Foucault News

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

‘Together with war [the death penalty] was for a long time the other form of the right of the sword; it constituted the reply of the sovereign to those who attacked his will, his law, or his person… As soon as power gave itself the function of administering life, its reason for being and the logic of its exercise – and not the awakening of humanitarian feelings – made it more difficult to apply the death penalty. How could power exercise its highest prerogatives by putting people to death, when its main role was to ensure, sustain and multiply life, to put this life in order? For such a power, execution was at the same time a limit, a scandal, and a contradiction. Hence capital punishment could not be maintained except by invoking less the enormity of the crime itself than the monstrosity of the criminal, his incorrigibility, and the safeguard of society. One had the right to kill those who represented a kind of biological danger to others.’

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, Harmondsworth: 1990, pp. 137-8.

4 thoughts on “Foucault quote: The death penalty

  1. Yes, I know. And the police are the mercenaries of power…..

  2. jsuter123 says:

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    1. Clare O'Farrell says:

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