and American neoliberalism of the Chicago School—before returning full bore to the writings of Gary Becker on crime and punishment on March 21, 1979. These writings of Becker represented, for Foucault, a paradigmatic form of securitarian power and served as book ends for his study of our contemporary logics of governing (or at least, our logics of governing ourselves circa 1978-79).

Foucault thus traces a genealogy of securitarian governmentality that begins with an analysis of the pastoral form of governing. Foucault emphasizes that our new art of governing started with the Christians, not the Greeks or Romans (STP French edition, p. 127-128). Foucault then turns to the the governmental reasoning of the 16th century, which emerges against the backdrop of theological and familial logics, and gives rise to the extensive writings and debates over Raison d’Etat. This in turn gives way to diplomatico-military logics and institutions, as well as the birth of the police in the 1660s. It is the reaction against the disciplinary nature of policing during the 18th century—especially la police des grains—that stimulates the securitarian rationality and new governmentality of the laissez faire economists. Throughout, the genealogy is motivated by the interest in modern neoliberalism, which Foucault finally reaches in the next set of lectures, Birth of Biopolitics (1978-1979).

These 1978 lectures are in a rich conversation with Foucault’s earlier books and lectures. In them, we find an entire rereading of The Order of Things (1966) through the lens of the concept of populations (STP French edition, pp. 78-81). On this rereading, the notion of population forms the pivotal axis: along all three dimensions of the 1966 book—political economy, biology, and philology—the turning point that inaugurates the modern episteme is located at the point of emergence of the idea of populations.

We also find a complete reworking of the genealogy of the police as a repressive or regulatory regime that Foucault had developed in Penal Theories and Institutions (1971-1972): whereas in PT&I, Foucault traced the history of the emergence of a repressive judicial apparatus back to Germanic law and the medieval interpretation of Roman penal law, in STP Foucault looks instead to the pastoral art of governing and the doctrine of raison d’État as the progenitors of the police regime enacted in the 1660-70s. It is remarkable that Foucault returns here to the study and analysis of the police, a topic that he had researched and written about in a draft of Surveiller et punir, but ultimately excised back then (see Notice to new Pléiade edition of Surveiller et punir). This offers a whole new reworking of the role and functioning of police regulations (STP French edition, p. 304; this I will have to develop in a separate post).

The 1978 lectures are also in rich conversation with his work to come. This notion of the “art of governing,” which we had already seen in Abnormal (p. 48-49), will form the seed, first, to the notion of “critique” that Foucault develops in his important lecture What is Critique? delivered only a few weeks after the end of STP on 27 May 1978 at the Société Française de Philosophie; and second, to the forthcoming work on the care of the self.

In these 1978 lectures, there is also a rich conversation with Marx. We also hear Foucault make the provocative statement that philosophy is nothing other than “the politics of truth” (la politique de la vérité) (STP French edition, p. 5). And we see emerge the important notion of “contre-conduite” (STP French edition, p. 205; counter-conduct in English) on which note Foucault would conclude his lectures:

« l’histoire de la raison gouvernementale et l’histoire des contre-conduites qui sont opposées a elle ne peuvent pas être dissociées l’une de l’autre. » STP, p. 365.

To launch our discussion of Security, Territory, Population, we are delighted to be joined by David Armitage, Adam Tooze, and Jeremy Kessler. (Seyla Benhabib, who was originally scheduled to join this seminar, is headed to Berlin and unfortunately will not be able to join; but will be with us in the Spring).

Welcome to Foucault 7/13!




[1] STP, French edition at p. 6-7; English edition at p. 4-5. Foucault does not refer explicitly to the seminal article of Gary Becker, and the editors of the course do not note it in the margin, but the problematic that Foucault develops under the rubric of “security” in the first few pages of the lectures relates directly to and comes directly from Gary Becker, “Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach,” Journal of Political Economy, vol. 76, pages 169 (1968).


[Read post here. © Bernard E. Harcourt]