Michel Foucault’s seminar of 1978-1979 at The Collège de France explores what “biopolitics” could be. Biopolitics is what explains why governmentality and governance are frugal at the end of XX century. What is at the core of the frugality of governmentality is population, and to understand this Foucault proposes to reconstruct the praxis of the English liberals, the German ordoliberals, and the American Neo-liberals. It is, afterall, that the XVIII century, present in other works of Foucault, was when many of what he calls “transaction realities” were born. To that extent, biopolitics is, like madness, civil society, literature, sexuality, and other notions explored by Foucault elsewhere, contingent technology. Such technologies “have not always existed [and] are nonetheless real, are born precisely from the interplay of relations of power which constantly eludes them, at the interface, so to speak, of governors and governed” (297). The problem, however, is that at the end of the last lecture, Foucault does not conclude with the announcement of biopolitics, but of, simply, politics.
The disparity between what the seminar wishes to address, and what was addressed perhaps is not a minor detail. That is, the difference between politics and biopolitics is blurry. The concluding lines of the last lecture asks and concludes, “what is politics in the end, if not both the interplay of these different arts of government with their different reference points and the debate to which the different arts of government give rise? It seems to me that it is here that politics is born” (313). Politics, or biopolitics, then, is born when there are several arts of government at game, where there are different reference points. For an interplay to be the way various things affect each other, then, biopolitics is the terrain of affects, of the possibilities of what happens when two bodies interact with each other. While Foucault focuses on the XVIII and XIX centuries, one wonders if what is said about the civil society, that foundation of governmentality and government, could also apply to all forms of social organization. If civil society serving as the medium of economic bond “brings individuals together through the spontaneous converge of interests, [while] it is also a principle of dissociation at the same time” (302), and by extension, individuals do not get together by economic interests only, nor because they are naturally inclined to be together, then, individuals get together by a “de facto bond which links different concrete individuals to each other” (304). Civil society, and by extension biopolitics, is a tool of and for domination. The radical question that Foucault invites us to ask is if it could be possible to rethink domination, or if domination should be considered as something to overcome of the field of social organization.
While the lectures do not address the problem of cohesion or domination, it is clear that all the reflections on what the market, or the individuals do are part of the supplement of power, of domination. That is, power only exists precisely because it cannot do certain things: it cannot dominate the market and cannot dominate the individuals fully. It happens then, that the homo oeconomicus, for instance, “strips the sovereign of power inasmuch as he reveals an essential, fundamental, and major incapacity of the sovereign, that is to say, an inability to master the totality of the economic field” (292). Inability moves power. And things stay, somehow, as the quote Foucault mentions in the first lecture, “do not disturb what is at rest.” In the other hand, things have never been, it seems, at rest. If politics have always been biopolitics, then, biopolitics is born every time something moves the habitual arrangement of that which seems at rest.