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'Notion of Government in the Later Foucault: Art of Living and Associations'

HAKODA Tetsu (Tetz) July, 12, 2010 Over MAUSS/Mauss: The Possibility of its Alternative Welcoming Professor Alain Caille
The 3rd Meeting Room, Suekawa Memorial Lecture Hall, Kinugasa Campus, Ritsumeikan University

last update:20100721

[Summary] In his final years of the 1980s, Michel Foucault set the notion of government at the center of his discussion. In this presentation, I will have a brief look at its development and related notions such as parrhesia and ethics, then clarify the meaning of the notion "art of living" to seek a possible common ground with modern inquiry on associations.

1. Government

According to Foucault in the 1980s, government is an act of conduct or leading oneself and others. This might sound too concise, but actually teaches us a lot. Foucault in the early 1970s used the notion to describe the specific character of controlling individuals, at least as a concept, in the western world after the Church was established. What is interesting here is the way he relates a religious activity of control to modern exercise of power in the early psychiatric institutions of 19th century. In these seemingly separated domains, Foucault sees the same scheme: direction of conscious, or activities by a director that guides lay persons or those incarcerated. Of course this insight is directly related to his popular theory of power. Foucault advanced his inquiry, however, into the notion of government beyond this point, to conceptualize it as the fundamental scheme of power relations between people. In the ancient world, the word government was not about the State but about things in general, where the activity of government meant control or navigate something. In fact, it was after the Christianity was institutionalized (we are talking only about the western world) that the activity of government had set human beings as its object. Here we meet a famous saying of Foucault: "Omnes et singulatim," wholly and individually, that summarizes the scheme of government: modeled by the relationship of the shepherd and his sheep ? the pastoral power. This suggests that if we read the history inversely, the government after the Christianity, which Foucault had talked a lot, is just one, though highly influential, version of government. This fact led Foucault to the ancient Greek and Roman world in order to see how the concept was developed. It is no surprise that his final definition of the notion of power is such concise: power is an action of someone over an action of the other(s) (cf. Foucault, ≪ sujet et pouvoir ≫, 1982.). In so defining, he subsumed the notion of power into that of government.

2. Government and counter-conduct

Under this perspective of government, Foucault put these related notions in one basket: govern, conduct, director, etc. (gouvernement / gouverner, conduite / conduire, directeur). This network of notions enable him to see phenomenon or episodes what we usually call "resistance" in a different angle, to interpret them into struggles of government, or conduct (conduite) v.s. counter-conduct (contre-conduite). His writings on Iran in 1978 and 1979 directly reflect this attempt of his even though Foucault didn't use the exact term there. Those governed by political power are not only subjects constructed as such (conducted by others), rather entities who exercise their own control onto themselves (conducted by themselves). French verb "se conduire" clearly represents this doubled act of conduct: the passivity and self-reflexivity at the same time. Foucault called this dynamics on the part of those governed as counter-conduct. Now we see why he gave the title of his last two years' lectures courses as "government of the self and others (gouvernement de soi et des autres)". The act of governing is exercised over everything without any limitation in size, number or quantity. For example, state as political entity or a subject exercises its power over the territory itself as well as the population.

3. Ethics and parrhesia

Replacing power with government, Foucault made a definite turn to ethics, or the problematic about "modes of being (manieres d'etre)". Contrary to its ordinary signification, the notion of ethics used here has no implication of universality. For Foucault, ethics is all about relationship of the subject (or the self) with the "truth". Here the ancient notion of parrhesia, both activity of telling the truth and its enunciator's incorporation of the truth, is introduced. The truth in parrhesia always exists outside those who learn: such as teaching by their teacher, the contents in the correspondence between the teacher and its disciple, or written texts. These are objects that should incorporate through practices (writing, memorizing, reciting, etc.) What is interesting is the fact that with these practices being integral parts of the care of the self (souci de soi), they are not of imperative but of recommendation for those who want to have a good life. This incorporation of the truth is an activity of government because, through this, the individual exerts their control over themselves. Certainly, such truth is often told by philosophers and seen a dogma or doctrine, but it is not metaphysical in our sense, but practical in a sense that it gives concrete advices on daily activities. But this type of truth can put the subject in a physically dangerous situation, for telling the truth, or activity of parrhesia requires its subject to pay the price for it - what is at task here is "Courage of the truth (courage de la vérité)" in Foucault's argument. Cynics are a typical example of it.

4. Art of living

The notion of "art of living (art de vivre)" is situated in this setting. It is seen as enigmatic, along with other related expressions such as "aesthetics of existence" or "making their own life an art work." Does Foucault promote a sort of individualism, turning back to the societal conditions? Certainly not. We should note here, according to Foucault, that the adjective "art" stands for "artisanal" not "artist." Thus, art of living is not a technique limited to a handful of elites, intellectuals or professionals, but open to everyone. Practical philosophy as we saw above is such technique that helps its learner make some change in them. This is a democratic technique through which each and everyone design their own life style (style de vie) in their own way. In other words, it is not the question to determine who we are but to invent what we will become of; we don't have to find a truth in our inner self to confess but to refer to a guiding thread or models that help to shape our own life style. Of course this requires us a lot; actually we should invest all the knowledge and resources we have because the activity is almost equal to living as such. In relation to the contemporary debate on associations, the individual is not a lonely consumer in the today's capitalist society. Shaping a life style is a practice both individual and collective at the same time because we meet others who share our interests or objectives and exchange resources to help each other by doing so. In the 1980s Foucault often referred to the notion of friendship (amitié) in the practice of philosophy and ascetic activities. We can't escape power relations in a Foucauldian sense because we are all subjects of government, however being such subjects also is based on our capacity of self-management that is not entirely exploited by the logic of capitalism. Talking about the notion of government in the 1980s, Foucault surely thought about experiments of democratic self-governance (autogestion) in Europe then. We can't estimate exactly how much his vision and theoretical perspective are connected with the contemporary project of association, but in the notions of government and art of living, there might be possibility of dialogue with this project.


Michel Foucault, Dits et écrits, IV, Gallimard, 1994.
Michel Foucault, L'Herméneutique du sujet, Gallimard, 2001.
Michel Foucault, Sécurité, territoire, population, Gallimard, 2004.
Michel Foucault, Le gouvernement de soi et des autres, Gallimard, 2008.
Michel Foucault, Le courage de la vérité, Gallimard, 2009.

箱田徹(立命館大学生存学研究センター ポストドクトラルフェロー)

【要旨】1980年代のフーコーは思索の中心概念を「統治」(gouvernement)に定めた。本発表では、この概念の展開と、ならびにパレーシア(真理を述べること)、倫理という関連概念とのかかわりについて触れた後、「生の技法」(arts de vivre)の概念の意味合いを明らかにしつつ、アソシアシオンに関する今日の議論との交点について触れたい。

*作成:HAKODA Tetsu
UP: 20100721
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