Dispatches

Foucault on anthropoliteia: “The police’s true object is man.”

Michel Foucault, discussing Louis Turquet de Mayerne’s 1611 treatise on the police Aristo-democratic Monarchy:

  1. The “police” appears as an administration heading the state, together with the judiciary, the army, and the exchequer.  True.  yet in fact, it embraces everything else.  Turquet says so: “It branches out into all the people’s conditions, everything they do or undertake.  Its field comprises justice, finance, and the army.”
  2. The police includes everything.  But from an extremely particular point of view.  Men and things are envisioned as to their relationships: men’s coexistence n a territory; their relationships as to property; what they produce; what is exchanged on the market.  It also considers how they live, the diseases and accidents that can befall them.  What the police sees to is a live, active, productive man.  Turquet employs a remarkable expression: “The police’s true object is man.”
  3. …What are the aims pursued?  they fall into two categories.  First, the police has to do with everything providing the city with adornment, form and splendor.  Splendor denotes not only the beauty of the state ordered to perfection but also to its strength, its vigor…. Second… to foster working and trading relations between men…. There again, the word Turquet uses is important: the police must ensure “communication” among men, in the broad sense of the word–otherwise, men wouldn’t be able to live, or their lives would be precarious, poverty-stricken, and perpetually threatened…. And here, we can make out what is, I think, an important idea.  As a form of rational intervention wielding political power over men, the role of the police is to supply them with a little extra life–and, by so doing, supply the state with a little extra strength.  This is done by controlling “communication,” that is, the common activities of individuals (work, production, exchange, accommodation). (bold emphasis my own)

Foucault M. 2000. “Omnes et Singulatim”: toward a critique of political reason. In Power, ed. JD Faubion, pp. 318-319. New York: New Press (see the text for free here)

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