Foucault News

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

Newman, S.
Power, Freedom and Obedience in Foucault and La Boétie: Voluntary Servitude as the Problem of Government Theory, Culture and Society, (2021).

DOI: 10.1177/02632764211024333
Open access

I investigate the contemporary problem of obedience through an exploration of Michel Foucault and Étienne de La Boétie, showing how the former drew on the latter’s concept of voluntary servitude as a way of thinking through the paradoxical relationship between power, freedom and subjectivity. My argument is that Foucault’s theory of government as the ‘conduct of conduct’ may be understood as a reflection on the question of voluntary servitude. My aim here is twofold. First, it is to show that obedience is an ethical and political problem just as relevant today as it was in La Boétie’s time. Secondly, it is to suggest that voluntary servitude should be interpreted in an emancipatory way, as a problematic that reveals the ontological primacy of freedom and the fragility and instability of power. ‘Voluntary inservitude’ is something that can be expressed in acts of civil disobedience, and alternate modes of ethical conduct and association. © The Author(s) 2021.

Author Keywords
Foucault; freedom; government; La Boétie; voluntary servitude

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