Michel Foucault: “A Man in Danger”

Mitchell Dean. Handbook of Social Theory. Editor: George Ritzer & Barry Smart. Sage Publications, 2001.

Our societies have proved to be really demonic since they happen to combine those two games—the city-citizen game and the shepherdflock game—in what we call modern states.

~ Foucault, 1988c: 71

What could Michel Foucault have meant by this statement delivered in his Tanner lectures to his audience at Stanford University in October 1979? Was it a case of hyperbole, an attempt to catch the ear of an indifferent American audience, designed to convince them of his critical intent and credentials? Was it something we were meant to pass over quickly and move on to the more detailed analysis of different forms of what he called ‘political rationality’? Or was this statement meant to summarize and to a certain extent encapsulate Foucault’s understanding of the nature of ‘modern societies’? Does it thereby stand as testimony to Foucault’s abiding preoccupations that persisted despite all apparent ruptures and revisions?

The variety and sheer volume of commentary on Foucault’s work suggests that there is no single way of understanding or encapsulating his theoretical contribution. In this chapter, I present an interpretation of Foucault’s legacy that challenges one contention that runs through much of this literature, that Foucault’s work can be characterized foremost in terms of its discontinuities. While accepting that there are discontinuities of subject matter and perspective within his work, I want to suggest that it can be characterized in terms of at least one fundamental continuity. That continuity resides, not in Foucault’s general theoretical pronouncements concerning power but in an ‘analytics’ of the regulation—or as he would have it, ‘government’-of human beings according to forms of truth in what might be loosely described as ‘modern’ societies. From Madness and Civilization (1965) to the The Care of the Self (1986), Foucault is centrally concerned, in much more concrete terms, with the question of what he occasionally calls the ‘society of normalization’ (for example, Foucault, 1980: 107), with the regulation of human individuals and populations according to practices that divide and group them according to certain norms, and the identities they assume or are furnished with in relation to such norms. Without denying the specific concerns of the final published volumes of his History of Sexuality, these last works can be understood as an attempt to contribute to the genealogy of this ‘society of normalization’ in at least one way- to show how it is possible to conceive and govern oneself outside the framework of the norm and identity.

To make this argument I focus on one point of supposed rupture: that between the first volume of the History of Sexuality (hereafter referred to as The Will to Knowledge, to use its less clumsy French title), published in France at the end of 1976, and the lecture series of 1977-8 and 1978-9 which elaborate the concept of ‘governmentality’. I suggest here that the reflection on the arts of government in the latter lectures does not erase the earlier discussions of bio-politics, sovereignty and discipline but places them within the development of the modern government of the state. It is thus not possible to contrast an earlier, more ‘radical’ Foucault with a more cautious, pragmatic analyst of the arts of government, to reprise something of Richard Rorty’s distinction between a Nietzschean Foucault and a liberal Foucault (1992). Foucault remained concerned throughout his intellectual life with the manner in which human beings are divided and governed according to certain forms of knowledge, how the ‘dividing practices’ of modern societies often accomplish this through furnishing individuals and groups with various identities, and with the attendant dangers inherent in this process. The ethical and political impulse of his work remained one of a mood of recognition that we live in perpetual danger even, and particularly, when we try to enact a normative political vision. The symbol and catastrophic eventuation of that danger remained, more than anything else, I shall suggest, the Final Solution.

The chapter is divided into three parts: first, an investigation into continuity and discontinuity in Foucault’s analysis of forms of power during the 1970s; secondly, an elaboration of his general framework for the analysis of power and rule in modern societies, including a discussion of the relationship between such concepts as biopolitics, sovereignty and liberalism; and finally, an exploration on the possibility of the use of this framework to analyse authoritarian forms of rule, and to begin to offer an account of modern political evil.

Continuity and Discontinuity in Foucault’s Discussion of Power


Several commentators, including those who closely collaborated with him, suggest that there are important discontinuities within Foucault’s work. Dreyfus and Rabinow (1982), in their justly famous commentary, find a fundamental discontinuity between Foucault’s archaeology of discourse formations and his genealogy of power relations. On their reading, the discovery and thematization of power answers the problem of the ‘outside’ of discourse, of the articulation of the procedures for the production of truth and value with social and institutional relations of domination and power. Pasquale Pasquino (1993), while acknowledging this first shift, suggests a disjunction of a rather different kind: between Foucault’s discussions of power and his analytics of government. He recollects:

It became clear during our discussions of the second half of the 1970s that the discourse on disciplines had reached an impasse and could go no further. That it threatened above all to lead to an extremist denunciation of power—envisioned according to a repressive model—that left us both dissatisfied from a theoretical point of view. If a close analysis of discipline opposed the Marxist thesis of economic exploitation as a principle for understanding the investigation of the mechanism of power, this analysis by itself was not enough and required the investigation of global problems of the regulation and ordering of society as well as the modalities of conceptualizing this problem. Hence the question of government– a term Foucault gradually substituted for what he began to see as the more ambiguous word, ‘power’. (1993: 79; emphasis in original)

Foucault maintained several theses about power during the final decade of his life, namely, that power should be regarded as multiple, positive, productive and relational. That is to say, there is no single form of power for Foucault. It is pervasive, present in all social relations and is exercised at innumerable points and in heterogeneous forms. Moreover, power does not primarily operate through the repressive form of interdiction and law, but is creative of forms of subjectivity, of capacities, and of modes of action. Nor does it exist as a substance that can be possessed by a particular party. Rather, it is conceived as a balance of forces, an overall complex strategical situation between parties in complex relations of contestation and resistance. Nevertheless, there are three important shifts in Foucault’s conceptualization of power that stand in support of Pasquino’s thesis of discontinuity.

First of all, Foucault removes an assumption which is present in much of the conventional literature on power—that power and liberty exist in an inverse and, in a sense, quantitative relationship. The exercise of power, in this view, entails the subtraction of liberty. While Foucault had already rejected the idea that power works through a ‘deductive’ subtraction of forces and capacities, he only later draws out the implications of that idea. Instead of an inverse, quantitative relationship between power and liberty, Foucault now suggests that the exercise of power presupposes liberty in the sense that it is possible for the subject of power to act in more than one way. Such a notion is entailed in his various characterizations of relationships of power as ‘strategic games between liberties’ (1988a: 19) and ‘a total structure of action brought to bear upon the actions of others’ (1982: 220). Such conceptions of power are interesting because they presuppose the existence of free subjects, that is, subjects who are, to use the sociological term, ‘agents’ in that they are able to act in a number of ways even while they are acted upon. Power in this regard is an aspect of all social relations and may take the form of open and reversible relationships.

This leads Foucault to a second move: it is possible, he continues, to distinguish among these relations of power those that take a relatively fixed, irreversible and hierarchical form. When such a form is combined with a high degree of circumscription of the possibilities of action because the ‘margin of liberty is extremely limited’, we have what Foucault calls ‘domination’ (1988a: 12). Thus Foucault uses the term domination to designate ‘what we ordinarily call power’ (1988a: 12), and argues that power should be viewed as an aspect of all social relationships. Indeed, one of the consequences of this approach is that we cannot say very much at all about power in general, and that our investigations should concentrate on ‘what happens’ in social and political relationships and focus on the means by which power is exercised. For Foucault, ‘power as such does not exist’ (1982: 217). This is the third shift in Foucault’s approach to power. Instead of a ‘microphysics’ (or, indeed, macrophysics) of power, he offers us an analytics of all the ways in which various political and social actors seek to affect the action of others—an analytics of government, ‘government’ defined as the ‘conduct of conduct’.

There is more to support a picture of discontinuity. If one wanted to find the tendency to an ‘extremist denunciation of power’, as Pasquino put it, one could do no better than to look to Foucault’s lectures at the College de France of the year 1975-6. There he contrasts conventional approaches to power based on the ‘juridical-political theory of sovereignty’ with the ‘discourse of war’. He makes an effort to displace the traditional questions of the legitimacy of power, of the right of the sovereign, and of the consent and obligation of subjects, by questions of tactics and strategies, of domination and subordination. This entails not only cutting off the King’s head in our political thought—an image from interviews about this time (for example, Foucault, 1980: 121)—but attending to the mobile relations of domination, of tactics and strategy within the social body. It entails viewing the condition of peace within a given territory as the disposition offerees engaged in a permanent state of struggle and war. Casting for an alternative conception of power to that grounded in the figure of the legitimate sovereign and its law-making right, Foucault asks ‘who imagined that the civil order was an order of battle, who perceived war in the watermark of peace, who has sought the principle of intelligibility of order, of the state, of its institutions and its history, in the outcry, in the confusion and in the mud of battles?’ (Foucault, 21 January 1976, cited in Stoler, 1995: 64). His search for alternative perspectives is captured in the suggestion that it is necessary to reverse Clausewitz’s aphorism that war is politics continued by other means (1980: 90-1). Such a reversal means, first, that politics is viewed as ‘sanctioning and upholding the disequilibrium offerees that was displayed in war’, second, that the phenomena of ‘civil peace’ should be interpreted but as episodes in the continuation of the same war, and third, that the end result can only be decided by a ‘recourse to arms’.

These lectures cover such concerns as the seventeenth-century historical-political narratives of the ‘war of the races’, first at the time of the English revolution (in the work of Coke and Lilburne) and later at the time of aristocratic struggle against the French monarchy (with Boulainvilliers and Buat-Nanay), its various political uses, and the biological and social class re-inscriptions of racial discourse in the nineteenth century, beginning with Augustin and Thierry (Stoler, 1995: 55-88; Foucault, 1997a, 1997b: 60-5). He concludes with the development of the biological state racisms and the genocidal politics of the twentieth century. The final lecture, which is recapitulated in the last and important chapter in The Will to Knowledge, ends on a radical analysis of the Nazi state and of varieties of socialism. When Foucault sought to give examples of the form of power, ‘bio-power’ (or the power over life), he was examining at this time, he found them in the most terrible regimes and events of the twentieth century. As if to underline the importance of these themes, Foucault said of the last chapter of The Will to Knowledge that ‘no-one wants to talk about that last part … All the same it’s the fundamental part of the book’ (1980: 222).

More evidence is added to the thesis of discontinuity by Foucault’s return to the lecture podium in 1978. Now the topic is not the development of the great genocidal state racisms of the twentieth century, but the development of early modern conceptions of the government of the state, of what he would call ‘governmentality’, under the title of’ Security, Territory, and Population’ (1991; 1997a: 67-71). In the following year, despite the title of the course being ‘The Birth of Bio-polities’, Foucault’s course summary suggests he turns to a discussion of liberalism and forms of Neoliberalism (1997a: 73-9). We also notice at this time Foucault has given up on his earlier project of a seven volume History of Sexuality and has begun to investigate ancient Greek and Roman notions of the government of the self. The drama of the discourse of war, the theme of race and the emblem of National Socialism and the Holocaust, has been replaced by the analysis of government, the concern with population and a focus on liberalism. ‘Power-knowledge’ had given way to ‘governmentality’. The six volume series of the History of Sexuality had apparently been abandoned. Not only the content, but also the temper and tone, had apparently changed.

There is some justice in noticing the movement of such a lively form of thought as Foucault’s. The years 1975 to 1978 seem to reflect a change in the political temper among Parisian intellectuals. We witness the move from the ultra-leftism of the early 1970s and engagement with the ideas of the Maoist Gauche Prolétarienne to the participation in the discovery of dissidence within the Soviet Union and its satellites, the publicity stunt of the ‘new philosophers’, the final discrediting of institutional forms of Marxism, and the French publication of Alexander Solzheitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.  All these had no doubt an impact on Foucault and were the context in which he spoke at the Collge de France. Without doubt, all of this occasions a more recursive approach to political pronouncements in Foucault’s thought, a shifting within his problematics of power, and a realization that the question of the ‘society of normalization’ must be posed in terms that are more nuanced and subtle than some of his (and others’) formulations at that time.

‘Demonic Societies’

Despite this argument and this evidence, I think that what we witness in these crucial years is less of a break in Foucault’s thought and more an unfolding, an elaboration, a refinement and a repositioning of certain of its elements. The extraordinary statement with which we began this chapter stands in evidence of this view, perhaps more than any other. From a philological perspective, the timing of this statement is interesting and suggests that Foucault had not given up his concern for the ‘extreme’ forms taken by more mundane political thought. This statement is found in lectures delivered in October 1979, well after any supposed break between an extremist Foucault and a more liberal one. With their focus on pastoral power, reason of state and German police science (Polizeiwissenschaft), the Tanner lectures appear to be based on material from Foucault’s Collge de France course of 1977-8 (1997a: 67-73). There is thus more than a trace of the same problem of political evil that we saw was in evidence in the final lecture of his previous course in 1975-6 (1997b: 213-35) and in the final chapter of The Will to Knowledge. Writing of the paradoxes of the ‘life-administering power’ or ‘bio-power’, he notes the apparent paradox that ‘wars were never as bloody as they have been since the nineteenth century, and all things being equal, never before did regimes visit such holocausts on their own populations’ (1979: 136-7). That the problem posed by National Socialism and the Final Solution remained as a dark shadow across his analysis of political rationality is borne out by a part of the Stanford lectures which was not included in the final published form, in which he concludes a discussion of the importance of life as a political problem with the following: ‘Both the development of the human and social sciences, and the simultaneous possibility of protecting life and of the holocaust make their historical appearance’ (quoted in Dreyfus and Rabinow, 1982: 138). If anything, the use of the singular noun, ‘the holocaust’, bears out a central contention of a number of commentators and biographers that ‘Foucault was tormented by Auschwitz’ (Bernauer, 1992; Milchman and Rosenberg, 1996: 102) and that he was ‘haunted by the memory of Hitler’s total war and the Nazi death camps’ (Miller, 1993: 171).

The term ‘demonic’ itself perhaps draws together a complex of meaning that includes this sense in which the exploration of politics for Foucault must be haunted by the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews and other people. It would perhaps be permissible to read this term as analogous to Socrates’ daimon, which, as Pierre Hadot puts it, was both a kind of inspiration that came over him in an irrational manner and his real ‘character’ (Hadot, 1995: 164-5). The demonic would thus be the inspirational character of modern states, accounting for something of their dynamism and capacity for political invention. However, the occasion of Foucault’s statement is of a discussion of a ‘strange game whose elements are life, death, truth, obedience, individuals and self-identity’ (1988c: 71). Life and death figure prominently in the discussions of bio-politics and sovereignty of 1975-6. This not only suggests a continuity of certain fundamental themes but thereby provides a warrant for an interpretation of the term in the much stronger sense as referring to the possibility of great political evil. Foucault sought to pose the problem of political evil as that which lurks in our rationalities and techniques of government and in the various attempts to combine elements of the ‘shepherdflock’ and ‘city-citizen games’. The terms have certainly changed, but the perspective seems relatively unmodified. In 1976, the ‘shepherdflock game’ took the form of the modern life-politics, bio-politics, and the ‘city-citizen game’ was cast in the language and practice of sovereignty. The idea that the attempted combination of these trajectories of rule was both a fundamental component of modern regimes of the government of the state, and the reason for their proneness to extreme and totalitarian forms—even within societies that regard themselves as liberal—remains.

The statement advances our understanding of Foucault’s analytics of power and rule in modern societies in two ways. First, it establishes the importance of the longue durée of two very broad trajectories of rule and ways of thinking about rule. Second, it argues that many of our current problems and dangers are located not in one or other of these trajectories but in the attempt to put together elements of the rationalities found along these trajectories in the government of the state. This is to say that, whether political actors take the form of an incumbent regime, a party, or social movement, those who attempt to affect the government of the state are bound, in very different contexts, to try to force together aspects found along these two trajectories.

Foucault’s statement, then, poses the dual and interrelated problems of political invention and political evil in the ‘tricky adjustment’ between two modes of exercising rule. The ‘shepherdflock game’—or what he elsewhere calls ‘pastoral power’ (for example, Foucault, 1982)—has its birth in Hebraic and early Christian religious communities. Its genealogy concerns its transformation into a centralized and largely secular exercise of power over populations concerned with the life and welfare of ‘each and all’ with the development of the administrative state in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The ‘city-citizen’ game has its sources in Greco-Roman antiquity and notions of the polis and res publica and concerns the treatment of individuals as autonomous and responsible political actors within a self-determining political community. This mode of exercising and thinking about power has been transformed by modern liberal and republican doctrines, notions of direct and representative democracy, and by the key status of the citizen being granted to certain members of the population within the territorial state.

One way in which the attempted articulation of these elements may be viewed as ‘demonic’ concerns the vacillation over the status of the welfare state. Here we are closer to the inventive side of the daimon of modern politics. On the one hand, national governments are loath—for a variety of reasons—to do anything that might undermine the responsible freedom of those who can exercise active citizenship, and even seek to reform social provision so that it might transform certain groups into active citizens. On the other, they must find a way of providing for those with needs whether due to human frailty and mortality or the nature of the capitalist labour market itself. The genealogy of the welfare state seems to be indeed bedeviled by this problem of trying to find a norm of provision that can adjust the competing demands of a subject of needs with the free political citizen. We can note that that genealogy would also show that this problem of welfare states is also a problem of the relations and competition between sovereign states, most recently reconfigured as an issue of economic globalization.

Important as this ‘welfare-state problem’ and its ramifications are, I want to focus here on the other aspect of this demonic character of modern states. This is the character of what I shall call, for want of a better term, authoritarian forms of rule. This term encompasses those practices and rationalities immanent to liberal government itself, which are applied to certain populations held to be without the attributes of responsible freedom. More directly, it refers to non-liberal and explicitly authoritarian types of rule that seek to operate through obedient rather than free subjects, or, at a minimum, endeavor to neutralize opposition to authority. Foucault is often recognized as having made a distinctive contribution to the study of liberal rule in modern societies; as we shall see here, his same concepts can be used to indicate a singular approach to non-liberal forms.

Very broadly, then, Foucault’s sentence on the demonic nature of modern states can be taken to mean something like the following. All versions of what might loosely be called modern arts of government must articulate a bio-politics of the population with questions of sovereignty. And, it is the combination of these elements of bio-politics and sovereignty that is fraught with dangers and risks, with potential for invention and for extraordinary evil of the kind that is unimaginable before it has occurred and, even more frighteningly, remains so afterwards.

Liberalism, Bio-Politics, Sovereignty

The question of whether there is a significant break in Foucault’s analytics of power around the mid-1970s is a matter that will no doubt be revisited by historians and commentators. If, however, we are concerned with using rather than commenting on his ideas, an interesting and intelligible framework of contemporary forms and rationalities of power and rule emerges when we refuse to accede to the supposition of a break. According to Foucault, from the end of the eighteenth century until perhaps quite recently, there has existed a common conception of the government of the state. This was true for those who criticized and sought to limit existing forms of government and those who argued for its extension, its coordination and centralization. Government would be regarded as a unitary, centralized and localized set of institutions that acted in a field that was exterior to itself. It would no longer be purely concerned with ‘the right disposition of things arranged to a convenient end’ as Guillame La Perrihre had argued in the sixteenth century (cited by Foucault, 1991: 93), that is, it would no longer be concerned with the detailed regulation of heterogeneous and localized minutiae of manners and morals, with the activities and resources within a territory, in the manner of ‘police’. The government of things would meet and be re-inscribed within the government of processes. To govern would mean to cultivate, facilitate and work through, the diverse processes that were to be found in this domain exterior to the institutions of government. These processes would variously be conceived as vital, natural, organic, historical, economic, psychological, biological, industrial, cultural or social. They would be processes that established the paradoxical position of life as at once an autonomous domain and as a target and objective of forms of politics and systems of administration.


One key domain in which these processes exterior to but necessary to government are constituted is ‘bio-polities’. Bio-politics is a politics concerning the administration of life, particularly as it appears at the level of populations. It is ‘the endeavor, begun in the eighteenth century, to rationalize problems presented to governmental practice by the phenomena characteristic of a group of living human beings constituted as a population: health, sanitation, birthrate, longevity, race’ (Foucault, 1997a: 73). It is concerned with matters of life and death, with birth and propagation, with health and illness, both physical and mental, and with the processes that sustain or retard the optimization of the life of a population. Bio-politics must then also concern the social, cultural, environmental, economic and geographic conditions under which humans live, procreate, become ill, maintain health or become healthy, and die. From this perspective bio-politics is concerned with the family, with housing, living and working conditions, with what we call ‘lifestyle’, with public health issues, patterns of migration, levels of economic growth and the standards of living. It is concerned with the biosphere in which humans dwell.

Bio-politics is a fundamental dimension or even trajectory of power from the eighteenth century concerned with a government of and through the processes of life and the evolution of life. It constitutes as its objects and targets such entities as the population, the species and the race. In Foucault’s narrative, however, the detailed administration of life by biopolitical and, it should be added, disciplinary, practices is not coextensive with the entire field of politics and government. There are at least two other dimensions of rule that are important here: economic government, which is internal to the field of government conceived as the art of conducting individuals and populations; and the theory and practices of sovereignty: Both provide liberalism with means of criticizing and halting the effects of the generalization of the norm of the optimization of life.

Bio-politics then first meets quite distinct forms of political rationality and knowledge concerned with the role of commerce in civil society. This leads Foucault to undertake a charting of the different events in the emergence of the theoretical and programmatic reality of the economy as a self-regulating system largely coincident with the boundaries of the nation (Dean, 1999: 114-15; Gordon, 1991: 15-18). By the formation of classical English political economy in the first quarter of the nineteenth century we find clearly delineated limits to the biopolitical aim of the optimization of the life of the population. These limits are most marked in Thomas Malthus’ pivotal discovery, in the relation between the processes that impel the growth of population and those natural ones that provide the subsistence for the increasing quantity of human life, of a realm of scarcity and necessity. The bio-economic reality discovered and enshrined in the work of the English political economists of the early nineteenth century will be used to generate new norms of government that must be factored against the optimization of the life of the population. The administration of the life of the population would hence meet a concern to govern economically. That would entail a government through the economic realities, commercial society and the market; it would also entail a concern to govern efficiently, to limit waste and restrict cost, a concern with what Benjamin Franklin called ‘frugal government’ (Foucault, 1997a: 77).


The notion of sovereignty is above all characterized as a power of life and death that, according to Foucault, was ‘in reality the right to take life and let live’ (1979: 136; emphasis in original), or, ‘le droit défaire mourir ou de laisser vivre’ to cite the lecture of 17 March, 1976 (1997b: 214). Sovereignty undergoes its own transformation: in the juridical theories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as those of Thomas Hobbes and Samuel von Pufendorf, Foucault finds a more limited account of the sovereign right of death as ‘conditioned by the defense of the sovereign’ (1979:135). The end of sovereignty is, however, the continuation of sovereignty itself—it is caught in a kind of ‘self-referring circularity’ (Foucault, 1991: 94-5). Thus Foucault argues that, if we take Pufendorf’s definition of the end of sovereign authority as ‘public utility’ and seek to define the content of ‘public utility’, we find little more than that subjects obey laws, fulfil their expected tasks, and respect the political order.

Throughout the period of his work we are concentrating on, Foucault maintains an extraordinarily constant understanding of sovereignty (for example, in 1979: 135-5, 144-5; 1980: 103-6; 1991: 94-102). He suggests that in Western European societies from the Middle Ages sovereignty is principally conceived as a transcendent form of authority exercised over subjects within a definite territory. Its main instruments are laws, decrees and regulations backed up by coercive sanctions ultimately grounded in the right of death exercised by the sovereign. Sovereignty is a ‘deductive’ exercise and relies on a technology of subtraction levied on its subjects (Foucault, 1979: 136). It subtracts products, money, wealth, goods, services, labour and blood. Its symbolic language is one of the sword, of blood, of family and alliance (1979: 148-9).

Foucault also maintains that sovereignty is far from a universal and, like other concepts, should be understood in its historical singularities according to specific regimes of practices and forms of political rationality. Thus, in one lecture, Foucault summarizes some of the shifts and uses of the language and theory of sovereignty (1980: 103). He distinguishes four roles in European history: as an effective ‘mechanism of power’ in the feudal monarchy; as an ‘instrument’ and ‘justification’ in the construction of the administrative institutions of absolutism; as a ‘weapon’ in the hands of different parties to the wars of religion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; and as an ‘an alternative model’, that of parliamentary democracy, in opposition to those ‘administrative, authoritarian and absolutist monarchies’ at the time of the French Revolution. In certain states, from the end of the eighteenth century, we know that sovereignty has been ‘democratized’ in that they have witnessed the development of mechanisms of representation by which those deemed to possess the required attributes can participate in the choice of who should stand in place of the sovereign.

The other aspect of sovereignty mentioned by Foucault is that the notion of a nominally separate state with territorial integrity, subject to non-interference by outside powers, is itself a governmental product, and a consequence of the ‘external’ dimension of doctrines such as ‘reason of state’ (Foucault, 1991: 104). The city-citizen game not only entails relations between putatively self-governing citizens, but also the formation of and relations between what aspire to be self-governing political communities. One of the features of the modern political world – which we date quite precisely to the agreements of Westphalia concluded in 1648 following the Thirty Years War—is that these fictive self-governing political communities have come to be represented as independent states, that is, political unities with definite territorial boundaries, secured by the principle of non-interference of one sovereign state in the internal affairs of another. Claims to sovereignty by such communities have thus become identical with claims to be a state. The ‘city-citizen’ game, therefore concerns the panoply of techniques by which the members of a population are formed or form themselves into a political community, and by which they seek to exercise sovereignty. It also includes the arts of international government by which certain populations are assigned to these nominally independent sovereign states and which regulate the coexistence of states with one another. We might conclude that securing the sovereignty of states is an end of these arts of international government. The existence of a system of sovereign states has as its condition a form of governmental regulation of the international order.


We are now in a position to locate the third term of our triad, liberalism. As Foucault puts it in regard to bio-political problems,

‘Liberalism’ enters the picture here, because it was in connection with liberalism that they began to have the look of a challenge. In a system anxious to have the respect of legal subjects and to ensure the free enterprise of individuals, how can the ‘population’ phenomenon, with its specific effects and problems, be taken into account? On behalf of what, and according to what rules, can it be managed? (1997a: 73)

According to Foucault, liberalism can be understood as a form of critique of excessive government (1997a: 74-5). It should be approached, however, not only as a critique of earlier forms of government such as police and reason of state, but of existing and potential forms of bio-political government. This is to say that liberalism criticizes other possible forms that the government of the processes of life might take. It might criticize those forms, for example, in which bio-political norms will be compromised by a lack of understanding of economic norms. It might also criticize the detailed regulation of the biological processes of the species, and the tendencies toward state racism found in bio-politics, by an appeal to the framework of right—either legal or natural—that it will codify as the theory and practice of democratic sovereignty. If liberalism emerged less as a doctrine or form of the minimal state than as an ethos of review, this ethos needs to be situated in the rationalization of the field of bio-political problems. If, for liberalism, it is always necessary to suspect that one is governing too much, this is because the imperatives of bio-political norms that lead to the creation of a coordinated and centralized administration of life need to be weighed against the norms of economic processes and the freedoms on which they depend and the norms derived from the sovereign subject of rights. This is why, for liberalism, the problem will not be a rejection of bio-political regulation but a way of managing it.

There are other aspects of Foucault’s complex account of the formation of liberalism that deserve some mention in this context. While it can be posed as a critique of reason of state and police doctrines, liberalism retains a concern with security and advances a novel conception of the objective of government as ‘setting in place mechanisms of security … whose function is to assure the security of those natural phenomena, economic processes, and the intrinsic processes of population’ (Foucault, 5 April 1978, cited in Gordon, 1991: 19). Further, Foucault suggests that liberty becomes a condition of security in so far as a central component of securing economic and demographic processes is effectively working through the exercise of freedom by responsible, rational individuals. Finally, while liberalism would adopt a legal and parliamentary framework, this is less due to an affinity with juridical thought than because of law’s generality and exclusion of the particular and exceptional, and because through the parliamentary system, liberalism permits (and, one might add, regulates) the participation of the governed in liberal government (Foucault, 1997a: 77). Indeed, Foucault seems to suggest that liberalism has more of an affinity with the norm than with the law (1979: 149; Ewald, 1990). This is because, first, it constantly seeks a norm of good government in the changing balance between governing too much and governing too little and, second, it employs mechanisms that strive to stabilize and normalize subjects in such a way that they exercise freedom in a responsible and disciplined manner (Dean, 1999: 121-2; Ewald, 1990).

Liberalism thus participates in and fosters the ‘society of normalization’. In its emphasis on the formation of the responsible exercise of freedom as necessary to the security of autonomous processes of economy, society and population, liberalism multiplies and ramifies what Foucault (1982: 208) calls ‘dividing practices’, that is, practices in which ‘the subject is either divided inside himself or divided from others’. Mariana Valverde (1996), for instance, has recently shown how the liberal conception of the juridical and political subject has a form of ethical despotism at its core, contained in notions of the possibility of improvement and habit. Moreover, the history of liberalism shows how a range of illiberal techniques can be applied to those individuals and populations who are deemed to be capable of improvement and of attaining self-government (from women and children to certain classes of criminals and paupers). As a form of colonial governmentality, liberalism can justify authoritarian types of government for those regions deemed unimproved, like Africa, or degenerate and static, like China, to use John Stuart Mill’s judgements. For such nations, Mill suggests, ‘their only hope of making any steps in advance depends on the chances of a good despot’ (cited by Valverde, 1996: 361).

Foucault’s account of liberal governmental formations suggests a complex articulation of issues of bio-politics and sovereignty. It is an articulation of elements of the shepherdflock game concerned in its modern form to optimize the life of the population and normalize the identities of individuals within it, and of the city-citizen game in which the individual appears as an active and responsible citizen within a self-governing political community and within commercial society. Nevertheless, while liberalism may try to make safe the bio-political imperative of the optimization of life by deploying the notion of rights and framework of law it has inherited from forms of sovereign rule, it has shown itself permanently incapable of arresting—from eugenics to contemporary genetics—the emergence of forms of knowledge that make the optimization of the life of some dependent upon the disallowing of the life of others. This is because of a number of reasons. First, because liberalism is concerned to govern through what it conceives as processes that are external to the formal sphere of government, it thus must foster forms of knowledge and expertise of vital processes, and seek to govern through their application. Moreover, to the extent that liberalism depends on the formation of responsible and autonomous subjects, it relies upon and multiplies the disciplinary and bio-political practices that are the ground of those rationalities that seek to divide, transform, prevent and even eliminate the categories of individuals within populations. Finally, we might consider the possibility that sovereignty and bio-politics are so heterogeneous to one another that the derivation of political norms from the democratization of the former cannot act as a prophylactic for the possible outcomes of the other. The framework of right and law can act as a resource for forces engaged in contestation of the effects of bio-power; it cannot provide a guarantee as to the efficacy of such struggle.

Sovereignty and Bio-Politics in Non-Liberal Rule

There are, of course, plenty of examples of the exercise of sovereignty in the twentieth century that have practiced a decidedly non-liberal form and program of national government both in relation to their own populations and those of other states. Does this mean that the form of government of such states is assembled from elements that are radically different from the ones that we have discussed here? Does this mean that state socialism and National Socialism, for example, could not be subject to an analysis of the arts of government in societies of normalization? The answer to both these questions, I submit, is no. The general argument of this chapter is that Foucault’s analysis rests on a thesis that the exercise of rule in all modern states entails the articulation of a form of pastoral or bio-power with one of sovereign power. Liberalism, as we have just seen, makes that articulation in a specific way. Other types of rule have a no less distinctive response to the combination of elements of a bio-politics concerned with the detailed administration of life and sovereign power that reserves the right of death to itself.

Consider again the contrastive terms in which it is possible to view bio-politics and sovereignty. The final chapter in the The Will to Knowledge which contrasts sovereignty and bio-politics is called ‘Right of Death and Power over Life’. The initial terms of the contrast between the two registers of government is thus between one that could employ power to put subjects to death, even if this right to kill was conditioned by the defense of the sovereign, and one that was concerned with the fostering of life. Nevertheless, each part of the contrast can be further broken down. The right of death can also be understood as ‘the right to take life or let live’; the power over life as the power ‘to foster life or disallow it’. Thus the contrast concerns the way in which the different forms of power treat matters of life and death. Thus bio-politics reinscribes the earlier right of death and places it within a new and different form. It is no longer so much the right of the sovereign to put to death its enemies but to disqualify the life of those who are a threat to the life of the population, to disallow those deemed ‘unworthy of life’.

This allows us first to consider what might be thought of as the dark side of bio-politics (Foucault, 1979: 136-7). In Foucault’s account, bio-politics does not put an end to the practice of war. It provides it with new and more sophisticated killing machines. These machines allow killing itself to be re-posed at the level of entire populations. Wars become genocidal in the twentieth century. The same state that takes on itself the duty to enhance the life of the population also exercises the power to put to death whole populations. Atomic weapons are the ultimate weapons of this process of the power to put whole populations to death. We might also consider here the aptly named biological and chemical weapons that seek an extermination of populations by visiting plagues upon them or polluting the biosphere in which they live to the point at which life is no longer sustainable. Nor does the birth of bio-politics put an end to the killing of one’s own populations. Rather it intensifies that killing—whether by an ‘ethnic cleansing’ that visits holocausts upon whole groups or by the mass slaughters of classes and groups conducted in the name of the utopia to be achieved. As Foucault put it to his audience at the University of Vermont in 1982, ‘since population is nothing more than what the state takes care of for its own sake, of course, the state is entitled to slaughter it, if necessary. So the reverse of biopolitics is thanatopolitics’ (1988b: 160; cf. Milchman and Rosenberg, 1996: 104-5). The ‘counterpart of a power that exerts a positive influence on life’, as he wrote six years earlier, was ‘this formidable power of death’ (1976: 137).

There is a certain restraint in sovereign power. The right of death is only occasionally exercised as the right to kill. More often sovereign power is manifest in the refraining from the right to kill. The bio-political imperative knows no such restraint. Power is exercised at the level of populations and hence wars will be waged at that level, on behalf of everyone and their lives. This point brings us to the heart of Foucault’s provocative thesis about bio-politics: that there is an intimate connection between the exercise of a life-administering power and the commission of genocide:

If genocide is indeed the dream of modern powers, this is not because of a recent return of the ancient right to kill: it is because power is situated and exercised at the level of life, the species, the race, and the large-scale phenomena of population. (1979: 137)

Foucault completes this same passage with an expression that deserves more notice: ‘massacres become vital’.

There is thus a kind of perverse homogeneity between the power over life and the power to take life characteristic of bio-power. The emergence of a bio-political racism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can be approached as a trajectory of the ‘statization of the biological [l’étatisation du biologique], in which this homogeneity always threatens to tip over into a dreadful necessity’ (Foucault, 1997b: 213). This racism can be approached as a fundamental mechanism of power that is inscribed in the bio-political domain (Stoler, 1995: 84-5). For Foucault, the first function of this form of racism is to establish a division between those who must live and those who must die (1997b: 227). It is to introduce a series of caesura into the biological continuum between those who are superior and those who are inferior, and to make possible the treatment of human species as a series of sub-groups, a mélange of races. The series, ‘population, evolution and race’, is not simply a way of thinking about the superiority of the ‘white races’, or of justifying colonialism, but also of thinking about how to treat the degenerates and the abnormals within one’s own population and prevent the further degeneration of the race.

The second and most important function of this bio-political racism in the nineteenth century for Foucault is that ‘it establishes a positive relation between the right to kill and the assurance of life’ (Stoler, 1995: 84). The life of the population, its vigor, its strength, its health and its capacities to survive and proliferate, becomes necessarily linked to the elimination of internal and external biological threats: the abnormal individual, inferior species, degenerates. The racism that is compatible with bio-power is one that asserts a biological relation between the fostering of ‘my life and the death of the other’ (1995: 85). This power to disallow the life of the other in order to foster one’s own life is perhaps best encapsulated in the injunctions of the eugenic project: identify those who are degenerate, abnormal, feeble-minded, or of an inferior race, and subject them to forced sterilization; encourage those who are superior, fit and intelligent to propagate. But this last example does not necessarily yet mobilize the bio-political recuperation of the right to kill, only the right to disallow life. The most fundamental example of the former are the genocidal regimes of the twentieth century. When such regimes seek to justify their actions it will be through race. As Foucault suggests: ‘Racism is the condition of acceptability of putting to death in a society of normalization’ (1997b: 228).

If we are to begin to understand the type of racism engaged in by Nazism, we need to take into account a somewhat different kind of denouement between the bio-political management of population and the exercise of sovereignty than the one we found in Foucault’s account of liberalism. This version of sovereignty is no longer the transformed and democratized form of sovereignty founded on the liberty of the juridical subject, as it is for liberalism, but a sovereignty that takes up and transforms a further element of sovereignty, its ‘symbolics of blood’ (Foucault, 1979: 148).

For Foucault, sovereignty is grounded in blood just as one might say that sexuality becomes the key field upon which bio-political management of populations is articulated with the disciplinary normalization of individuals. In a society in which power was exercised primarily through sovereign instruments, through the juridical model of law, with its symbol of the sword, and in which relations between households and families were forged through the deployment alliance, ‘blood was a reality with a symbolic function’. By contrast, for bio-politics with its themes of health, vigor, fitness, vitality, progeny, survival and race, ‘power spoke of sexuality and to sexuality’ (Foucault, 1979: 147).

The novelty of National Socialism, for Foucault (1979: 149-50), was the way it articulated ‘the oneiric exaltation of blood’, of fatherland and of the triumph of the race, in an immensely cynical and naive fashion, with the paroxysms of a disciplinary power concerned with the detailed administration of the life of the population and the regulation of sexuality, family, marriage and education. Nazism may have generalized bio-power without the limit-critique posed by the juridical subject of right. Nevertheless, rather than doing away with sovereign forms, it re-inscribed some of its most characteristic elements. It established a set of permanent interventions into the conduct of the individual within the population and articulated this with the ‘mythical concern for blood and the triumph of the race’. Thus the shepherdflock game and the city-citizen game are transmuted into the eugenic ordering of biological existence and articulated upon the themes of the purity of blood and the myth of the fatherland.

In such an articulation of these elements of sovereign and bio-political forms of power, the relation between the administration of life and the right to kill entire populations is no longer simply one of a dreadful homogeneity. It has become a necessary one. The symbolics of blood comes to require a blood-bath. It is not simply that power—and therefore war—will be exercised at the level of entire populations. It is that the act of disqualifying the right to life of other races becomes necessary for the fostering of the life of the (‘superior’) race. Moreover, the elimination of other races is only one face of the purification of one’s own race (1997b: 231). The other part is to expose the latter to a universal and absolute danger, to expose it to the risk of death and total destruction. For Foucault (1997b: 232), with the Nazi state we have an ‘absolutely racist state, an absolutely murderous state and an absolutely suicidal state’, all of which are superimposed and converge on the Final Solution. With the Final Solution, it tries to eliminate, through the Jews, all the other races, for whom Jews were the symbol and the manifestation. This includes, in one of Hitler’s last acts, the order to destroy the bases of life for the German people itself. ‘Final Solution for other races, the absolute suicide of the German race’ is inscribed, according to Foucault, in the functioning of the modern state (1997: 232).

Foucault’s analysis of the political rationality of National Socialism finds confirmation in the work of recent German historians on at least one point, that of the fundamental role of the human sciences in the atrocities of that regime (Peters, 1995). The late Detlev Peukert drew upon studies of psychiatry under National Socialism, the history of compulsory sterilization programs, genetics, eugenics, medicine, social policy and education, and his own work on social-welfare education, to argue that ‘what was new about “Final Solution” in world-historical terms was the fact that it resulted from the fatal racist dynamism present within the human and social sciences’ (1993: 236). Again we witness a fundamental division of the population, on this occasion made on a particular qualitative distinction between ‘value’ and ‘non-value’ and a treatment of the Volkskrper or body of the nation that consisted in ‘selection’ and ‘eradication’. Peukert argues that twentieth-century medical and human sciences are confronted by what he calls a ‘logodicy’ that tries to resolve the dilemma between the rationalist dream of the perfectibility of human kind and the empirical existence of human finitude, of illness, suffering and death. One resolution of this dilemma is the projection of the rationalist project away from the finite individual onto a potential immortal body. In the German case, what Foucault called the ‘species body’ of the population is mapped onto the body of the Volk or race. The bio-political imperative is re-articulated with a kind of ‘mythisized’ version of sovereignty. Like Foucault, Peukert argues (1993: 242) that the logic of National Socialism, with its concern for the nurture and improvement of the immortal Volkskörper had a double significance: heroic death on one side and eradication on the other.

National Socialism is one contingent, historical trajectory along the development of the bio-political dimension of the social, medical, psychological and human sciences that occurs under a particular set of historical circumstances. One should not underestimate either the factors operative in German society—the historical legacy of the Great War and the Treaty of Versailles, the revolutionary movements, the fragile nature of German state-formation and the economic crises of the early twentieth century. Nevertheless, Peukert and Foucault would both agree that the kind of state racism practiced by the Nazis, that would lead to the Final Solution, was quite different from traditional anti-semitism insofar as it took the forms of a ‘biological polities’, as the German historians call it, that drew upon the full resources of the human, social and behavioral sciences. According to Peukert, Nazi social policy was a policy of eradication of those who, in the language of the order that represents the crucial step in the Final Solution, are deemed ‘unworthy of life’ {lebensunwertes Leben). The bio-political government of life had arrived at the point at which it decided who was worthy of living. The phrase ‘those unworthy of life’ is striking because it so clearly resonates with the bio-political attempt to govern life. We should be clear that there was nothing necessary in the path of National Socialism, and that there were crucial steps in the conversion of knowledge and services concerned with the care of the needy into a technology of mass annihilation. However, given that many, if not all, the forms of knowledge and technologies of government (eugenics, the concentration camp) were the product of polities characterized at least broadly by liberal forms of rule, its does suggest there is no room for complacency and that the liberal critique of bio-politics cannot offer the kind of guarantees it claims to. Foucault is right to provoke us with the idea that the ‘assurance of life’ is connected with the ‘death command’ and to claim that ‘the coexistence in political structures of large destructive mechanisms and institutions oriented toward the care of individual life is something puzzling and needs some investigation’ (1988a: 147). Mass slaughters may not necessarily or logically follow from the forms of political rationality and types of knowledge we employ, but they do not arise from a sphere that is opposed to that rationality and knowledge.

What Peukert cannot address is the rationality of what he conceives as the irrational component of Nazism. While he understands the role of the human sciences in the formation of Nazi biological politics, he tends to consign the themes of blood, race and Volk to an irrational sublimation contained within them rather than viewing them, as Foucault does, as re-articulated elements of sovereign power. This brings us to the singularity of Foucault’s comments. National Socialism is not regarded as the pinnacle of the total administration of life undertaken with the help of the human sciences and bio-political technologies, as it might be by the Frankfurt School and their descendants. The key point for Foucault is that National Socialism is regarded as a particular articulation of specific elements of bio-politics, and its knowledge of populations and individuals, and sovereignty. It is not simply the logic of the bureaucratic application of the human sciences that is at issue but the re-inscription of racial discourse within a bio-politics of the population and its linkage with themes of sovereign identity, autonomy and political community. This form of sovereignty has been drained of all its potential to claim and protect rights by the removal, following Bauman (1989: 111), of all counterbalancing resourceful and influential social forces. A political discourse that divides populations on the basis of race has certain fairly obvious political dangers. However, one that makes the welfare and life of a racialized population the basis for national sovereignty and political community could be viewed as more clearly ‘demonic’.

A Man in Danger

Unfortunately, this story of bio-political racism does not end with Nazism. Foucault also insists that the possibilities of state racism are found in many versions of the articulation of bio-politics and sovereignty, including many varieties of popular nineteenth-century socialist movements, for example, Blanquism, the Communards and anarchism (1997b: 233-4; Staler, 1995: 86-7). The problem with socialism for Foucault is that it has a kind of state racism inscribed in its premises and that, even if it has sometimes criticized bio-power, it has not re-examined the foundations and modes of functioning of racism. When socialism analyses its own emergence as a result of economic transformation, it does not have need for an immediate recourse to these racist motifs. When it insists on the necessity of struggle to socialist transformation, a struggle that is against the enemies within the capitalist state, Foucault argues, it necessarily revives the theme of racism. Moreover, when socialism takes upon itself the task of managing, multiplying and fostering life, of limiting chances and risks, and governing biological processes, it ends up practicing a form of racism that is not strictly ethnic but evolutionary and biological. The enemies within on which this racism will be practiced are the mentally ill, the criminal and political adversaries and—with, say, China’s one-child policy—imprudent parents and their potential offspring (Sigley, 1996). In the latter case, we find a form of government that combines market-based norms and bio-political interventions into the intimate life of the population in a non-liberal manner in order to realize the objective of the quantity and quality of the population necessary for the socialist plan.

Foucault’s analysis of National Socialism and his comments on the history of socialism are a striking event within the series of utterances that make up his thought. They should be approached neither as an expression of an entire oeuvre nor as an irruption of temporary folly unrelated to more sober judgements. While they do not simply repeat what is said before, nor contain all that will be said after, they are a singular point within a trajectory, a link within a chain. This trajectory is one of the government of individuals and populations in a ‘society of normalization’ that he pursued from Madness and Civilization (1965) to the lectures on governmentality. This trajectory is present in the last volumes of his History of Sexuality by virtue of the search for an intelligibility of forms of self-government outside the regime of norm, identity and truth.

Foucault (1980: 78) opened his lectures in 1976 by pointing to the ‘repetitive and disconnected’ nature of his research into penality, psychiatry and abnormality in the previous five years: ‘Since indeed it never ceases to say the same thing, it perhaps says nothing. It is tangled up into an indecipherable, disorganised muddle.’ Yet at the end of these lectures, he recuperates these earlier themes by suggesting that madness, criminality and abnormality all become re-inscribed within the genealogy of bio-politics, the birth of state racism and the right to kill (Foucault, 1997b: 230). In his 1978-9 course, the last to directly deal with issues of power and government, he situates liberalism as the rationality in which these bio-political problems of population will first appear. As those lectures show, the problem of population leads in multiple and heterogeneous directions, not just toward the birth of state racism but also toward modern notions of economic and social government. There may be a re-balancing of the theme of the modern government of the population in the later 1970s, but there is no attempt to erase or disown the perspectives of 1976. The attempt to articulate elements in the trajectory of sovereignty and bio-politics leads not simply to state racism, ethnic cleansing, the Soviet gulags and the Final Solution, but also to the welfare state, to liberalism and Neoliberalism. The important point to note, for Foucault, is that there is a common pool of resources by which all these programs are made thinkable and practicable, and that these are summarized by the trajectories he calls the ‘shepherdflock’ and ‘city-citizen’ games.

These explorations of the daimon of modern societies is continuous with Foucault’s work in another, perhaps more fundamental way. While they may not try to work as ‘effective history’, as Stoler points out (1995: 88) they certainly do work as a ‘history of the present’: ‘Foucault’s analysis has an almost eerie quality. It speaks to, and even seems to anticipate, the conditions for “ethnic cleansing” in Eastern Europe’s fractured state.’ They are a component of a ‘history of the present’ rather than a critical theory of the present. These substantive analyses exemplify Foucault’s rejection of universal normative foundations and adoption of an ethos of ‘hyper- and pessimistic activism’ (1997a: 256). Politics is far too dangerous an enterprise to seek to rationalize it according to any set of norms, however derived, with any guarantee that those norms will not become components of dividing practices. It is, however, far too important an enterprise to ignore or defer, and it is for that reason that its practice must be accompanied by at least one signal technique of self-government, the constant reminder that this ‘strategic game between liberties’ is also a sphere that contains the potential for the generation of enormous and unthinkable horror.

Foucault’s broad schemata for the analysis of modern societies insists that they are possessed by a daimon, which accounts for both their political inventiveness and their propensity for political evil. This daimon lies in the fact that the modern government of the state is formed from resources that articulate a productive biopolitical government of processes based on population, life, procreation and sexuality with the deductive logic of sovereignty based on right, territory, death and blood. There is no necessity that this daimon will ineluctably lead to the really demonic eventualities we have continued to witness right to the end of the twentieth century. Nor, however, is there any guarantee that the appeal to rights within liberal democracies and the international community of states will guard against such eventualities. Elements within sovereignty and bio-politics will continue to provide resources for political rationality and invention. But there can be no system of safeguards that offers us a zone of comfort when we engage in political action. When we do so, Foucault’s position here seems to suggest, we enter a zone of uncertainty and danger because of the governmental resources we have at our disposal. We might add that the price of not engaging in political action is equally great, if not greater. A condition of informed political action remains an analysis of the rationalities and technologies that made politics thinkable and practicable and that act as its resources, and the manner in which these are deployed in particular programmes seeking various ends, by particular actors in a field of contestation, alliances, tactics and strategy. Foucault’s genealogy of modern political rationality does not offer us a totalizing vision that excuses us from the detailed and meticulous work of analysis. It is precisely because the attempt to combine the ‘shepherdflock’ and ‘city-citizen’ games contains the possibility of unimaginable and unspeakable evil, while simultaneously accounting for the political inventiveness of modern societies, that the kind of ethico-politico-historical study that made Foucault himself famous remains necessary.

Foucault was ‘a man in danger’, to quote Maurice Blanchot (1987: 68), ‘who, without making a display of it, had an acute sense of the perils to which we are exposed, and sought to know which ones are the most threatening and with which it is possible to compromise’. As such, he is often accused of documenting only the dark side of modernity. One wonders, however, what could be more optimistic than the meticulous historical and theoretical study of all the different ways in which we govern and are governed in a ‘society of normalization’ without acceding to a specification of truth, norm and identity. A study, moreover, conducted as a vigil to the subject populations of the Holocaust.