A Critique of Political Reason – Foucault’s Analysis of Modern Governmentality
(Short Summary)


The main thesis of the book is that there is a major transformation in the problematics of power in the work of the French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault which is rarely taken into account. In the centre of this »theoretical displacement« (Foucault) is the notion of government, that is mainly developed in the – still unpublished – 1978 and 1979 lessons at the Collège de France. I try to reconstruct this problematics of government by presenting material which is until now only available on audio tapes in the Foucault archive in Paris and which will appear here for the first time. These lessons are essential to understand Foucaults change of the project of the History of Sexuality and his later interest in pre-Christian forms of subjectivity. It is also essential to make sense of his later differentiation between power and domination and the question of bio-politics. The book is structured as follows:
In the first part („The Microphysics of Power“) I review the analytics of power Foucault uses until Discipline and Punish. I present its theoretical advantages with regard to traditional approaches of power (the so-called juridical model of power). Nevertheless there are two central problems of this conception of power (the war-model): the »Nietzschean hypothesis« is equally reductive to problems of subjectivity and to the role of the state in power relations. This is due to the fact that Foucault tends to identify power with discipline.
In the second part („The Governmentality“) I show how Foucault significantly changes his conception of power: the importance of discipline is relativated with respect to macropolitical phenomenons (bio-politics); the war-model, that he prefered and opposed to the juridical model, is questioned and finally critized for being reductive. This is the point where the notion of government appears. Foucault uses this term to solve both problems that are insuffiently treated in the »microphysics of power«: government takes up the question of the government of the self (the problem of the subject) and articulates at the same time the problem of the government of the others (the problem of politics and the state). Foucault „discovers“ a new dimension of power: Government does not operate as „right“ or „war“, it works foremost as »conduct of conducts«. In the chapters of the second part I present Foucault’s lessons of 1978 and 1979 and indicate how this work on government or governmentality is taken up by some disciples and co-workers of Foucault (Donzelot, Castel, Ewald, Procacci, Defert, etc.). This perspective of politics as government is especially useful to analyse the ongoing transformations of the welfare state that are linked to the appearence of new „neoliberal“ forms of subjectivity.
While I deal with the »genealogy of the modern state« in the second part, I concentrate on the »genealogy of the modern subject« in the third part of my work („Politics and Ethics“). I try to show that Foucault’s interest in subjectivity and ethics in his later work does not signify that he breaks with his analytics of power. In the very contrary: government is the notion that links the ways subjects conduct themselves („ethics“) with forms of power and domination. The History of Sexuality that Foucault undertakes makes it possible to analyse »politics as ethics«. In the last chapters I point out how this historical reconstruction of a „true subjectivity“ in his last books is linked with an analysis of the political role truth plays in our society. The final chapter is dedicated to the question: what is the form of critique Foucault advocates in his work? On the ground of the presented material I conclude that Foucault’s conception of power is neither relativistic nor universalitic, but refrains instead of taking up a position on a pre-established political-epistemological »chessboard« (Foucault) in order to show that it is exactly the question of truth (and the claim of a true critique uncovering the good) with is at stake in political analysis and critique.