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"Society Must be Defended" - 17 March 1976 - Michel Foucault

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Shaun Stevenson

on 11 November 2013

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Transcript of "Society Must be Defended" - 17 March 1976 - Michel Foucault

"Society Must be Defended" - 17 March 1976 - Michel Foucault
War - what is it good for?
The problem of war can be seen as a grid for understanding historical processes
For Foucault, war can be understood primarily as a war between races
This lecture/chapter shows how the theme of 'race' becomes something very different in the latter half of the 18th century: STATE RACISM
More significantly, I think, Foucault's ideas here illustrate the intensification of power over the past few centuries, with the transformation of racism as one way of understanding this intensification
From the power of the Sovereign, to power's hold over life
The sovereign has right to life and death -
the right to take life or let live
Sovereign exercises this right through the right to kill
The right of the sword
The intensification of power: Disciplinary power
Foucault traces power through mechanisms, techniques and technologies (as opposed to at the level of political theory)
In the 17th and 18th Centuries we see techniques of power that are primarily centered on the body
From the sovereign right to kill, to the disciplinary mechanisms emerging in the 18th century, the individual body remains the object of power
"[I]n the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we saw the emergence of techniques of power that were essentially centered on the body, on the individual body. They included all devices that were used to ensure the spatial distribution of individual bodies (their separation, their alignment, their serialization, and their surveillance) and the organization, around those individuals, of a whole field of visibility. They were also techniques that could be used to take control over bodies. Attempts were made to increase their productive force through exercise, drill, and so on. They were also techniques for rationalizing and strictly, economizing on a power that had to be used in the least costly way possible, thanks to a whole system of surveillance, hierarchies, inspections, bookkeeping, and reports -- all the technology that can be described as the disciplinary technology of labor." (241-242)
From Jeffrey T. Nealon's "Foucault Beyond Foucault" P. 28
Century of Emergence:

17th 17th - 18th 18th - 19th
Mode of Power:
Sovereign Social Discipline
Primary Actor:
King Jurist Expert
Primary Target:
Flesh Signs Capacities
Primary Hinge:
Bodies Souls Training/Actions
Primary Practice:
Ceremony Representation Exercise
Most Intense Form:
Torture Reform Panopticism
Desired Outcome:
Obedience Community Docility
Intensifying Still: Biopower
In the second half of the 18th century, we see a new technology of power that is not disciplinary (although it does not exclude disciplinary power - It modifies it, infiltrates it, embeds itself in disciplinary techniques
This new power, rather than applied to individual bodies, is applied to person-as-living-being: Person as species
This power is addressed to a multiplicity of people to the extent that they form a global mass affected by overall, generalizable processes
Individualizing to massifying
No longer an anatomo-politics of the human body but a biopower of the human race.
1st Domain:
Population Health
Ratios of births to death
Fertility rates
Rates of production
Introduction to demographics:
Identifying phenomena of birth control practices
Morbidity trends
concerned not with epidemics (temporary disasters that caused multiple deaths) but endemics – the form, nature, extension, duration, and intensity of the illnesses prevalent in a population
The development of medicine whose main function is now public hygiene
medicalization of the population
2nd Domain: Rational Coping Mechanisms
The introduction subtle, rational mechanisms to cope with accidents, infirmaries, etc.
Charitable organizations
Individual and collective savings
Safety measures
3rd Domain: Human-environmental relations
"Control over relations between the human race, or human beings insofar as they are a species, insofar as they are living beings, and their environment, the milieu in which they live." (245)
effects of the geographical, climatic, or hydrographic environment
The problem of the environment so far as it is not natural, but created and effected by the population - the urban problem

Biopolitics' Domains
(Objects of knowledge)
[As they appeared in the late 18th and early 19th century]
The power to regularize
1. Biopolitics deals with the population as a political and scientific problem. The population is a biological problem and thus, it is power’s problem

2. Biopolitics addresses the phenomena of events that occur within a population that exists over a period of time

3. Biopolitics introduces mechanisms that include forecasts, statistical estimates, and overall measures
The objective of these mechanisms is to allow for regularization of the population.
Not to modify an individual insofar as they are an individual but to intervene at the level of generality
*Not disciplinary power over the individual but
regularizing power over the species
The Power to make live and let die
Unlike sovereign power (power to take life or let live), biopower is the power to
make live and let die
Different from the sovereign's power of the right to kill, that is, the sovereign's power over death, biopower reaches its limits at death
Power has a grip on death only in overall, general, statistical terms
We might say biopower has no control over death, only a control over mortality
Power literally ignores death
The power over life in general: Disciplinary and Regulating
Since biopower doesn't exclude disciplinary power, we end up with a
regulatory technology of life and a disciplinary technology of the body
Could see this shift as power’s response to demographic explosion and industrialization – Too many things were escaping the old mechanism of power
Disciplinary power adjusts through surveillance and training
Biopower intensifies mechanisms of power to reflect phenomena in population
Foucault identifies this in two series:
The body-organism-discipline-institutions series and the population-biological processes-regulatory mechanisms-State (250)
So where do we see the intersection of these mechanisms of power - disciplinary and regulatory?
Foucault looks to the middle-class town:
Disciplinary mechanisms that localized families and individuals, spatial layout leading to policing and surveillance
Regulatory mechanisms applied to population as a whole, encouraging patterns of saving related to home ownership, old age pensions, hygiene, health insurance, etc.
Sexuality expresses this duality as well
Obsessively focuses on the individual body
Also takes place in broad biological processes – procreation, fertility, etc.
“Sexuality exists at the point where body and population meet” (251-252).
The element that circulates between the body and the population, and which makes it possible for power to control these two fields (disciplinary and regulatory), is
the norm
"The normalizing society is a society in which the norm of discipline and the norm of regulation intersect along an orthogonal articulation" (253)

“Either it (power) is sovereign and uses the atom bomb, and therefore cannot be power, biopower, or the power to guarantee life, as it has been ever since the nineteenth century. Or, at the opposite extreme, you no longer have a sovereign right that is in excess of biopower, but a biopower that is in excess of sovereign right. This excess of biopower appears when it becomes technologically and politically possible for man not only to manage life but to make it proliferate, to create living matter, to build the monster, and, ultimately, to build viruses that cannot be controlled and that are universally destructive. This formidable extension of biopower, unlike what I was just saying about atomic power, will put it beyond all human sovereignty” (254)
Foucault's key questions!!!
"If it is true that the power of sovereignty is increasingly on the retreat and that disciplinary or regulatory disciplinary power is on the advance, how will the power to kill and the function of murder operate in this technology of power, which takes life as both its object and its objective? How can a power such as this kill, if it is true that its basic function is to improve life, to prolong its duration, to improve its chances, to avoid accidents, and to compensate for failings”? (254)

How, under these conditions, can a political power kill, call for deaths, and expose both its enemies and own population to death?

"How can the power of death, the function of death, be exercised in a political system centered upon biopower?"
Enter Racism
For Foucault racism is primarily a way of introducing a break into the domain of life that is under power’s control: the break between what must live and what must die
Racism fragments, creates caesuras within the biological continuum addressed by biopower ( Through hierarchies, dichotomies between good and inferior...)
Allows for positive relation: “The very fact that you let more die will allow you to live more”
The limits of biopower and the birth of state racism
If it is a power that has taken control of life in general - with the body as one pole and the population as the other - we can see the paradoxes or limits of biopower in things such as the atom bomb – which is the power to kill people (the fundamental right of the sovereign), but also the power to kill life itself, thus to kill its own hold over power
...Racism continued
Racism becomes the precondition for exercising the right to kill
Not necessarily murder, but exposing someone to death, increasing the risk of death for some people, or for some, political death, expulsion, rejection, and so on.
"If the power of normalization wished to exercise the old sovereign right to kill, it must become racist."
We can see how this alters the idea of war from not simply a matter of destroying a political adversary, but of destroying the enemy race, "of destroying that [sort] of biological threat that those people over there represent to our race" (257).
Regeneration of one's race through the death of another
How do we understand the operation of biopower/biopolitics in the modern state? In the modern era of globalization? Does the state still serve the same function? How might we understand power to have intensified?
In Conclusion
Power intensifies to become power's hold over life (Sovereign - Disciplinary - Regulatory)
Biopower takes life itself as its object of knowledge
Since other forms of power do not disappear, but intensify, power operates on the individual body and the individual as species
Racism allows for a fragmentation in the biological that is under power's control - racism allows biopower (and the State) to kill, and to actively let die.
For the modern state to kill they must become racist - biopolitical
Killing, in this sense, allows for a purification, or regeneration of the race
Racism, war and biopower become intrinsically connected
Full transcript