Security Territory And Population Part 3: Security As The Basis For Governing

In the second lecture in Security, Territory and Population, Michele Foucault takes up the problem of food scarcity; this follows his examination of the problems of criminal law and epidemics in the first lecture. Foucault discusses two ways of thinking about problems like scarcity. One idea is that they are misfortunes, in the classical Greek sense, obstacles for humans to overcome. In the other story, they are the result of “man’s evil nature”. These two ideas lead to the basic forms of governmental response. If problems arise from man’s evil nature, then solutions must limit freedom of action and control the exercise of that evil nature. If they are just inevitable facts of life, the ideal solutions come from allowing the greatest freedom to find and test solutions.

Through the mid-18th Century the second idea dominated in Europe. The reaction in France to the problem of food scarcity was an increasingly complex and detailed set of regulations and prohibitions, designed to limit and control the evil behavior that caused scarcity. Foucault identifies a second reason for the adoption of discipline besides man’s evil nature:

The objective is of course for grain to be sold at the lowest possible price so that peasants make the smallest possible profit and townspeople can thus be fed at the lowest possible cost and are consequently paid the lowest possible wages.

This idea is identified with mercantilism. Then in the mid-1700s, the French Physiocrats brought dramatic changes with their emphasis on freeing up trade in grain and letting markets deal with the problems of supply. The government began to allow greater freedom to the market for food. The role of the government shifted from control to supervision and occasionally some assistance to those damaged.

Foucault points out that the problem of scarcity is that it hit everyone in the territory, rich and poor, urban and country. The universality of pain is why scarcity was considered a curse. But with the new arrangement, the problem of universality of damage was ended. Those who could pay were safe, and the problem became one of dealing with those who could not pay. Under the new arrangement the problem of scarcity disappears as a problem for the population as a whole, and becomes a problem only for a comparatively few few.

This is another example of what we saw in the first lecture. The goal of security is to deal with the population as a whole, even knowing that some are not protected.

This lecture closes with a discussion of some of the differences between discipline and security as a theory of government.

1. Discipline encloses and contracts. Security opens and increases circulation, and increases the range of tools of production and control.

2. Discipline focuses on the smallest detail, while security looks at the end results, and ignores details that do not detract from the desired outcome.

3. Discipline divides everything into the categories of permitted and forbidden. Security tries to grasp the “effective reality” of events and processes, The point is to “respond to reality in such a way that this response cancels out the reality to which it responds –nullifies it, or limits, checks, or regulates it.”

Security is connected to liberalism as a form of government. This last difference helps us see the nature of liberalism as a political ideal. It promises more freedom of action, more freedom of response to realty.

The idea of a government of men that would think first of all and fundamentally of the nature of things and no longer of man’s evil nature, the idea of an administration of things that would think before all else of men’s freedom, of what they want to do, of what they have an interest in doing, and of what they think about doing, are all correlative elements. A physics of power, or a power thought of as a physical action in the element of nature, and a power thought of as a regulation that can only be carried out through and by reliance oven the freedom of each, is, I think, something absolutely fundamental. It is not an ideology …. First of all and above all it is a technology of power….

Commentary

1. The idea Foucault is grasping at in that last paragraph is almost defiantly abstract. It isn’t obvious how a government which considers first “the nature of things” and then works through and with “men’s freedom” is a “technology of power” in the normal usage of those words. It seems to me that the choice of outcomes to be sought constitutes the exercise of power. This suggests that by technology, Foucault means merely the choice of methods of reaching the goals of power. Technology of Power sounds more imposing, though.

2. The nature of security becomes quite clear in this lecture. Foucault says that government doesn’t try to provide absolute safety. Instead, it tries to provide an acceptable level of safety while allowing the greatest possible degree of freedom to individuals. He explicitly says that under a security regime people will die of hunger, they will die from inoculations, and there will be murders and property crimes. The government does not attempt to eradicate these problems. Foucault doesn’t even argue that the role of government is to ameliorate the ills visited on the few.

a. This is descriptive, not normative. Foucault doesn’t say what should be, merely what is.

b. Professional experts use this framework as the basis for their analysis. Obama apologist Paul Krugman is a good example. He points to various statistics that say that the economy is functioning well, including low unemployment and the stock market, and he argues heatedly that Sanders’ ideas for change would be bad. It’s certainly true that things are better for many, but Donald Trump is succeeding by arguing that it isn’t working for a huge group of people.

c. The experts who operate within this intellectual framework have consistently refused to deal with the left-behind, the superfluous people. That’s just as true of liberals as it is of the congenitally vicious conservatives. Worse, politicians constantly say that the first job of the politician is to assure our safety. Foucault says the President and all politicians are only going so far to provide that safety. And people will be killed by terrorists; and babies will be born microcephalic because the Congress thinks Zika research is not worth doing.

3. Foucault discusses the notion of man’s evil nature as the cause of social problems. This idea has its origins in Christian religious doctrine. For example, in response to plagues, Medieval Christians engaged in penitential rites seeking mercy from the Almighty. In Evil in Modern Thought, Susan Nieman says that this nonsense only died out in the aftermath of the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, a horrible disaster in which an earthquake started a fire driving people to the seashore just in time for a tidal wave to kill them. Malagrida, a Jesuit cleric, blamed the disaster on the sinful people of Lisbon, and demanded that they scourge themselves and fast and pray instead of rebuilding. The chief minister Pombal was able to get rid of him and focus on healing the sick, feeding the hungry and rebuilding that great city. According to Nieman, that was the beginning of the end of sin as an explanation of natural disaster.

4. Foucault dismisses the idea of man’s evil nature as the cause of social issues, but wait. There are plenty of aspects of human reality that cause social problems: religious hatred, racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and a host of others. These are real parts of us as primates. We shouldn’t just dismiss man’s evil nature as a fantasy. It kills people too, and it isn’t obvious how government can or should or does respond in Foucault’s description.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

18 replies
  1. martin says:

    quote”Foucault points out that the problem of scarcity is that it hit everyone in the territory, rich and poor, urban and country. The universality of pain is why scarcity was considered a curse. But with the new arrangement, the problem of universality of damage was ended. Those who could pay were safe, and the problem became one of dealing with those who could not pay. Under the new arrangement the problem of scarcity disappears as a problem for the population as a whole, and becomes a problem only for a comparatively few few. “unquote

    BWHAAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAAHA,..HAHAHAHAHAHA… HOHOHOHOHOHOHO… …HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…..

    brilliant. So says someone who inherently had time to contemplate that which those who were starving inherently knew. sheeeezuss fuckingchrist.

    • bevin says:

      It was a basic axiom of all governments that bad things happened when people were condemned to starve. In fact government in China, for example, was always dedicated to the idea that its mandate to exist was linked to its efficiency in preventing famines.
      Of course ‘government’ is a term whose meaning changes- in most countries it meant not central government located in a distant capital but local authorities. And these were usually at the mercy of the masses: it was not religious principle that led to the setting of maximum prices and rationing in markets, still less was it economic doctrine, but the consciousness that people would (and were entitled to) seize food supplies before they starved.
      It is no coincidence that the development of callous and inhuman economic doctrines was linked to the growing police and military power of the state.
      The bottom line is that no community can or should tolerate the ill treatment of the poor and vulnerable. And that those which do are drowned in blood.

  2. martin says:

    fuck.. I’m so fucking tired of dumb ass “economists” describing and analyzing what any goddamned person with one neuron between their ears knows from the time they went to work for a wage.

  3. Curious says:

    In short: “First of all and above all it is a technology of power”
    Given the quote paragraph, presumably from Foucault (I haven’t checked), I am convinced that this expression is meant to convey the idea that life and technology is best understood as a process, with people being the “egg” in the chicken and the egg conundrum (which came first?) and technology being the chicken.

    Even shorter: What seems most important, is having the “freedom” to change your mind”. (Otherwise understanding technology or “physics of power” wouldn’t make the best of sense if you can’t adapt to or protest against it.)

    Unfortunately, in my mind, it is obvious that anything “freedom” is something authoritarian as well (in the context of “freedom being given”, because with “freedom” anti freedom is implied as well, else it wouldn’t make sense to point out “freedom” in the context of society if “being free” is equivalent to doing or thinking what you want (something all people can be said to be doing already) . Obviously, any one individuals idea of “freedom” is *probably* different than that of a group, because they have different interests (otherwise people in society would probably be fascists or cultists, expecting and demanding the same from everyone).

    – – –

    The idea of a government of men (…) all else of men’s freedom, of what they want to do (…)”
    I can see that this sentence can be confusing (note, I am not familiar with it from before), because it isn’t entirely clear who “they” are. Presumably, “what they want to do” refers back to “a government of men”, and not men “with” freedom. I suppose there is even the chance that the intended meaning could have meant both, as if being intentionally vague.

    “A physics of power (…)”
    Presumably the idea of “physics” is to mean the opposite of “metaphysics”, though, with the modern/post modern ‘problem of representation’ in which “things” are just named things being references, talking about reality can be difficult I think, because it wouldn’t always be clear if the things discussed and/or referred to are references to phenomena in the real world (expressed with concrete ideas more or less), or just references to their opinions (expressed as ideas more or less).

    “(…) and by reliance oven the freedom of each (…)”
    ‘Oven’? A typo? Maybe it was supposed to mean ‘over’? Only way I can interpret that if being a typo I think.

    Although it might be tempting to think that Foucault likes to think of authoritarian schemes when seemingly stressing that: “First of all and above all it is a technology of power”; given the importance of ”

    One apology of sorts: My inclusion of the philosophical problem of ‘the problem of representation’ can be “cruel” to those that think of anything to do with ‘meaning’ having existence or being real, the same way it could be “cruel” to tell people that believe that they have a soul that leaves the body and continues to exist after death, I think. I want to add that Jean Paul Sartre’s “existence before essence” would be interesting and important, but that again is still just a proposition in the context of understanding meaning. Then there’s Hegel stuff (late hegel) which imo really sketches out an understanding of “a self” (though convoluted and obscure), which I think makes one for a great epitome of loneliness in the grand scope of things, which would be important to really nail down the idea of individuality in the world of life, philosophy and language. But hey, this is always something that everyone can talk about, though any idea of ‘essential’ thoughts goes out the windows there. Spontaneously, I feel like pointing out how I have an issue with anything being “in principle”, being similar to being ‘pragmatic’, which my be is generally risks being anti individualistic, or anti-philosophical, so, with respect to that sentiment, I generally like to think that all grand ideas are suspect if alluding to various ways of abstract thinking.

    • Ed Walker says:

      The language used by Foucault is difficult, and it’s not fair for me to put paragraphs out without the context. Given your evident interest, you might enjoy this book and the next one, The Birth of Bio-Politics.
      .
      In general, I’m going through the book in order, trying to pick out the important themes as I go, but that isn’t working as well with thise series of transcribed lectures as it does with polished books.
      .
      I read Sartre, years ago in College, and I swore off it, along with Kant and Hegel and the rest of the older philosophers. Too much abstraction is bad for me. Besides, I also read a proof of Goedel’s theorem in college, and it left me with the conviction that we are adrift in a sea of stars. Truth is, I like Richard Rorty: Philosophy and Social Hope is one of my favorite books. I think it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.

  4. Curious says:

    Oh lol, I apparently forgot to finish one of the paragraphs in my former post. Oh, well. So many ideas to keep track of, and I forgot to proof read my entire comment as a whole.

  5. bevin says:

    “This idea has its origins in Christian religious doctrine…”

    In think that you will find that many religions explain disasters as punishments for misbehaviour. And that there is nothing specifically “christian” about it. In fact there is not much in Christianity that is novel.

    • Ed Walker says:

      Of course I am referring to European history as is Foucault on this issue. The problem of evil is ancient; it was a constant problem in the theology of every reasonably doctrinal religion. This particular solution is found in other times, as you say, including today, when we see the calls for repentance in the face of hurricanes. That was shorthand to get me to the discussion of Nieman’s book, which talks about the end of this notion in the intellectual life of the west; though, as I say, not in the minds of some.

  6. bloopie2 says:

    Ecclesiastes said it better, 200 years ago.

    11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
    12 And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.
    13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.
    14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.
    15 Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.
    16 For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.
    17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
    18 Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.
    19 And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.
    20 Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun.
    21 For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.
    22 For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?
    23 For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.

  7. Rayne says:

    Really struggling with Foucault’s STP essays, because he is fundamentally blind to his point of view as a white Euro male analyzing history about white Euro-heritage males.

    Ex: p. 132, where he expands on Plato and politics:

    …The movement of freeing oneself from this familiar theme of the politician as the shepherd of the flock takes place, I think, in four stages. First the method of division, so crude and simplistic in its first moves, is taken up again. In fact, straightaway there is an objection. What does it mean to oppose all the animals of whatever kind, on the one hand, to men, on the other? This is a bad division, Plato says, referring to the problem of method [ … ‡].§ We cannot put all animals on one side and all men on the other. We must make divisions that are really complete on both sides, good divisions by equivalent halves. With regard to the theme that the magistrate is someone who watches [over] a flock, we will thus have to distinguish between different types of animal, between wild animals and peaceful, domestic animals.** Men belong to the second category. Among the domestic or peaceful animals, there are those who live in water and those who live on the land. Man belongs to those who live on the land. Those who live on the land must be divided between those that fly and those that walk, those with or without horns, those with or without cloven hooves, and those that can or cannot interbreed. And so the division gets lost in its own subdivisions, thereby showing that one gets nowhere this way, that is to say, by starting from this familiar theme: the magistrate is a shepherd, but the shepherd of who? …

    When Plato debated this, women were chattel, part of the animals shepherded, and neither Plato nor Foucault can bother to offer them a place in the division of the shepherded let alone a place as shepherd.

    When Foucault presented his essays, women had only recently (over the previous ~150 years) engaged in contra-conduit in revolt against their status as neither animal or fully realized human, but Foucault pays very little attention to them with these 13 years of essays. He makes only off-hand references to their protests, making passing reference to the work of female religious figures within a single essay as if they were an oddity barely punctuating history.

    By statistical analysis, his text across these series is utterly hung up on the concept of shepherds and shepherding — using references both religious and classical, though the English translation suffers for the inability to recognize the multiple terms he uses (bergers, pâtre, pasteur, etc.). Foucault refers to shepherds or shepherding at least a couple hundred times within these essays, perhaps as often as he refers to Catholic/Catholicism, or Protestant/Protestantism, and clearly more than ‘religion’.

    Yet he refers to women/woman/female less than a couple dozen times.

    How can any analysis of security, territory, population, and its incumbent economics be legitimate when it so completely marginalizes to the point of erasure the presence of 51% of the population?

    • Ed Walker says:

      The point about the excluded people, the patrionized people, whether female or despised minority, is important. I’ve noticed a couple of jarring sentences about “man” but I usually read “people” for “man” in older texts, just as I did when reading law books and cases. You remind us that we must check that against the context to make sure we aren’t getting fed patriarchy on the side.

  8. Alan says:

    1. The idea Foucault is grasping at in that last paragraph is almost defiantly abstract. It isn’t obvious how a government which considers first “the nature of things” and then works through and with “men’s freedom” is a “technology of power” in the normal usage of those words. It seems to me that the choice of outcomes to be sought constitutes the exercise of power. This suggests that by technology, Foucault means merely the choice of methods of reaching the goals of power. Technology of Power sounds more imposing, though.

    *
    Let’s remember that these lectures are about governmentality, the techniques of government. He’s very much interested on techniques and technologies and how different techniques come in to play and their effects.
     *
    Part of the story here, as in the previous chapter, is that as population grows, towns emerge, a commercial class becomes more important, and feudal ties break down, then new political problems arise that require new approaches to government.   So there is a legal contact between sovereign and sovereign subjects under the old regime, countenanced by divine right. The sovereign rules through law. The subject obeys. There are duties and responsibilities attached to roles. What Foucault is describing is the breakdown of this form of legalistic governmentality and the development of one that’s ‘scientific’. So instead of focusing on the legal relationships between different types of subjects, the new techniques of government govern individuals not by focusing on individuals but recording population data, identifying regularities and working through desire (this is discussed in much more detail in the next chapter).  The new object of population is created by the human sciences of biology, criminology, public health, economics and becomes the basis for ‘enlightened’ understanding and action.
    *
    As I mentioned in a previous comment, you can read Foucault as doing a sort of Weberian critique of rationality. This sort of enlightened understanding has immense benefits (e.g. think of the examples of public health) but it’s not neutral. The knowledge/techniques structure new types of relationships and yes, there are winners and losers. This is always the case. Foucault is not a Utopian. If Foucault has any political program at all it is to resist the ossifying of whatever the relationships of power happen to be from within.
     

    2. The nature of security becomes quite clear in this lecture. Foucault says that government doesn’t try to provide absolute safety. Instead, it tries to provide an acceptable level of safety while allowing the greatest possible degree of freedom to individuals. He explicitly says that under a security regime people will die of hunger, they will die from inoculations, and there will be murders and property crimes. The government does not attempt to eradicate these problems. Foucault doesn’t even argue that the role of government is to ameliorate the ills visited on the few.

    He’s not interesting in laying out what is or isn’t the role of government. He’s not articulating a program. As you write “this is not…normative”. 
     *
     We should also be very careful in the use of the word “freedom”.  The freedom exists and is created by the new type of governmentality. It acts through and on individuals through their freedom. That is, through their desire, rather than oppression.
     *
    Governmentality here should not merely be understood in terms of the state. All sorts of institutions operate through this type of security apparatus. Foucault was writing before the Internet, Google, Big Data etc.  But Google is a nice example of this sort of govermentality. It operates through massive population databases, data algorithms, and creating, teasing out and operating on desires. To read more on this see Bernard’s Harcourt’s most recent book: Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age.

    • Ed Walker says:

      As you say, Foucault takes up this issue again in the third lecture. Had I read ahead, I would have known that. I thought I could read a lecture and then put up a post, but that seems to be a problem. I’ll address this issue now that I see the entire focus of this section. I should add that I am trying to follow his language (through the translator), and thus did not use the word governmentality because he hasn’t used it yet. I am pretty careful about government and sovereign, and I see he himself is careful about that.

      • Alan says:

        Yes, because these are lectures and not a book there’s a certain amount of reorientation at various points. And often he states that he’ll take up some issue in a later lecture and never does. As I remember it from an earlier reading, the first three lectures seem to hold fairly well together and then there is something of a reframing in the fourth, the famous governmentality lecture. And then, if I remember correctly he cycles back in history to discuss earlier practices, namely those of the pastorate.
        *
        It’s the sort of material that I rethink every time I go through. Foucault requires a lot of work but the work rewards. I think reading some of the quality secondary literature also helps. Over the last year Columbia University hosted a series of seminars all all Foucault’s lecture courses. Here’s the link to the one on STP. Along with the actual video of the presentations and discussion, there are accompanying essays and links to other published resources. I have found useful Colin Gordon, Terry Flew, Bernard Harcourt, Stuart Elden, Nikolas Rose and Peter Miller, William Davies, Mitchell Dean, and Dreyfus and Rabinow.
        *
        An interesting aspect of these lectures at least as far as the literature that followed is that they weren’t widely available for a long time. STP wasn’t published in French until 2003 and translated until 2007. Parts were available in various collections, most significantly the The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality that was published in 1991. This included the fourth lecture.
        *
        There is also a large literature on surveillance studies that developed after Foucault’s death that makes little reference to these lectures until relative recently. So this literature elaborates notions of panopticism from D&P but mostly ignores Foucault’s reframing of discipline in the early lectures of STP.
        *
        In the context of these early essays it is also Gilles Deleuze’s short essay: Postscript on the Societies of Control. He gives his own spin but this essay is often referenced.

      • Alan says:

        To add to my earlier comments, one of the reasons I presume we are reading this is for how it helps us understand and resist dominant relationships in the present. Some of the most interesting commentaries on current politics and economics come from people who have been deeply immersed in Foucault’s writings on the self and governmentality. I mentioned Harcourt’s recent book above but also see his earlier book The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order that takes up the theme of markets, prisons and police. Police is another important topic that comes up later in STP. It’s worth reading Harcourt’s historical critique of Foucault’s take on police. Another person worth reading on the current neoliberalism is William Davies. See here, here and here.

  9. Curious says:

    If I could chime in on this topic about reading litterature, I’d say that it is a good thing to read different things. Not because it would be so called “balanced” (a bs term really), but because different people have different ways of explaining certain things (and maybe for different reasons as well).

  10. Curious says:

    A more fun way to read about historical people can be to read the “For beginners” series. There is a book about Foucault in that series. This is a mix of drawings and text, though not for kids.

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