Planning for Rancière’s Equality and Anarchism

  1. The topic and the question setting of the work 

The object of my study is Rancière’s political theory and his concept of equality and I want to see how (dis)similar it is from the anarchist’s equality. So, in order to understand it better, I will analyse equality’s relationship with liberty or freedom in each case: first, how they are broadly understood; then, how Rancière understands them and, finally, how anarchists use them.

However, I do not want my paper to be only academic. Of course it is an academic paper but it attempts to go beyond academicist discussions whether Rancière is anarchist or in which sense in that case. With this paper I want to use Rancière’s concepts to describe or understand some phenomena of the contemporary world and society. Therefore, I will use practical examples to illustrate his ideas, i.e. whether the referendum about the rights of the Russian population in Latvia is political or not according to him.

On this account, in the end of the paper I will have an especial chapter where I will attempt to use Rancière’s concept to identify and understand some phenomena from our contemporary society. Besides, “the experiment” will be with a group who label themselves as anarchist —anonymous— and I will try to prove that Rancière’s ideas match when it comes to understanding and defending them as political subjects.

In the last term, the question that is laying through all my paper is “why rancière” and what we can do with him — his ideas. In my opinion, Rancière’s importance stems from his radicalism concerning the pillars of liberalism, which can be identified as “liberté, egalité et fraternité”. He works in the first two concept, especially equality, and he gives it a twist that makes shake liberalism itself.

As I mentioned before, I do not want to get lost in philosophical arguments that at some point loose the connection with the real world. In this times where there is so much in debate in the political area and with the revolutionary (or resistance) movements around the world, I see necessary to bring philosophy back to the discussion about facts and events and to stand in a position to defend (or criticise) them. And that will be my contribution: to bring back Rancière’s equality and the way he understands politics in order to defend a worldwide movement that the authorities, the police (in Rancière’s terms), criminalise and call them terrorist.

2. Methodological issues: the philosophical approach of the work

My method will be to read Rancière’s main works and some secondary sources, especially regarding the debate whether he is anarchist or not. I am planning to explain with my own words as much as possible but it will be necessary to quote some of the passages where Rancière puts his ideas in an unsurpassable way. I will attempt to reduce the quotations of the secondary sources and explain them in my own way instead of that.

Since Rancière’s style can be interpreted as circular, I am aware of the necessity of repeating the same ideas time and again with different words. He’s thought is not linear in the sense of having some axioms and reaching a conclusion out of them, but on the contrary, everything is linked with everything (as a systemic thought) and in the beginning it is hard to grasp the meaning. However, the more we understand the concepts, the easier becomes to understand the relationship between them and vice-versa.

Concerning anarchism, I will read secondary sources and try to grasp the essence of the anarchist thoughts. Then, I will compare the two thinkings and see how much Rancière fits in anarchism and in which way.

In my last chapter I will first give arguments proving that Anonymous is anarchist and then I will use Rancière’s concept to understand and defend their cause.

  3. The central goals of the work

My central goal is to do “politics” in both senses of the term: in the normal one and Rancière’s way.

 According to the French author politics is the interruption of the given order, in the sense of the division of the perceptible: what we see, say and think. So, a political act is what changes our perception, what breaks it and brings the invisible to the sphere of visibility, what was noise to a speech with a meaning regarding justice and what was not unthinkable to the area of plausible. In this sense, I want to alter the partition of the sensible of the reader, not only with theoretical arguments, but also with practical examples.

In doing this, I will also attempt to politics in the normal sense. By identifying Anonymous as an anarchist group who acts as political subject, demos, I am defending them from institutional attack that try to criminalise them. In short, Rancière’s thinking tries to give a way out to any close system by means of the breaking it through political actions. That is, in my opinion, what the group Anonymous is doing and that is why they are so important.

Going back to one of the first questions of my paper, concerning Rancière’s anarchism, the conclusion I am expecting is that he is anarchist stricto sensu as himself puts it (Bowman and Stamp, p.238). What makes him anarchist is the denial of any arkhè as a foundation of the social. As consequence, there is no principle for the ruler to exercise the power, there is no legitimation to command over others.

However, the way to understand the relationship between equality and liberty will differ, since for Rancière first comes equality and hence liberty, but for the anarchists is the other way around.

Since it is hermeneutics, the conclusion will be open to debate, according to other author’s understanding.

 4. Contents of the work

Introduction: (5 pages)

-Why Rancière.

-The importance of his political thoughts.

-Characteristics of his writing: circular and everything is related to everything.


-1st Chapter: Rancière and Equality

-1.1. Rancière’s political thoughts: an overview. (12 pages)

-1.2. Equality is prior to Liberty (8 pages)

-2nd Chapter: Anarchism and Equality

-2.1. Anarchism: the most important characteristics. (12 pages)

-2.2. Liberty is prior to Equality (8 pages)

-3rd Chapter: Is Rancière anarchist? How much or in which sense? (10 pages)

-4th Chapter: Instrumentalizing Rancière’s concepts: can we use them to perceive/explain real events in another way?

4.1. A practical case (5 pages)

Conclusions (5 pages)


5. Listing the central sources of the work and validating their choice 

Rancière’s works: 

Disagreement (1994)

Dissensus (2010)

Hatred of Democracy (2007)

On the shores of Politics (1995)

The Emancipated Spectator (2009)

The Ignorant Schoolmaster (1991)

About Rancière: 

Reading Rancière (2011)

Jacques Rancière. History, Politics, Aesthetics. (2011)

The Political Thought of Jacques Rancière (2008).


Anarchism and Moral Philosophy (2010)

Introduction to Anarchism (2007)

Nomos and Narrative (1983)

About Anonymous: internet sources


The plan of Gunnar Júlíus Guðmundsson

Gunnar Julius Guðmundsson – Thesis plan

In my thesis I am looking into if expressivism can accommodate compositional semantics.  I do this with the hope of fixing issues with the expressive meaning of complex sentences known as the Frege-Geach problem.

Expressivism in ethics is the commitment to the following two claims. 1. The meaning of normative language is of different type than the meaning of non-normative language 2. The meaning of normative language is to be explained by what mental states the speaker is expressing when using normative language.

Expressivism falls under the family of non-descriptivism which is the more general theory that the meaning of normative sentence is not to be explained with what the sentence is about, but rather by what the speaker is doing when using it. The whole family of non-descriptivism is besieged by a problem known as the Frege-Geach problem. The Frege-Geach problem reveals how non-descriptivist’s treatment of meaning runs into problem with explaining meaning of sentences where normativity appears in complex contexts.

In (an over simplistic) but instructive way the problem (for expressivism) may be formulated thus

It is easy to assign a mental state to simple normative sentences as:

E1 It is wrong to torture cats

E2 it is wrong to torture this cat

A simplistic expressivist account might be that the speaker is expressing g a state of mind of disapproval of cat torturing in E1 and E2. But what about in the following complex sentence?

C1 Ii „it is wrong to torture cats“then „it is wrong to torture this cat“

Whatever mental state the speaker has in mind when he utters C1 it is not simply a „disapproval of cat torturing, “note that the expressivist cannot assign a completely new mental state to C1 that is not a composite of E1 and E2 in light of the granted validity of modus ponens (E1, if E1 then E2, ergo E2). If the original meaning given to E1 or E2 is changed too much in C1 then the argument becomes invalid (the fallacy of equation).

In my paper I will attempt to solve the Frege-Geach problem by exploring ways for how expressivism can meet what is called the compositional restraint on meaning. The compositional restraint states that any successful semantic theory must explain how the parts of a sentence contribute to its overall meaning. This constraint holds because we can, with finite words, create almost infinity of immediately understandable sentences and in the same way understand sentences we have never seen before.

Geach’s  original formulation of the problem and Schroeder´s instructive commentary:

Geach, Peter (1958) ´´Imperative and Deontic logic´ Analysis 13:49-56

–        (1960) ´Ascirptivism´ Philosophical review 09:22-225

–        (1965) ´´Assertions´ philosophical review 74:449-65

Schroeder, Mark (2010) Noncognitivism in Ethics NY: Routeledge, chapters 3, 6, 7

–        (2008) ´What is the Frege-Geach problem´ philosophy compass  3:703-720


Thesis Outline


1 Introduction

2 Methodological Framework

2.1 A formulation of the required components for the development and justification of a social theory:  social theory – psychology – ontology.

These three areas of explanation are understood as being necessarily theoretically linked. That is, a given social theory has to rely on a psychological portrait of individuals if it is to be seen as being credible in its prescriptions. Any social theory has to address normative concerns and to do so without a psychological portrait is to fail to both explain and understand ones own subject matter. A social theory cannot be advanced in abstraction from those to whom it would apply, it must be credible in its prescriptions where credible is understood to mean able to justify its particular representation of individuals.

Next, a psychological portrait cannot be advanced without giving further justification in relation to the framework out of which it operates, namely, the ontological dimension of personhood. This is merely to ask the question why does a particular psychology obtain at all, and is generally answered (by those theorists we will be studying) through descriptions of human nature, or, of a particular formulation of subjectivity or selfhood. 

This tri-part formulation is of course not meant to be an exhaustive categorisation of what constitutes a social theory. The judiciary, education, economics and so forth would be examples of how we might want to address the question of building such a theory, rather, the point being made here is that all of the above would also need to be theoretically justified according to the formulation outlined in this section. That is, any theory of economics, education or the judiciary would still have to fulfil the criteria I have proposed because to not do so leads to an explanatory failure which undermines the theoretical credibility of any prescriptive or normative claim.

The three philosophers we will be investigating, then, need to demonstrate two forms of argumentation. The first is to satisfy logical demands when arguing for a social theory from a conception of human nature, i.e. does the argument follow through from point a to point b. Secondly, is their conception of human nature credible and sufficiently explicated. 

2.2 The methodological criteria for assessing and categorising claims about human nature and/or the self.

Having advanced the idea that the psychological and ontological dimensions of human existence need to be included within any given social theory this project turns to the manner in which such questions have been pursued in the theories of Rousseau, Hobbes and Marx. The methodological framework that will be utilised to categorise and assess these claims is one which situates the various components of human nature and/or the self as being either necessary or contingent.

The reason for this methodological categorisation is that human psychology is usually understood as arising out of a particular set of conditions, we normally label these conditions the self or human nature, and the various theoretical descriptions of these conditions advanced by Rousseau, Hobbes and Marx are understood by them as existing either as fixed, malleable, somewhere in between or as a mix of the two. Unsurprisingly, very different social theories arise according to where different components fall on this spectrum and therefore this method both clarifies a complex set of theoretical positions and provides an informative bridge which allows us to understand how their respective social theories are justified by specific ideas about human nature.

3 Hobbes

3.1 Overview of Hobbes’s theory of human nature.

Hobbes was a materialist and a psychological determinist. He was also a naturalist arguing that everything could be understood as ‘matter in motion’, accordingly he denied the existence of an immaterial soul. Interestingly he argued for a number of parallels between animals and humans, and his theory of behaviour was one of them. Hobbes took the motivation of self-preservation as underlying all human action and ultimately his theory of human nature is a product of this key point.  

3.2 Self-preservation and the state of nature.

Hobbes argued that humans are ultimately subject to a psychological compulsion towards self-preservation culminating in a logic of pre-emptive violence against others when in a social arena of lawlessness and competition for goods, this he called the ‘state of nature’. 

3.3 Hobbes’s determinism, the role of education, and social change.

This section seeks to examine and explicate the element of plasticity that Hobbes allows for in relation to development and human nature.

3.4 Concluding analysis of the links between Hobbes’s conception of human nature and his social theory.

Taking the position that Hobbes’s proposal of the state of nature is not a historical narrative but rather a cautionary tale justifying the imposition of state authority, we find that, in turn, the credibility of the state of nature rests upon a particular theory of human nature. The psychological determinism that Hobbes argues for gives rise to the logic of the pre-emptive attack which in turn gives rise to the necessity for a sovereign power functioning as a universal deterrent against violence and lawlessness. A clear line can be demonstrated from the social theory to a particular psychological portrait which in turn arises out of a description of the overall condition of individuals.

4 Rousseau

4.1 Overview of Rousseau’s theory of human nature.

Developmental, with change driven through changing social circumstances; amour de soi and amour propre; social identity and the self.

4.2 Subjectivity in the state of nature.

Humans’ psychological and epistemological faculties and tendencies are shaped by the situations surrounding them. For Rousseau, individuals in the state of nature were proto-humans lacking some of the chief characteristics which we would associate with being human. For example he argues that they have no capacity for forward planning, implying the absence of the sort of temporal sophistication that we take for granted in ourselves. A key claim by Rousseau is that individuals are herein characterised by amour de soi, a desire for self-preservation which, however, does not exclude a basic sense of pity in regards to the suffering of others. 

4.3 Subjectivity in the nascent society and the rise of amour propre.

When capacities such as foresight emerge the basis for society emerges alongside them because of the impulse to live in fixed dwellings. Rousseau, like Locke before him, argued that property was the basis for society. With the rise of society comes the transformation of amour de soi into amour propre, and introduces the role of the social identity in Rousseau’s conception of human nature and human behaviour. The only way, Rousseau argues, to substantiate a social role and its concomitant identity is through the eyes of those individuals within that society. Accordingly, individuals were now tied to one another on the basis that the craving for the approbation of one’s social group was a necessary component for the maintenance of one’s identity. In this way, then, a new form of subjectivity is born, composed of a social identity and new psychological drives and needs. Thus, a fundamental lack of secure psychological territory is posited by Rousseau as the very basis for social identity.

4.4 Subjectivity in civil society and in ‘society as it is’.

We now see Rousseau asserting the role of amour propre in the ordering of a newly bourgeoning civil society founded upon a social contract. In this case, however, the social contract – as a manifestation of amour propre – is tailored to favour the rich in order that they can maintain their status and thus secure the psychological need for the esteem of those around them. In this phase we see the role of unchecked amour propre coming to the full, dominating individuals and propelling the status quo in relation to social mores, institutionalised inequality and political failure. 

4.6 Society as it should be – the social theory.

To avoid political failure, an illegitimate social contract, and the ongoing detraction that is amour propre, Rousseau in his prescriptive social theory argues for a series of positions all aimed at mitigating and channelling the otherwise unavoidable psychological conditioning and impulse of amour propre. For Rousseau amour propre is the ultimate detraction from the possibility of political success as such he is in need of a solution to this critical problem. His answer is to take the need for esteem that the individual demonstrates and marry it to the self-image of the country or state as a whole, thus, patriotism transforms amour propre in a social glue because individuals live their lives for the good of their country and so satisfy their need for approbation and at the same time cooperate with their fellow citizens.  

4.7 Concluding analysis of the central points regarding the use of human nature as a justification for the social theory.

Rousseau explicitly frames his social theory as an answer to a particular problem of human nature – amour propre. Amour propre, however, is the desire for the preservation of the social identity, unlike in Hobbes where the preservation of the individual qua being is the dominant motivating factor. According to our criteria of successful argumentation Rousseau must justify his reliance on the role of amour propre if his social theory is to be logically consistent, and, he must demonstrate the credibility of his account. For example, how thoroughly does he characterise the link between amour propre and the social identity? Positing a fundamental insecurity at the very basis for identity results in a set of very specific set of psychological conditions, does Rousseau follow through on his ontology of the self and provide a convincing depiction of these implications?

5 Marx

5.1 Overview of Marx’s conception of human nature.

An analysis of the extent to which Marx’s conception of human nature consisted in historically determined social identities and their concomitant behaviours, and, that of a biologically determined and thus fixed set of motivating conditions. Alienation and the promise of reconciliation in the Communist state; their relationship to a concept of human nature.

5.2 An analysis of plasticity as the precondition for the obtaining of a historically contingent self.

Given Marx’s reliance on the historical nature of the self and behaviour it has been claimed that it follows that in distinction to many ‘classical’ philosophers Marx rejected any form of universalist or essentialist thinking when it came to human nature. In so doing he described individuals as social beings whose natures contingently develop over time according to social circumstance. The question that looms here is to what extent can the conditions for such plasticity themselves be understood as constituting a human nature? Does it make sense to talk about an absence of a human nature at all? If, for example, plasticity is a necessary condition for a historically conditioned self, is it right to understand such plasticity in negative terms as a lack, or rather, would such plasticity also necessarily provide its own determining characteristics?

5.3 Concluding analysis of Marx’s theory of human nature.

Is Marx’s theory of human nature robust, i.e. is it answering the questions it throws up? Is the theory internally, logically, coherent, i.e. does its conclusion follow from its premises, especially in relation to the justifications deployed for the social theory? In regards to 2.2 where does this theory fall?

6 Human Nature and Social Theories

6.1 Describing the shared characteristics of human nature as construed by Hobbes, Rousseau and Marx; the components usually considered the most salient when discussing human nature.

Free will; the self; self-interest; emotions, impulses; animal nature; sociability; rationality; developmental; fixed; teleological; unified; compartmentalised; essentialist; non-essentialist.

6.2 What isn’t human nature. A discussion of which aspects of human beings constitutes their ‘natures’ and that which doesn’t.

What it is that is meant by the term human nature when it is deployed by Hobbes, Rousseau and Marx? The purpose of this is to ascertain whether the term itself is used consistently, in reference to two points. The first is simply a philosophical analysis of consistency in relation to the manner in which a term such as ‘human nature’ is used and misused theoretically. Examples of misuse are when it is deployed to contradictory ends without justifying such contradiction, and, when it is conflated with other aspects of human existence such as those which are in fact outside of the scope of what can be considered human nature. Secondly, an argument will be put forth that because of the social impact occurring as a result of theories of human nature, the manner in which such a term is utilised is in fact a politically meaningful one. This second point is argued in relation to the overall point of the thesis, namely, that theories of human nature have and continue to have political relevance and currency.

7 The real world impact of the theoretical

7.1 Rousseau, Hobbes and Marx: social policies and human nature.

This section seeks to highlight the exact manner in which elements of a theoretically advanced human nature are utilised to advance specific social policies, beginning with a look at Hobbes, Rousseau and Marx. For example, Hobbes’ use of the Sovereign as a protection against the war of all against all and as a justification for the political power of the state; Rousseau’s arguments for the distribution of wealth, patriotism, and education as an answer to amour propre; Marx and the implications of a need within the individual for a relationship to the product of their labour and an envisioned Communist society.

7.2 Modern examples of social theories and human nature.

Game theory; rational choice theory; Friedman, Keynes, and the political landscape they influenced.

7.3 An argument for the necessary link between social theories and conceptions of human nature.

8 Conclusion.  

Passage to biopolitical governance


There are certain theoretical difficulties with trying to form a theory of biopower or biopolitics according to Foucault’s work. This is first due to his continuous claims of not working with any overall theory of power, and second, due to his studies during the seventies which may be roughly divided into two sections: the analysis of disciplinary power would then occupy the first half of the decade until the lectures Society Must Be Defended held in 1976 and the publication of History of Sexuality vol. 1 later in that same year in which Foucault moves towards an analysis of power that has the living multitude or population as its target i.e. biopolitics. When analysing biopolitics Foucault does not utilize words biopower or biopolitics very often but refers instead to e.g. governmentality, techniques of power or disciplinary practices. In spite of this one is able to define the field or phenomena of biopolitics but it needs rigorous work in putting pieces together from the fragments that cross from history to present, from liberalism to totalitarianism. At this point of my thesis this is my aim: to be honest with Foucault’s ideas and to give a coherent analysis of his views on biopolitics. As Fontana and Bertani point out in their commentary on Society Must Be Defended -lectures the disciplinary power targeted on modifying individuals and biopower aimed at population are sometimes seen as different theories of power in Foucault’s thought (2003, 279). They do not agree with this nor do I. Thus I will be arguing exactly the opposite: that these two form different poles of the same power/knowledge apparatus that is at work in modern capitalist societies. Here I will begin with an analysis of Foucault’s genealogical work of those shifts in history that pave the way towards biopolitical forms of power.

In his Collegé de France lecture series Security, Territory, Population held in 1978 Foucault tries to give a rough account of those developments in ideas as well as in practices that led towards a specific type of governance that he labelled as biopolitical. I will first briefly summarize Foucault’s view on the historical changes that took place roughly from the 16th century to the late 18th century. His argument can be divided into three distinctive sections located in particular historical situations     with their own peculiar thought: the Middle Ages, approximately seventeenth century and, lastly, eighteenth century. Ideas crucial in this genealogy of the modern state or governance are, above all, those of the sovereign,the state and the art of governing and how these are to be managed in order to create a functional whole from the people, natural resources and the circulation of things and goods within the territory that is governed.


Let us begin with a definition of what Foucault means with the word “governmentality”: first, it is “the ensemble formed by institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, calculations, and tactics that allow the exercise of this very specific, albeit very complex, power that has the population as its target, political economy as its major form of knowledge, an apparatuses of security as its essential technical instrument.” (ibid., 108), second, it is the tendency in the West to constitute a type of power that is called “ the government” above all other kinds of powers and which has led to the development of governmental apparatuses and knowledges linked to them, and finally, governmentality is the result of the process during which the state of Middle Ages that was characterized in terms of justice became “the administrative state in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and was gradually ‘governmentalized’” (ibid.). This governmentality is occupied with constructing an art of government which in different conditions takes different forms. I shall proceed with explicating the shift from medieval ideas of power towards the state oriented thinking of raison d’État.

What is remarkable according to Foucault (ibid., 234-237) is that during the 16th century there is a identifiable break between the medieval characterization of sovereignty or king and a new emerging political order. Where the good governance of the former was characterized by its resemblance with God and nature, supporting vitalism of the societal organism and Christian pastorality i.e. guidance towards the eternal bliss, the latter was occupied with the new problematization of “res publica, the public domain or state (la chose publique).” (ibid., 236), that is, the sovereign is expected to do more than just exercise his sovereignty but this type of governance is no more reducible to analogies such as God or a shepherd. Hence, what was lacked was a definition of the art of government. In the middle of this political debate is of course Machiavelli and his Prince, although, according to Foucault, what he precisely lacks is any reference to art of government – his problem was simply how the prince could preserve his principality over what he was governing, territory or people, not that of preserving the state itself which is the raison d’être of raison d’État (ibid., 243).

Foucault dates the crucial discussions relating to raison d’État emerging between years 1580-1660 (ibid., 236) and names these revolutionaries theorizing against the old system and for the new raison d’État  politiques (ibid., 242). What the politiques stand for is the state and the state only; they try to construct a state rationality that does not refer to anything outside itself, not God nor nature, it is rationality for itself. In what this raison d’État consists then? First of all, it is the essence of the state, it is the knowledge of the state and knowledge in order to preserve it. In this sense it is extremely conservative: once the state has been established that will be the status quo that raison d’État fights for. On the other hand, raison d’État does not pose questions of origin and legitimacy, it operates only in the world of government and the state that it present as given. Usually it functions within general laws but when necessary it will abandon them for sake of the state i.e. anything that is needed in order to preserve the state will be done (ibid., 255-260).This is due to the notion of necessity: whereas the old  government was concerned with laws raison d’État only uses them as instruments for the sake of the state and thus, the necessity of preserving state goes beyond any positive law (ibid., 262-263).

Foucault then goes on arguing that one of the new aspects within theorizing about this type of governmentality named raison d’État was the question of population and the new problematic relating to it (ibid., 267). An example of this can be seen through a comparison of Machiavelli and Francis Bacon: the former is only concerned of the rivals of the prince, that is, the other nobles, but for the latter it is the common people who form the great danger for those in power. Foucault claims that for Bacon the nobles can be either bought or executed but the real threat is poverty and discontent of the people which may lead to sedition. This problematic of the common people is linked to wider change in thought, namely, to the rise of mercantilism. In order to preserve and build a strong state one must govern people, first, according to the production and circulation of goods and things, in other words, according to economic calculations and, second, one must take the opinion of those who are governed into account. Thus, “the two major elements of reality that government will have to handle are economy and opinion.” (ibid., 272).

According to Foucault the mercantilist way of thinking from which raison d’État also sprang is crucial vis-à-vis biopolitics since there was founded, at least implicitly, the problematic of population and those apparatuses through which population became to be governed as a living mass that is capable of producing whatever is needed within a framework that utilizes state the most. This implies that it is from the population one may draw manpower for agriculture and manufactures, become independent from imports and thus invest on gold and silver. On the other hand, growing population will also guarantee the economic competition within the state and, consequently, contribute to low wages and prices. But this system needs to be managed through political procedures, such as regulations, laws and disciplinary mechanisms. Above all, idleness, vagrancy and emigration must be prevented and goods for exports must be produced. Finally, birth rate must be promoted with creation of favourable conditions for reproduction through different manipulation of prices, taxes, nutrition etc..

What now becomes the most essential knowledge for the sovereign is no more expressible through terms of jurisprudence and law, but instead in terms of statistics – which is etymologically, according to Foucault, “knowledge of the state, of the forces and resources that characterize a state at a given moment.” (ibid., 274). This technical knowledge includes all the possible data of the resources in the state, as well natural as human, and the crucial question is of course how to put these two into work in the most profitable way. In this process raison d’État must act on people’s consciousness due to being able to affect on their way of acting, that is, constituting people as certain kind of political and economical subjects. According to Foucault what was needed then, in order to put population to work within the framework of raison d’État, was the constitution of the apparatus of police – and it must be emphasized that his argument is precisely that it was whereby the institution of  police that population became that reflexive prism which, through several changes from the 17th century to the middle of 18th century, was constituted as the centre of political and scientific knowledge (ibid., 274-278).

What is characteristicly modern in this new way of constructing the art of government is that it does not rely on any essential idea of good government which would guide the ways in which society must be constructed. Instead, what is now at stake is the management of forces of production and circulation that manifest in the competition between the states. Foucault claims that during the sixteenth century police is understood as a set of actions that are directed towards communities under public authority and on the other hand police also signifies the results of good government. This changes in the seventeenth century when police becomes a technical instrument for securing the management of forces in such a manner that the best possible growth is gained at the same time as the inner coherence and security within the state is maintained. Furthermore, police is a tool with which the balance of the growth and power of different states is secured. This type of art of government that manifests in administrative institutions, such as police as the most important, and bases its international relations upon a competition of the states is established with the Peace of Westphalia 1648 and is still visible in the Vienna treaty 1815. Thus, police has a double role in securing the best possible development of the state but also securing the international order. (Ibid., 311-315.)

Although, as I will explain in detail below, Foucault explicitly defines this police of seventeenth century as mercantilist and ideologically still operating within the framework of raison d’État and therefore not yet operating in the field of biopolitics and population in its totality (ibid., 315-317), he still claims in his History of Sexuality vol. 1 that “This bio-power was without question an indispensable element in the development of capitalism; the latter would not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of the population to economic processes. “ (1978, 140-141). Now, it seems to me that the police as it appears in the seventeenth century lays down the foundations for biopolitical procedures that will emerge during the next century.

The police will of course develop in different terms in different countries. Nevertheless, what police seem to share in Western-Europe at the time is its preoccupation with the occupation of people: when the old pre-modern regime of power was more concerned of the status, wealth, loyalty and virtue of the people this modern administrative power directs its gaze on the concrete doings of people. At first this police is above all an urban institution which utilizes statistics in order to constitute cities as effective and secure centres for commerce. This is done through five essential objects of concern: first, police must reflect the number of citizens vis-à-vis the resources and territory and the possibilities springing from this relation, second, people must be able to feed themselves so one need to think of agricultural policy, third, after the simple feeding comes the issues of health: police must ensure that the risk of contamination and disease is reduced to minimum and thus plan everything from butcheries and cemeteries to cases of epidemics of plague and smallpox for instance. Then fourth, after managing to secure a healthy mass of people police need to ensure that every able-bodied citizen works – and more precisely, that every profession that is needed by the state will be occupied. This is to be done through preventing idleness and regulating professions. Lastly, police must take care of circulation in the large sense: it must ensure that the infrastructure allows men and goods to flow, it must structure the regulations and laws which allow products to move but prevent skilled labour force of emigrating and suppress vagrancy. To summarize then, police governs flows of men and circulation of products and the universe relating to it, so simply society. (Foucault 2007, 323-327.)

Further in this thesis I will make a distinction between biopower and biopolitics and due to this I need to make a difference between the micro level of power which Foucault analyses in his book Discipline and Punish and the macro level power which is targeted on populations and which comes visible in governmentality. Here it suffice to say that I will argue that those procedures described in the paragraph above fall into the definition of biopower even in the Foucaultian sense – but only when identified within the framework of disciplinary techniques targeted to manipulate human life. Foucault does not call them biopolitical procedures in his lecture since (this is my interpretation) in his view one crucial aspect is missing, that is, reflective manipulation of human life that becomes possible only with the rise of human and natural sciences during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries..

When police was constituted in the seventeenth century as an administrative tool for the king or the sovereign it was “the direct governmentality of the sovereign qua sovereign.” (ibid., 339), a pure expression of raison d’État within a mercantilist thought, and due to this it appeared as “an institution of the market” (ibid., 335) and essentially urban. Nevertheless, these ideas linked to police changed drastically during the eighteenth century with the new ideas of the physiocrats and the économistes. This change is essentially linked with the rise of capitalism and growth of scientific technology. Anyway, the physiocrats and the économistes emphasized agriculture and rural areas in lieu of the city and production in stead of circulation. Further, old police regulation was seen useless since it was due to the natural laws of the market that would fix right prices for each product. What comes to population the ideology is no more to maximize it but to adjust it to fit into conditions at hand so that the demand and supply of labour force and thus salaries will have a balance. Lastly, free trade between the states was to be allowed and the individuals were to be allowed to compete with themselves in order to guarantee the best possible profit for every one – including the state. (Ibid., 342-348.)

In brief, during the eighteenth century along with the économistes there was first a new problematization of the relation of raison d’État and knowledge: a new scientific knowledge of society was needed in order to govern well but this knowledge was essentially external to raison d’État i.e. not knowledge of the government itself but, for example, calculations of relations between population and wealth on three axis, namely consumption, production and circulation, that  is, in other words, birth of political economy (ibid., 350-351). From the point of view of biopolitics, something of huge importance happens here: population becomes seen and studied in its naturalness. In other words, population is something that includes natural constants that can be known through scientific methods – and when known they are possible targets for manipulation. What this mean for governmentality is that it must deal or even work with the naturalness of population and it is precisely during this era that the police as described above breaks down: the positive creative-regulative role of police will be spread to different institutions and police will gain its negative present day meaning as an apparatus preventing and fighting against certain disorders.

According to Foucault “from the eighteenth century, these three movements –government, population, political economy–form a solid series that has certainly not been dismantled even today” (ibid., 108), and it is in Discipline and Punish and History of Sexuality vol. 1 that this problematic becomes clearly visible. Thus, I will next turn to actual analysis of biopower and biopolitics in these works.


Fontana, Alessandro and Bertani, Mauro (2003): “Situating the Lectures” in Society Must Be Defended. Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76. Trans. David Macey. Ed. Arnold I. Davidson. Picador, New York.

Foucault, Michel (1978): History of Sexuality vol.1. An Introduction. Trans. Hurley, Robert.Pantheon books, New York. (Originally published as La volonté de Savoir in 1976.)

–– (2007) Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-1978. Trans. Burchell, Graham. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.