Philipp Sarasin, Understanding the Coronavirus Pandemic with Foucault?, Foucault Blog, March 31, 2020
It looks like a biopolitical dream: governments, advised by physicians, impose pandemic dictatorship on entire populations. Getting rid of all democratic obstacles under the pretext of “health,” even “survival,” they are finally able to govern the population as they have, more or less openly, always done in modernity: as pure “biomass,” as “bare life” to be exploited. It is no coincidence that such notions are increasingly invoked by high theoreticians like Giorgio Agamben (who introduced the concept of “bare life” in contemporary political theory), but also here and there on the web in the works of those critical critics who purport to explain what is happening with “Foucault” in their toolbox. The notions of “biopower” and “biopolitics” are too seductive, they appear as catchwords of the hour in whose bright light the truth of governing in pandemic times is revealed.
But the problem is that to assert this is particularly implausible given, for instance, the U.S. government’s spectacular failure in times of Covid-19—and it has very little, if at all, to do with Foucault and his thought. While Michel Foucault coined the concept of “biopolitics,” he not only dropped it fairly quickly but also developed three models of thought with regard to three infectious diseases, which help us better understand government in the face of a “pandemic” than the semantic cudgel that is “biopolitics.”