[I don't think Foucault anywhere wishes to 'escape' from the negative
view of power; power has its negative elements BUT NOT ONLY THOSE, it is
also productive. And it is in this context that I think 'pouvoir' is
more suggestive, in that it implies a dynamic process.]
Although I tend to agree with the above formulation in principle but there
is a difference of emphasis in my reformulation and that I think is a
crucial difference as far as Foucault?s conception of power is concerned.
I think two meanings of negative power should be noted here: power as
deduction [power as negation, power as deduction] and power as repression.
On the one hand Foucault emphasised the unique element of modern notion of
power (which in my opinion should be best understood as capitalist
power)that it is primarily productive and positive, negation and deduction
is secondary aspect of power in modern times. On the other hand Foucault
shows that in classical pre modern pre capitalist and medieval period power
primarily work as negation as deduction and it did not have productive
element as its defining character. Foucault pursues this transition fully in
his analysis of modern capitalist state.
On the other hand Foucault especially in the context of psychoanalysis and
sex liberation movements rejected the analysis of power which sees power as
primarily repressive force. The point of Foucault was not to reject the
existence of repression but rather to reject that mode in which this
repression is analyse. Foucault showed that modern capitalist system cannot
work if it was based solely or mainly on repression. It needs the concept of
power which can analyse repression and control in positive terms. [needless
to say these two aspects are interconnected and not entirely separate].
The originality of Foucault's analysis lies in his realisation that
capitalism manages freedom through freedom and not through repression. This
is the basic insight of the rejection of the so called ?repressive
hypothesis?. The crux of Foucault's insight is that though capitalism is
concerned both with the ?production and protection of wealth? [to use Stuart
Elden?s phrase] the production function is the main stay of capitalism and
protection function is normally performed through and by the production
function. True; constrains, repressions have their place in the capitalist
system especially in its earlier phases but it has been relatively easy for
the capitalist system to dispense with these limits.
?For a long time people imagined that the strictness of the sexual codes, in
the from that we know them, was indispensable to so called ?capitalist?
societies. Yet the lifting of the codes and the dislocation of prohibitions
have probably been carried out more easily than people thought they would
(which certainly seemed to indicate that their purpose was not what it was
believed to be); and the problem of an ethics as a form to be given to one?s
behaviour and life has arisen once more. In sum people were wrong when they
believed that all morality resided in prohibition and that the lifting of
these prohibitions in itself solved the question of ethics? (PPC: 262-263).
Prohibition may have been the mainstay of early capitalism when it first
flourished around monarchies and was anchored in the Protestant ethics of
which Foucault speaks in so memorable terms in Madness and Civilisation (pp.
56-57), but capitalism is an innovative force, and has left behind the
political order of monarchies and the ethical order of Protestantism. Power
in its modern post monarchist post Protestant phase does not work primarily
through prohibition; it functions by producing and liberating what it needs
?At the cross roads of body and soul, of health and morality, of education
and training, childern?s sex became both a target and an instrument of
power. A specific ?sexuality of children? was constituted-precautions,
dangerous, constantly in need of supervision.
This resulted in a sexual misery of childhood and adolescence from which our
own generations still have not recovered, but the objective was not to
forbid, but to use childhood sexuality, suddenly become important and
mysterious, as a network of power over children? (ibid:113-114).
Thus it is not a question of denying the existence of repression but of
denying prohibition and forbiddance as the primary mode of repression. Thus
operation of power in modern capitalism ?is not ensured by right but by
technique, not by law but by normalisation, not by punishment but by
control, methods that are employed on all levels and in forms that go beyond
the state and its apparatus? (HS: 89).
In the capitalist system ?interdiction, the refusal, the prohibition, far
from being essential forms of power, are only its limits, power in its
frustrated or extreme forms. The relations of power are, above all
productive" (PPC:118). Capitalism as ?a political ordering of life?
developed ?not through an enslavement of others but through an affirmation
of self? (HS: 123). Thus the evolution of capitalism consisted in ?the self
affirmation of one class rather than the enslavement of another: a defence,
a protection, a strengthening and exaltation that were eventually extended
to others ? at the cost of different transformations ? as a means of social
control and political subjugation? (ibid.) [here the role of social
democracy and welfarism is crucial for capitalist development].
The reason for the centrality of ?production? rather than ?protection? and
even ?protection? mainly through production is the fact that for its
continued development and sustenance capitalism needs the maximum
enhancement of the ?utility? of each and every member without any exclusion
otherwise its progress would be stymied. The meaning of governance in a
capitalist system is to govern in such a way that the ?utility? of each and
every member is maximised and converge towards the singularity of
accumulation for the sake of accumulation and that this system is protected
from any disruptions or distractions. This is government through
?affirmation? in contrast to government through ?enslavement?. Thus in a
system like this constraints, repression are to be used sparingly and
exceptionally and even when used they must be masked. In modern capitalist
societies ?power is tolerable only on the condition that it masks a
substantial part of itself. Its success is proportional to its ability to
hide its own mechanisms? (ibid: 86). Hence the conception of negative
liberty as absence of power: ?power as a pure limit set on freedom is, at
least in our society, the general form of its acceptability? (ibid.) i.e.
I think I will stop here.
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