Foucault News

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

Kobylin, I.
The invisible hand of history: Governmentality, the providential machine, and historical materialism
(2021) Logos (Russian Federation), 31 (4), pp. 247-265.

DOI: 10.22394/0869-5377-2021-4-247-263

The article is devoted to one aspect of the genealogy of Soviet governmentality. Michel Foucault, who elaborated the original theory of different types of govern-mentality, rejected the idea that socialism could arrive at its own practices of man-agement. From his point of view, real socialism ties into the already existing police and liberal versions of governmentality. The “police-administrative” aspect of politics in socialist countries is well known, but its liberal component is only beginning to be systematically studied. In the theoretical canon, a revolutionary project nevertheless comes close to a liberal one: the Marxist criticism of bourgeois political economy shared the same epistemes with it. Some interpreters assume that this com-monality also extends to concepts of history, that both Marxism and liberalism see economic rationality as a driving force in the historical process. Economic govern-mentality can be interpreted not only as a peculiar, historically determined disposi-tion of power but also as a principle —both ontological and epistemological — that governs history itself.

That interpretation was disputed by the most prominent Marxist philosophers. In particular, Walter Benjamin and Louis Althusser criticized social-democratic “econ-omism” and “progressism” as they rehabilitated the key concepts of sovereign pol-icy. “Intervention,” “state of exception,” “the exception becoming the rule” — all these concepts refer not to regulation by policing practices but precisely to the model of sovereign decision. Any such revival of sovereignty in liberation politics is certainly problematic, especially when both sovereignty and governmentality belong to the same “providential machine” of theological “oikonomia” as recent studies by Giorgio Agam-ben have made clear. The article points out the paradoxes in suspension of the “laws of history” by the sovereign using the example of the debate among Soviet historians (which was studied in depth by Andrey Yurganov) about the true nature of the Russian late medieval state. In conclusion, the author analyzes Antonio Negri’s concept of constituent power as a force that can suspend the operation of the providential machine. © 2021, Gaidar Institute Press. All rights reserved.

Author Keywords
Economy; Governmentality; Historical materialism; Providential machine; Sovereignty; State of exception

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