Political Technique, the Conflict of Umori, and Foucault’s Reading of Machiavelli in Sécurité, Territoire, Population

Foucault Studies 19:172-190 (2015)
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Abstract

For those familiar with Machiavelli’s texts, Foucault’s interpretation of Macchiavelli in his 1978 lecture series Sécurité, Territoire, Population1 is surprising. Although Machiavelli figures prominently in five of the thirteen lectures,2 Foucault treats Machiavelli as if he were the author of only one book—The Prince—and his reading treats this complex text as if it covered only one topic: how to guarantee the security of the Prince. Clearly Foucault did not intend his interpretation of Machiavelli as a close exegesis. Other discussions of Foucault’s treatment of Machiavelli have acknowledged the role Machiavelli plays in these lectures and even note the inadequacy of the interpretation given by Foucault, but most commentators do not pursue Foucault’s reading further.3 This investigation is not concerned with whether Foucault got Machiavelli right. Rather, Foucault’s reading of Machiavelli is noteworthy because it is partial and incomplete in a way reminiscent of Foucault’s reading of Hobbes in, Il faut défendre la société. This fragmentary character of Foucault’s inscription of Machiavelli as a forerunner of the history of biopolitique allows an innovative reading of the Florentine that connects Machiavelli’s thinking, however indirectly, on a trajectory that encounters, for instance, Foucault’s analysis of populations, the police state, and even his reading of liberalism during the 1978-­‐ 1979 lectures. My argument here is that the specific way Foucault’s inscribes Machiavelli in the history of gouvernementalité, while seeming to reject him, in fact acts to resuscitate, and thereby relay, a reading of Machiavelli as a thinker who articulates encounters among political practices engaged within a horizon of radical immanence.

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Sean Erwin
Barry University

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