Security Territory and Population Part 4: Conclusion of Description of Security and Population

The third lecture by Michel Foucault in Security, Territory and Population begins with a discussion of the systems of law and discipline considered from the standpoint of “norms”. In the system of law, norms are the acceptable behaviors,derived from sacred texts or societal customs or the will of the sovereign. They are then codified and made mandatory. In disciplinary systems, the goal is to identify the best way to do some act, and the people are taught those actions and punished or reeducated for not doing them. In a security system, the ideas of the new sciences of understanding of the nature of the human species are brought to bear on the problem, with the goal of freeing people from the problem, or channeling their behavior into the best known forms. Normalization in the security regime consists in recognizing a problem, and working out solutions using analysis and planning.

He illustrates the latter with a detailed discussion of the introduction of inoculation and the related advances in medicine, administrative controls and statistics, showing that the basic idea of security as a method of government is to treat the population as a whole. There is a nice example of this here. In fact, once you get used to thinking about government as Foucault describes it, you see examples everywhere.

In a law regime, the determination of norms is based on the will of the sovereign, or some sacred text or long-established custom. In a disciplinary regime, the determination of norms is made to fulfill the desires of the powerful, including the sovereign. The examples given, how to load guns, how to form up for a battle, make this clear. Foucault does not discuss the way that norms and the process of normalization are derived in the security regime. How is the decision made as to what problem should be solved, or what behavior should be encouraged or discouraged? These decisions are made through relationships of power, so perhaps we will get more on this later.

Foucault then draws several conclusions.

1. The issues became more important because of the rise of towns as centers of economic and social activity. This changed the relation between sovereigns and their subjects, and required changes in the nature of government.

2. One of the central problems of the town is circulation, not only of humans walking the street but of goods and services moving about, the need for the careful control over the circulation of money, the need for circulation of air and so on. Towns operate on the basis of circulation, which was always an issue, but becomes central as the nature of economic activity changed.

3. One critical difference is that under a security regime, there is no attempt to “… make use of a relationship of obedience between a higher will, of the sovereign, and the wills of those subjected to his will. Security doesn’t depend on “… the exercise of a will over others in the most homogeneous, continuous, and exhaustive way possible. It is a matter rather of revealing a level of the necessary and sufficient action of those who govern.”

4. In a mercantilist state, it becomes clear that the power and strength of a nation are dependent on the activities of the population as a whole. The first source of strength is the merchant and manufacturing elites, but the entire population is also crucial. The strength of the state depends on the agricultural workers and factory laborers both for their work and for their numbers, which keep wages low. For the mercantilists, the population is seen as as a productive force, and not much more.

5. The function of the population under a regime of law is to create wealth for the sovereign. In a mercantile system, a regime of discipline, the goal is still the creation of wealth in the hands of the sovereign and a few others. In both cases, the people are seen as the objects of direct action by the sovereign and the elites.

This changed in the mid-1700s according to Foucault. He argues that once the population becomes an object of study, it becomes apparent that it cannot be changed by the will of the sovereign or by decree.

To say that population is a natural phenomenon that cannot be changed by decree does not mean, however, that it is an inaccessible and impenetrable nature, quite the contrary. … [T]he naturalness identified in the fact of population is constantly accessible to agents and techniques of transformation, on condition that these agents and techniques are at once enlightened, reflected, analytical, calculated, and calculating.

A population cannot be coerced into some new behavior, but it can be indirectly channeled and prodded. The example Foucault gives is currency: money must flow throughout the territory to encourage the people in the countryside to work on farms.

The one thing common across the individuals who make up a population is desire. “Every individual acts out of desire.” Nothing can be done about desire, but if everyone is allowed to act out of desire, according to the Physiocrats the natural outcome is the greatest good for the society. Foucault identifies this as the “matrix” of the utilitarian philosophy.

Foucault notes that he is using the term sovereign less and the word government more as the notion of the population emerges. The government is more than the power of the sovereign. It is a thing in itself, one addressed in much more detail in the next lecture. Foucault says that it is the interplay of the techniques of power and their object that carves out the population as a new reality, and as the object of the techniques of power.

Commentary

1. The first three lectures seem to roam around in circles, adding details as we repeat the loops. This is frustrating, and difficult to follow. It helps to realize that an introduction to a new framework has to start somewhere, and the ideas have to be repeated, developed and explained from several different perspectives. This is how we come to grips with most new ideas, but especially abstract ideas.

2. The idea of political economy, or the economy as an object of study, emerges in this lecture. This economy is driven by Desire. This idea hadn’t appeared in either of the first two lectures, and it appears here with no preparation and no explanation, simply as a fact. This idea deserves more analysis; and it seems odd that Foucault drops it so casually into the discussion.

3. I quoted a section about changing the population through “agents and techniques of transformation”. The gloss Foucault adds “on condition that these agents and techniques are at once enlightened, reflected, analytical, calculated, and calculating” could be misleading. It certainly does not mean that the agents must be decent humans with the best interests of society as a whole in their hearts. It’s simply a matter of technique, which can be used for any purpose.

4. Obviously these are not the only techniques that work to change society, or at least large parts of the population. Trump is a good example, and there are plenty of others whose techniques are good at changing things. In any event, the old techniques are not lost. Consider policing as we see it in Baltimore and Chicago. It sounds just like the law regime Foucault describes.

5. One way to understand this the changes in regimes is by size of population. Large populations cannot be governed in the same way as small populations. For example, we like to say that today’s large populations have a role to play in determining the goals of government and of society. Foucault has not mentioned this change.

7. Taking these last points together, the question becomes why increases in wealth and power are the only goals.

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.

21 replies
  1. martin says:

    quote”7. Taking these last points together, the question becomes why increases in wealth and power are the only goals.”unquote

    Dear Grasshopper. The answer has been demonstrated from the beginnings of mankind to today. We are dumb motherfucking animals. But one day.. the universe will prove it doesn’t give a shit.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Increases of wealth and power, when limited to a small elite, enrich and entrench the elite, adding to their power, dominance and security. It allows an elite to keep treating everyone else in society as objects of their “desire”, to be manipulated for the utility of the elite.

    If power is allowed to leak into the hands of those not in the elite, it is a loss in a zero sum game. It requires the elite to devote greater, not fewer resources, to manipulate and dominate others. That is a “waste” in power and economic terms, which needs to be eliminated. The response is to increase resources for physical coercion – SWAT teams in every village, homeland military districts, special forces accountable solely to the sovereign and its patrons – and increase the use of educational policies that enhance the teaching of obedience and submissiveness to authority (while never teaching from whence authority comes or the agency of change). This is combined with appeals to symbolism – flags, plumed helmets, pledges, musical refrains – which make thought as unnecessary as it is undesirable.

    Another effective tool is economic policies that deprive most of society of resources, while enriching the elite at public cost. Many are examples of enclosing the commons. There is the precipitous decline in public services (reducing the tax burden on the wealthy). Poor access to high cost health care (not a burden to the elite). Massive subsidies, immunities and tax preferences for elite businesses (oil depletion allowances, subsidies to unrepentant banks that continue to pose systemic risks). Narrowing of access to and the cost of education (neither admissions to elite schools nor their cost are a burden to the elite). And empowerment of creditors to collect their often publicly subsidized debt for the life of the debtor (2005 Protection from Bankruptcy Reform Act).

    Neoliberalism is a convenient name for these elite priorities and the policies that implement them. It is a necessary intellectual proscenium arch through which to view the drama. But it is the underlying drama we should pay attention to, for we are all players in it.

    • martin says:

      quote”If power is allowed to leak into the hands of those not in the elite, it is a loss in a zero sum game. It requires the elite to devote greater, not fewer resources, to manipulate and dominate others. That is a “waste” in power and economic terms, which needs to be eliminated. The response is to increase resources for physical coercion – SWAT teams in every village, homeland military districts, special forces accountable solely to the sovereign and its patrons – and increase the use of educational policies that enhance the teaching of obedience and submissiveness to authority (while never teaching from whence authority comes or the agency of change). This is combined with appeals to symbolism – flags, plumed helmets, pledges, musical refrains – which make thought as unnecessary as it is undesirable. “unquote

      While I am positive your view was spoken while under the influence of what ever chemical of choice, either in mockery of or contempt of the subject at hand, I can’t help but think that if your view is real(lord help you), I would bet 1k guinea your progeny for 100 yrs will spit on your grave.

      • bevin says:

        What makes you think that he was stoned/inebriated?
        Surely he is making the point that society is developing in the direction he outlined. Not that it ought to do so-he would seem to think otherwise-but that it is doing so.
        In other words he was warning us, and, presumably his progeny.
        Why would they feel inclined to spit in his grave for his pessimism?

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Precisely. My progeny will more likely be consumed with worry about an exhausted, too-hot, wet, stormy planet whose elites violently refuse to learn to share or to play nicely. Bacigalupi’s “Water Knife” comes to mind.

    • bmaz says:

      Earl of Huntington said:

      Neoliberalism is a convenient name for these elite priorities and the policies that implement them. It is a necessary intellectual proscenium arch through which to view the drama. But it is the underlying drama we should pay attention to, for we are all players in it.

      I agree.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          The rectangle that frames a live stage performance in a traditional theater is a proscenium arch, as opposed to a theater-in-the-round or an open stage. “Intellectual” proscenium arch tells you the reference is a metaphor. The phrase refers to the framework, the lens that gives focus and meaning to an observation that might otherwise be impossible to understand.

        • bevin says:

          Thanks. Interesting. Nobody in his right mind ever believed that the Russian government was involved. The point was, and is, the content of the emails whose authenticity nobody denies. They reveal a massive scandal and fraud about which the political caste seems amazingly insouciant.

  3. Alan says:

    I think what you are missing in your first comments is that when he’s discussing various public health issues in the first three lectures he’s sketching out examples of different types of power: sovereign (lepers), disciplinary (plague) and eventually in this third chapter security (small pox). A significant part in this chapter is again the comparison between disciplinary and security normalization. Security isn’t focusing on the individual and whether they meet a norm or not. Security is looking at populations in a statistical way i.e. distributions. He sketches out three key features of population that allows the functioning of security: population depends on variables, the action of individual desire, and at a population level one can expose various statistical regularities. And that with the emergence of liberal government it is possible to act on population through these variables and desire to manage the population. (If you like this is the genesis of what we now call Big Data.)
    *
    He’s discussing the birth of liberal governmentality (which becomes the main target in the following lectures). It is very important to note an important fact about power for Foucault is that it can be repressive but what he’s discussing here is a type of power that acts by limiting itself and by then acting on ‘free’ individual self-interest, desire, etc. Freedom of course isn’t an objective thing; it’s created by forms of governmentality. In the following lecture course he gets to neoliberalism and the “enterprise of the self”. One is free as it were to be free in a certain way.  
    *
    All this also harks back to the The Order of Things. Population is the target of the domains of knowledge: economics, biology, etc. Population is the target of the Sciences of Man.
    *
    Also, I think you need to ignore who is exercising power or who is benefiting. You are still stuck in the problematic of sovereignty when you think this way. Foucault wants to “cut off the king’s head”. In any structure there are winners and losers but that’s not where the analysis is directed. He’s looking at practices that create types of knowledge within which certain things can be true or false, thinkable and unthinkable, doable and not doable. Resistance here isn’t against a “class” or a group but rather to find an edge from within a certain type of thinking that opens up other possibilities. It’s about preventing things from congealing. There is no Utopianism here. There is no return to the origin; there is no return to the garden of Eden. For Foucault there is always knowledge/power.

    • Ed Walker says:

      The point of reading books like this one is to see what we can learn about this time, this set of power relationships, and this set of discourses. I can’t invent a new knowledge or a new discourse, but sometimes if I focus on it, I can see when and how a discourse arises, and I can sort of trace out the history that leads to the dominance of that discourse. That is part of what was behind my extended series on Mankiw, Jevons and related posts earlier in my posting here, and available by clicking on my name above. How did the neoliberal discourse on economics arise? I felt like that wasn’t working properly, so I read Kuhn, and then started on Polanyi.
      .
      I generally think that at least a part of the question of how a discourse like neoliberalism becomes the dominant discourse is because of the people pushing it. Identifying them leads me to think that there are two groups, one which stands to benefit from the dominance of a discourse, and one which pursues it in good faith thinking that it is somehow True. So we see that in Quesnay as quoted by Foucault, and others too. Of course, there are people in between these two groups with varying degrees of intellectual honesty and greed. I think that explains more or less why I try to find the humans in the system.

      • Alan says:

        Refusal, curiosity, innovation? This interview conducted with Foucault in 1980 is worth a read: Power, Moral Values, and the Intellectual:

        Relations of power are not in themselves forms of repression. But what happens is that, in society, in most societies, organizations are created to freeze the relations of power, hold those relations in a state of asymmetry, so that a certain number of persons get an advantage, socially, economically, politically, institutionally, etc. And this totally freezes the situation. That’s what one calls power in the strict sense of the term: it’s a specific type of power relation that has been institutionalized, frozen, immobilized, to the profit of some and to the detriment of others.

        *

        I was telling you earlier about the three elements in my morals. They are (1) the refusal to accept as self-evident the things that are proposed to us; (2) the need to analyze and to know, since we can accomplish nothing without reflection and understanding—thus, the principle of curiosity; and (3) the principle of innovation: to seek out in our reflection those things that have never been thought or imagined. Thus: refusal, curiosity, innovation.

        *

        I think that at the heart of all this, there’s a misunderstanding about the function of philosophy, of the intellectual, of knowledge in general: and that is, that it’s up to them to tell us what is good. Well, no! No, no, no! That’s not their role. They already have far too much of a tendency to play that role, as it is. For two thousand years they’ve been telling us what is good, with the catastrophic consequences that this has implied.

  4. martin says:

    Meanwhile..”The 6.8σ anomaly in excited 8Be nuclear decays via internal pair creation is fit well by a new particle interpretation. In a previous analysis, we showed that a 17 MeV protophobic gauge boson provides a particle physics explanation of the anomaly consistent with all existing constraints. Here we begin with a review of the physics of internal pair creation in 8Be decays and the characteristics of the observed anomaly. To develop its particle interpretation, we provide an effective operator analysis for excited 8Be decays to particles with a variety of spins and parities and show that these considerations exclude simple models with scalar or pseudoscalar particles. We discuss the required couplings for a gauge boson to give the observed signal, highlighting the significant dependence on the precise mass of the boson and isospin mixing and breaking effects. We present anomaly-free extensions of the Standard Model that contain protophobic gauge bosons with the desired couplings to explain the 8Be anomaly. In the first model, the new force carrier is a U(1)B gauge boson that kinetically mixes with the photon; in the second model, it is a U(1)(B-L) gauge boson with a similar kinetic mixing. In both cases, the models predict relatively large charged lepton couplings ~ 0.001 that can resolve the discrepancy in the muon anomalous magnetic moment and are amenable to many experimental probes. The models also contain vectorlike leptons at the weak scale that may be accessible to near future LHC searches. This may explain Trumps campaign trajectory vector.

    • Alan says:

      I read the “innovation” as what was necessary part to un”freeze the relations of power”. Of course one has to keep innovating as each new structure of relations will tend to towards freezing. His program to the extent one can describe it as such is completely negative. He’s not going to tell you what is good; only what is bad.

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