Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Korvela, P.-E. Sources of governmentality: Two notes on Foucault’s lecture, History of the Human Sciences, Volume 25, Issue 4, October 2012, Pages 73-89

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The article scrutinizes Michel Foucault’s interpretation of Machiavelli in his famous lecture on governmentality. Foucault is slightly misguided in his search for the origins of governmentality, the article asserts. Foucault gives credit for the development of what he calls a new art of government to anti-Machiavellian treatises, but also follows those treatises in their distorted interpretation of Machiavelli. Consequently, Foucault’s analysis gets confused and regards as novel those arguments and developments that were essentially of ancient pedigree compared with Machiavelli’s ideas. The article discusses especially two points in Foucault’s interpretation of Machiavelli: Foucault’s insistence on the singularity of the prince in Machiavelli and the importance of territory to Machiavelli. In both of these points Foucault is beside the mark. Foucault’s interpretation inverts the development of an art of government and regards as new those ideas that were fundamentally reactionary vis-à-vis Machiavelli’s ideas. The article suggests that a more viable lead in searching for an art of government might be found from Machiavelli’s writings and the republican experience of the late medieval Italian city-states rather than from the birth of administrative monarchies of the 16th and 17th centuries. Therefore, the article concludes that Foucault is somewhat misled in contextualizing the birth of governmentality, a view which also has some wider implications for the whole framework of governmentality Foucault is trying to develop.

Author keywords
art of government; governmentality; Michel Foucault; Niccolò Machiavelli; territory

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