The Bio/Geo Politics of Religion

2009-10 Seminar at Macaulay Honors College at CUNY

Agamben on Foucault

Posted by jbussolini on October 19, 2009

Just in case it is of interest to anyone or helps any aspects of the discussion…Since it bears on Foucault and especially Security, Territory, Population, I free rendered the sections of the Giorgio Agamben book Il Regno e La Gloria which have to do with Foucault. No guarantees for accuracy and sorry that it is a bit clunky.

Sections from Giorgio Agamben’s Il Regno e La Gloria: per una genealogia teologica dell’economia e del governo (Neri Posa 2007) which bear on Foucault, especially the lecture courses (STP)

(page 9-10) This research proposes to investigate the ways and the reasons for which power came to assume, in the West, the form of an oikonomia, that of a government of humans. It is situated therefore in the track of Michel Foucault’s research on governmentality but seeks to understand the internal reasons for which it did not come to completion. The shadow of the theoretical interrogation of the present projected on the past here reaches, well beyond the chronological limits which Foucault assigned to his genealogy, the first centuries of christian theology, which sees the first, uncertain elaboration of the trinitarian doctrine on the form of an oikonomia. Situating government in its theologica locus does not mean searching to explain it through a hierarchy of causes, as if theology necessarily belonged to a more original genetic rank; it means, rather, showing how the dispositive of the trinitarian oikonomia can constitute a privileged laboratory to observe the functioning and articulation–both internal and external–of the governmental machine. Since in it the elements–or the polarity–in which the machine is articulated appear, so to speak, in their paradigmatic form.

The inquiry into the genealogy–or, as would have been said at one time, into the nature–of power in the West, which started more than ten years ago now with Homo sacer, comes to a point which is decisive in every sense. The double structure of the governmental machine which in State of exception (2003) appeared in the correlation between auctoritas and potestas, here takes the form of the articulation between Reign and Government and, ultimately, comes to interrogate the same relation–which at the beginning was not taken into account–between oikonomia and Glory, between power as government and effective management and power as ceremonial and liturgical majesty, two aspects which have remained curiously overlooked as much by political philosophers as by political experts. Even the historical studies on the teachings and rituals of power, from Peterson to Kantorowicz, from Alföldi to Schramm, have failed to interrogate this relation, leaving aside the most obvious questions: Why does power have need of glory? If it is essentially force and capacity of action and of government, why assume the rigid, cumbersome, and ‘glorious’ form of ceremony, of acclamations, and of protocols? What is the relation between economy and Glory?

(page 15-16) A preliminary clarification of the significance and implications of the term ‘secularization’ becomes all the more urgent. That this concept has taken on a strategic function in modern culture–that it would be, in this sense, a concept of the ‘politics of ideas,’ that is something which “in the reign of ideas has always already found an adversary to battle for domination” (Lübbe)–is perfectly well-known. And this holds even for secularization in the strictly juridical sense–which, reviving the term (saecularisatio) which designated the return of a religious person to the world, in the nineteenth century in Europe turns it into the word of order in the conflict between the State and the Church over the expropriation of ecclesiastical goods–as much as for its metaphorical use in the history of ideas. When Max Weber formulated his famous thesis on secularization of the Puritan ascetics in the capitalist work ethic, the apparent neutrality of the diagnosis could not hide its functionality in the battle for the disenchantment of the world which Weber fought against the fanatics and the false prophets. Similar considerations could be made for Troeltsch. What is, in this context, the sense of the Schmittian thesis?

Schmitt’s strategy is, in a certain sense, inverse with respect to that of Weber. While, for the latter, secularization was an aspect of the process of the growing disenchantment and de-theologicization of the modern world, in Schmitt, on the contrary, theology continues to be present and to act in an eminent way in the modern world. This does not necessarily imply a substantial identity between theology and the modern, nor a perfect identity of signification between theological concepts and political concepts; it concerns, rather, a particular strategic relation, which marks political concepts, referring them to their theological origin.

Secularization is, rather, not a concept, but a signature in the sense of Foucault or Melandri, that is something which, in a sign or a concept, marks or exceeds it to refer it to a determinate interpretation or a determinate sphere, without, however, exiting from the semiotic to constitute a new meaning or a new concept. Signatures defer and dislocate concepts and signs from one sphere to another (in this case, from sacred to profane or vice-versa) without redefining them semantically. Most apparent concepts of the philosophical tradition are, in this way, signatures, which, like the ‘secret indexes’ that Benjamin speaks about, take on a determinate and vital strategic relation, strongly orienting the interpretation of signs in a certain direction. Inasmuch as they put different times and contexts into connection, signatures act, so to speak, as historic elements in the pure state. Foucault’s archeology and Nietzsche’s genealogy (and, in a different way, also Derrida’s deconstruction and the theory of dialectical images in Benjamin) are sciences of the signature, which run parallel to the history of ideas and of concepts and should not be confused with them. If it does not have the capacity to perceive signatures and to follow the dislocations and shifts which they create in the tradition of ideas, the simple history of concepts can, at times, prove totally insufficient.

Secularization acts, in this sense, in the modern conceptual system as a signature which refers it to theology. As, according to canonical law, the secularized sacerdotal had to wear the sign of the order to which he had belonged, so the secularized concept exhibits as a signature its past belonging to the theological sphere. Decisive, each time, is the way in which the reference made by the theological signature comes to be understood. Secularization could, likewise, even be understood (as in the case of Gogarten) as a specific performance of christian faith, which for the first time opens the world to humans in its worldliness and historicity. The theological signature acts here as a sort of trompe l’oeil, in which even the secularization of the world becomes the countersign of its belonging to a divine oikonomia.

(page 89-92) Schmitt’s hostility to every attempt to divide Reign and Government and, in particular, his reservations against the liberal democratic separation of powers, to which this division is strictly tied, emerges many times in his work. Already in the Verfassungslehre of 1927 he cites the formula regarding “parliamentary monarchy Belgian style,” in which the direction of affairs is in the hands of the ministers, while the king represents a sort of “neutral power.” The only positive significance that Schmitt seems to recognize to the separation of Reign and Government is that which brings it back to the distinction between auctoritas and potestas:

The question that a grand maestro of public law, Max von Seydel, posed: what remains of regner if we take away the gouverner, can be resolved only if we distinguish between potestas and autoritas, and bring to consciousness the peculiar significance of authority opposite political power. [Schmitt]

The significance of this is expressed clearly in the 1933 essay State, Movement, People, in which Schmitt, searching to delineate the new constitution of the national socialist Reich, re-elaborates in a new perspective the distinction between Reign and Governo. Although, during the extreme political-social conflicts of the Weimar Republic, he had energetically defended th extension of the powers of the president of the Reich as “custodian of the constitution,” Schmitt now affirms that the president “is returned again to a sort of ‘constitutional’ position of dictatorial head of the state qui regne et ne gouverne pas” (Schmitt). Opposite this sovereign who does not govern, there is, in the person of the chancellor Adolf Hitler, not simply a function of government (Reguerung), but a new figure of political power which Schmitt calls Führung and which he sets out, precisely, to distinguish from traditional government. And it is in this context that he traces a genealogy of “the government of men” which seems to anticipate, in a vertiginous axis, that which, in the second half of the 1970s, would occupy Michel Foucaultin his courses at the College de France. Like Foucault, he sees in the Catholic pastorate the paradigm of the modern concept of government:

Guiding [fuhren] is not commanding…The Roman Catholic church for it’s power of dominion over believers transformed and completed the image of the pastor and the flock into a theological-dogmatic idea

In a similar way, Schmitt notes that Plato, in a famous passage of the Politics:

Treats the different analogies which are presented for the man of the State, with a doctor, a pastor, or a pilot to then confirm the image of the pilot. This is passed through gubernator to all the languages influenced by Latin to the romantic and anglosaxon people, and became the word for government [Regierung] as gouvernement, governo, government, or as gubernium in the old Hapsburg monarchy. The history of this gubernator contains a good example of how an imaginary analogy becomes a juridical-technical concept.

It is in this governmental setting that Schmitt strives to elucidate the “essentially German character” of the national socialist concept of Führung, which, “descends neither from the baroque allegories and representations [allusion to the theory of sovereignty which Benjamin develops in the Ursprung], nor from a cartesian idée generale,” but is “a concept of the immediate present and of an effective presence.” The distinction is not an easy one, because an “essentially German” sense of the term does not exist and the word Führung like the verb Führen and the noun Führer (different from the Italian term duce, which had already known a specialization in a politico-military sense, for example in the Venetian doge) refers to an extememly vast semantic sphere, which includes each case in which someone drives and orients the movement of a living being, from a vehicle to an object (including, naturally, the case of gubernator, that is the pilot of a ship). For the rest, analyzing very little the triple articulation of the new national socialist material constitution in “State,” “movement,” and “people,” Schmitt defined the people as “the unpolitical side [unpolitische Seite], which grows under the protection and in the shadow of political decisions,” assigning in this way to the Führer an unmistakable pastoral and governmental function. That which distinguishes, however, the Führung from the pastoral-governmental paradigm, is, according to Schmitt, that, while “the pastor remains absolutely transcendent with respect to the flock,” the former is defined rather “by an absolute equality of species [Artgleichheit] between the Führer and his followers.” The concept of the Führung appears here as a secularization of the pastoral paradigm, which eliminates the transcendent character of it. To subtract the Führung from the governmental model, Schmitt is, however, constrained to give a constitutional rank to the concept of race, through which the nonpolitical element–the people–becomes politicized in the only model possible according to Schmitt: making the equality of birth (descent) the criteria which, separating the extraneous from the equal, decides each time on the friend and the enemy. Not without analogy to the analyses which Foucault will develop in Society Must Be Defended, racism becomes in this way the dispositive through which sovereign power (which for Foucault coincides with the power of life and death and for Schmitt with the decision on the exception) is reinserted into biopolitics. In this way, the economic-governmental paradigm is brought back to a genuinely political sphere, in which the separation between powers loses its sense and the act of governing (Regierungakt) cedes way to the unique activity “through which the Führer affirms his supreme Führertum.”

(page 122) We can now better understand the arthurian mythology of the roi mehaignié. This is the reflection in a literary environment of a transformation and splitting of the concept of sovereignty which must have profoundly perturbed the minds of contemporaries. Even though, as we have seen, this had precedents in the gnostic doctrine of the idle god and in its likenesses in the tradition of roman law, this transformation is accomplished essentially , from a technical point of view, in the canonistic environment. The theological model of this separation is in the doctrine of divine impotence, that is in the distinction between potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata. Uguccione and the Grandi decree–with which Innocenzo IV separated, in the case of rex inutilis Sancho II, majesty from its exercise–gave this distinction a juridical form the general significance and political implications of which they may not have fully realized. It is certain, nevertheless, that as has been observed, “Grandi is the result of the most articulated juridical tradition that Europe had known since the age of Justinian, even if few territorial monarchies were able, in 1245, to fully make use of this tradition” (Peters). The conflict which was here in question is not, however, so much, as Peters seems to believe, that between “legal authority” (which is, by effect of the decree, to the count of Bologna) and “personal loyalty” (which was already due to the sovereign Sancho II), as much as that between a sovereignty indivisible from its exercise and a majesty constitutively divided and separate from government (or, in the terms of Foucault, between territorial sovereignty and governmental power).

(page 125-8) Michel Foucault’s course at the Collège de France in 1977-1978, entitled Sécurité, territoire, population, is dedicated to a genealogy of modern “governmentality.” Foucault begins by distinguishing, in the history of the relations of power, three different modalities: the legal system, which corresponds to the institutional model of the territorial State of sovereignty and is defined by a normative code which opposes that which is permitted and that which is prohibited and consequently establishes a penal system; disciplinary mechanisms, which correspond to the modern society of discipline and put in place, alongside the law, a series of police, medical, and penitentiary techniques to order, correct, and modulate the bodies of subjects; dispositives of security, finally, which correspond to the contemporary state of population and to the new practices which define it, which he calls “government of humans.” Foucault takes care to specify that these three modalities do not chronologically succeed nor successively exclude one another, but coexist and articulate with one another in a manner, nevertheless, that one of these constitutes in turn the dominant political technology. The birth of the state of population and the primacy of dispositives of security coincides in this way with the relative decline of the sovereign function and the coming to the fore of this governmentality which defines the essential political problem of our time and which Foucault characterizes using a formula which we have already encountered in Schmitt and Peterson:

To the extent that I spoke of the population, a term came back up repeatedly[…]the term ‘government.’ The more I spoke about the population, the more I stopped saying ‘sovereign.’ I was led to designate or see something relatively new, not terminologically nor at a certain level of reality, but inasmuch as new technology. Or, rather, the privilege which government starts to exercise with respect to the rules, to the point that one day we could say, to limit the powers of the king, “the king reigns but does not govern,” this inversion of government in relation to rule and the fact that government would be, at base, much more than the sovereignty, much more than rule, much more than the imperium, the modern political problem…

Foucault identifies the origin of governmental technologies in the christian pastorate, that “government of souls” (regiman animarum), which, as “technology of technologies,” defines the activity of the church up until the eighteenth century, when it becomes the “model” and the “matrix” of political government. One of the essential characteristics of the pastorate is its reference as much to individuals as to the totality, its taking care of humans omnes et singulatim, and it is this double articulation which is transmitted to the governmental activity of the modern State, which is, because of this, both individualizing and totalizing. Another essential trait which the pastorate and the government of humans share is, according to Foucault, the idea of an “economy,” that is of a management organized on the familial model of individuals, things, and riches. If the pastorate presents itself as an oikonomia psychon, an “economy of souls,” “the introduction of economy into political practice will be…the essential scope of government.” Government is nothing other, in fact, than “the art of exercising power in the form of an economy” and the ecclesiastical pastorate and political government are both situated within a substantially economic paradigm.

Even though Foucault, for his “economical” definition of the pastorate, cites Gregorio di Nazianze–an author who, as we have seen, plays an important role in the elaboration of the trinitarian economy–he seems to ignore altogether the theological implications of the term oikonomia, to which the present research is dedicated. But that the foucauldian genealogy of governmentality can be, in this regard, followed and pushed back to the point of identifying in even in god, through the elaboration of the trinitarian paradigm, the origin of the notion of an economic government of humans and the world, does not however take value from his hypotheses, but rather confirms their theoretical nucleus in the same degree to which it describes it in detail and corrects the historical-chronological exposition. The lesson of March 8, 1978 is thus dedicated, among other things, to an analysis of Aquinas’ De regno, showing that, in medieval thought and, especially, in the Scholastics, there is still a substantial continuity between sovereign and government. “If, in the uninterrupted continuity of the exercise of his soveriegnty, the sovereign can and must govern, this is because he is part of a grand continuum which goes from god the father of the family, passing through nature and the pastors. This grand continuum from sovereignty to government is none other than the translation in the so-called ‘political’ order, of the continuum that goes from god to humans.” It is this continuity which, according to Foucault, breaks from the sixteenth century onwards, when a series of new paradigms, from the astronomy of Copernicus and Kepler to the physics of Galileo, from the natural history of John Ray to the Grammar of Port-Royal show that god “rules the world only through general, immutable, universal, simple, and intelligible laws–which is to say, rather, that god does not govern it in the pastoral mode, but reigns sovereign through principles.”

We have shown, on the contrary, that the first seed of the division between Reign and Government is in the trinitarian oikonomia, which introduces into the divinity itself a fracture between being and praxis. The notion of ordo in medieval thought–and, especially, in Aquinas–does not succeed in suturing this split without reproducing it within as a fracture between a transcendent order and an immanent order (and between ordinatio and executio). But still more peculiar is the fact that Foucault, in his genealogy of governmentality, mentions the Thomistic booklet De regno and leaves aside the treatise De gubernatione mundi. in which he could have found the essential elements of a theory of government, as distinct from reign. On the other hand, the term gubernatio–after a certain moment and already in the book of Salviano De gubernatione Dei–is synonymous with providence and the treatises on the divine government of the world are nothing other than treatises on the way in which god articulates and performs his providential action. Providence is the name for ‘oikonomia’ insofar as it is presented as goverment of the world. If the doctrine of oikonomia–and that of providence which depends on it–can be seen, in this sense, as machines to found and explain the government of the world and only in this was become fully intelligible, it is also true, conversely, that the birth of the governmental paradigm becomes comprehensible only if it is situated on the ‘economic-theological’ foundation of providence to which it is united.

Even more peculiar, in the 1977-1978 course, is the absence of any reference to to the notion of providence. Yet the theories of Kepler, Galileo, Ray, and of the circle of Port-Royal which Foucault cites, do not, as we have seen, but radicalize this distinction between general providence and special providence, into which the theologians had transposed in their way the oppositions between Reign and Government. And the passage from the ecclesiastical pastorate to political government, which Foucault strives to explain, to tell the truth in a none too convincing manner, through the emergence of a whole series of counterconducts which resist the pastorate, is all the more comprehensible if it is seen as a secularization of that minute phenomenology of of first and second, proximate and remote, occasional and efficient causes, general and particular will, mediated and immediate concurrence,and ordinatio and executio, through which the theorists of providence tried to render intelligible the government of the world.

(page 299-300) In the 1977-1978 course on Sécurité, territoire, population, Foucault defined in a few, dense, lines the fundamental structure of the rousseauian political project. He tries here to show that the problem of sovereignty did not exit from the scene at the moment in which the art of governing comes to the fore in European politics; on the contrary, never as in this moment is it given such urgency, since while, up until the eighteenth century, we were contented to deduce a paradigm of government from the theory of sovereignty, now we are concerned with the inverse process: given the growing preeminence of the arts of government, to find that juridical form and that theory of sovereignty able to sustain and found it. It is at this point that he exemplifies this thesis with a reading of Rousseau, and, in particular, of the relation between the 1755 article on Political Economy in the Encyclopedia and the Social Contract. The question of the article, in fact, according to Foucault is the definition of an “economy” or an art of government, which no longer has its model in the family, but has in common with it the scope to govern in the best mode possible to render humans happy. When Rousseau writes the Social Contract, the problem will be, instead, precisely

to know in what way, with notions such as those of ‘nature,’ ‘contract,’ and ‘general will,’ we can define a general principle of government which gives place, at the same time, to the juridical principle of sovereignty and to the elements through which one can define and characterize an art of government[…] The problem of sovereignty is not eliminated, it is rendered more acute.

We will try to deepen Foucault’s diagnoses in the light of the results of our research. First of all here he is nearest in the greatest degree possible to him to the intuition f the bipolar character of the governmental machine, even if the methodological choice of leaving aside the analysis of juridical universals does not permit him to fully articulate it. The rousseauian theory of sovereignty is certainly function of a theory of government (or of ‘public economy,’ as he sometimes defined it), but the correlation between the two elements is, in Rousseau, even stricter and more intimate than appears in in the brief foucauldian analysis and is founded integrally in the theological model that he receives through Malebranche and the French theorists of providence.

Decisive in this perspective is the distinction and the articulation between sovereignty and government, which is at the base of Rousseau’s political thought. “I pray my readers,” exhorts the article on Political Economy, “to distinguish with care public economy, which is here in question and which I call government, from the supreme authority I call sovereignty; the distinction consists in this, that the latter has the legislative right and binds the body of the nation itself, while the other has only executive power and cannot bind but the particulars.”