Foucault News

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

Di Pierro, M. (2022). Archaeology or interpretation: Michel Foucault and Claude Lefort. Constellations, 29, 434– 446.

On February 2, 1983, during his lecture at Collège de France, Michel Foucault criticizes the concept of the political (le politique). According to Foucault, the shift from politics (la politique) to the political masks “the specific problem and set of problems of politics, of dunasteia, of the practice of the political game, and of the political game as a field of experience with its rules and normativity, of the political game as experience inasmuch as it is indexed to truth-telling and involves a certain relationship to oneself and to others for its players” (2010, p. 159). According to Foucault, le politique is an unnecessary dimension of transcendence that covers the comprehension of politics in its relationship between dunasteia and politeia. The first term indicates the constitutional framework that defines the statute of citizens and their rights, as the rules of the political game. The second, instead, names the actual exercise of power, the political game as it happens, as experience. These two spheres determine what politics is in a democratic society. Therefore, the dimension of the political is not necessary at all and hides politics as actual experience.

Foucault’s text is an explicit attack on the positions of Claude Lefort, who in those same years worked on defining his theory of the political. According to Lefort, le politique shows the structure of modern and democratic society on which the actual rules of politics depend. It is the name of a symbolic dimension, a framework of references, that explains the difference of modern society to the society of the Ancien regime, which is marked by a religious and organic structure. In other words, if an external and transcendent reference founded premodern society, the political is the characteristic of modern societies without foundation. In the latter, conflict replaces an already impossible unity.


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