Annotation: Foucault, Michel. (1997). Society Must Be Defended.

Foucault, Michel. (1997). Society Must Be Defended. New York: Picador. (Chapter 11)

Foucault demonstrates that “the theme of race does not disappear,” but that “it becomes part of something very different, namely State racism” (239). Foucault proceeds to illustrate the transformation of the power of the sovereign by looking at the “level of mechanisms, techniques and technologies of power” over the centuries (241). In the 17th century, the people that constitute a “sovereign” enter into a social contract “because they are forced to by some threat or by need,” and thus needed “to protect their lives” (241). In the 17th and 18th centuries also emerged “the technologies of power that essentially centered on the…individual body… (and that) included all devices that were used to ensure the spatial distribution of individual bodies… and the organization, around those individuals…” — for example, the “disciplinary technology of labor” (242). In the second half of the 18th century, a new nondisciplinary technology that was “applied not to man-as-body but to the living man” emerged (242). From the first seizure of power over the body, followed the “massifying” of the body of “man as species”(243). This biopolitics/biopower is a set of processes that include the regulation of the births-deaths ratio, the rate of reproduction and the fertility of the population, etc (243). Biopolitics deals with the population “as political problem, as a problem that is at once scientific and political, as a biological problem and as power’s problem” (245). With the emergence of “death” as a systemic risk to productivity and the state’s resources, came the introduction of “more subtle, more rational mechanisms,” such as life and health insurance, individual and collective savings, safety measures, etc (244) – mechanisms which are “designed to maximize and extract forces” (246). The sovereign’s old right – “to take life or let live” – was replaced and transformed in the 19th century by the power to “make” live and “let” die (241). Foucault argues that there is now an emergence of the “power of regularization” (247) — the “regularization of life” or the technologies which predict or modify the “series of random events that can occur in a living mass” (249). In contrast to disciplinary technology, this new technology “aims to establish a sort of homeostasis, not by training individuals, but by achieving an overall equilibrium that protects the security of the whole from internal dangers” (249). The sovereign’s exercise of power operates in an unbalanced way such that it favors the right to death over the right to let live. This has certain implications on society: 1) the fragmenting of the population (by race); 2) closer relationship between war and races, such that “In order to let live, you must destroy your enemies” (255). “Killing” does not mean murder, but “exposing someone to death, increasing the risk of death for some people… political death, expulsion, rejection” (256). Modern racism is thus bound to the “technique of power, with the technology of power” wherein the State “is obliged to use race, the elimination of races and the purification of the race, to exercise its sovereign power” (258).


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