Governability today

Image: Marian Kroell


Reflections on the extreme right from the concept of Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault was a philosopher who produced and still produces the most distinct feelings: from total disdain for his work, treating his post-structuralism (or post-modernity from the critics) as a philosophical strand in the service of capital to blind passions , who put science aside and turn intellectuals into applicators of theories in reality with forceps. Foucault's work is relatively large and his influence in the academic world cannot be discarded, even with due criticism. Therefore, analyzing his concept of governance is also important for those who use dialectical materialism and historical materialism for their criticism, production of knowledge and modification of reality. An increasingly present error within Marxism is to ignore any analysis that comes from outside its philosophical, methodological and political matrix, sometimes thinkers are ignored for their insertion within strands of Marxism itself.

Therefore, the defense made is to leave aside prejudices and theoretical, philosophical and even moral assumptions and enter into themes also explored by other thinkers with other methods and perspectives. It should be noted that Marx did not only study socialists and other critics of capitalism such as Lassale, Fourier, Saint-Simon, Proudhon and the “left Hegelians”. Quite the contrary, his most masterful works are heavy criticisms of the works of thinkers such as Smith, Ricardo, Hegel, who were also very important in the very construction of concepts and themes analyzed. Without Smith and Ricardo, just to stay on the surface of the debate, Marx's entire analysis of Land Rent would not exist, without Hegel there would not even be the dialectical materialist method and historical materialism.

With this introduction, to rescue what Foucault wrote about governmentability[I] it is of central importance in the world that rises in this, still brief, but already bloody XNUMXst century. Thus, the French thinker made an entire examination of the modification throughout the history of the functioning and pattern of the way of governing. It is in his genealogy, the return to the past, scrutinizing the unfolding of forms of government, that Foucault helps to understand the changes that occurred in their crudest form: the control of bodies.

Returning to Machiavelli's Prince, one clearly has in mind that the way to control the people was via the sovereign. This was seen as a being that transcends those he governs, being above legal and moral treaties. It was up to the sovereign to govern with violence something that was external to him: the people and their principality. The relationship between the people and the sovereign is therefore fragile. The sovereign's actions are aimed at maintaining the well-being of his political unit. Therefore, there is no exchange, no counterpart, for those from below from the power applied from above, from the head of the State.

Now Foucault perceives the slow change that occurs along the development of the Modern State. There is a decentralization of governance, dividing it into three spheres: self-government, morality; the government of the family, the economy; and the state government, politics. It is the transformation of a way of governing that slowly starts to deal with the people as things.

However, there is a purpose to the sovereign's art of statecraft. It is the common good, the salvation of all, through the application of divine logic, Christian reason and equally Christian morality.

It is from the Modern State, forged in blood and fire, that Machiavelli's notion of State reason takes shape. Hobbes's monopoly of violence on the part of the State assumes centrality to the detriment of decentralized violence. The division of powers, defended by Montesquieu, undercuts the uniqueness of the sovereign as a supreme being. And finally, Rousseau's social contract takes shape in constitutions, giving a counterpart to the people.

Add to all this the territorial unification, centralization of power, creation of a state bureaucracy (no longer royal, subservient to a certain sovereign and his dynasty), the professional army, the unification of the legal order and taxes, in addition to the unification forced from the people through the idea of ​​nation and then we have the Modern Nation-State. There is no longer divine law, teaches Foucault, but human law, the law of the State, which is transmuted into reality through increasingly autonomous mechanisms.

But where does Marx's dialectical materialism fit into all this? Foucault believed that this development was constant and would soon reach a stage where society, the population, would be self-regulating as in a great panopticon. Social networks are, in a way, a big brother where everyone watches everyone else, everyone shows everything to everyone in a “voluntary” way and thus has their desires and preferences transformed into merchandise. However, what would explain figures like the current president of Brazil, Trump, Modi, Orban, Johnson, Kaczynski rising to power precisely with speeches critical of such measures? It is at this point that analyzing governmentability through and starting from the critique of political economy and class struggle is important.

The figures represented above, plus others like Putin and Erdogan, are precisely the opposite of the Modern State. They disdain the state bureaucracy, do not create large State counterparts for the people, disdain the division of powers, fight the liberal discourse (the famous liberalism in customs) and at the same time offer a range of discourses that call to a glorious past, to enemies peaks and great future possibilities. It is fascist ideology in its rawest expression, but this is a more recent movement, hence the nickname neo-fascism. It is not the same fascism of the 1920s-30s. It is a fascism that, like the original, follows the pattern of a great leader. However, without the state apparatus.

Hitler was what he was thanks to a combination of facts and social agents who had a very well structured party. Ditto Mussolini. Japanese “fascism” relied on a very well-structured militarism for almost 50 years. He was not just the great leader, but a whole cultural, political, social, economic and territorial apparatus plotted and supported by a significant part of the population. But and now?

In this brief XNUMXst century we see an updated return of what Machiavelli wrote. Leaders are devoid of large state apparatuses and important support within the establishment. Rise to power as outsiders, like a messiah in a supposed sea of ​​mud. They are the greatest defenders of capitalism, but they are elected precisely by criticizing the harmful products of the dominant mode of production.

The big change is that, unlike the sovereign who was external, external, alien to the people in the absolutist state, the new neo-fascist sovereign (or right-wing populist or autocratic, as you wish) lists precisely the opposite. It presents itself as the maximum representation of the people: a myth that carries with it all the so-called most rudimentary characteristics of its population, such as ultranationalism, truculence, machismo, racism, anticommunism, homophobia, etc. There is a mythical direct connection with the ruler. One is no longer “faithful” to the constitution, to the party, to the class, but to a single subject who is in power. So it was with Trump and so it is with others mentioned, to a greater or lesser extent.

What produced such a thing? It was neoliberalism and its brutal concentration of income that produced a disgust of a good part of the population towards the Modern State. Bureaucracy is then painted as a cancer, because it is riddled with communists and corruption, and not because it is obliged to serve the dictates of capital. The judiciary is rotten, because it defends human rights and gives shelter to “vagabonds”, not because it is a tool of the bourgeois class; the State perpetuates the “vagabond” through welfare, because it is communist, and not because neoliberalism produces a poor mass that without State intervention would starve (or make the revolution). Therefore, we have in these caricatured figures what Marx[ii] he dealt with Louis Bonaparte: a lumpen mass following a rough leader. But today in a new guise, which understands again that the economy depends on each family, morals (Christian, evidently) on each person and politics on the enlightened ruler, savior of the homeland.

Several actions by the government demonstrate measures that are a movement of a new governance, some are exemplary. The first and most visible to everyone's eyes is the State's rigging in all spheres. The Brazilian bureaucracy has always had serious problems, being often forced to serve as a maneuvering mass for the political groups in power, however, this was done in a veiled and always covert way. Today no more. Sanitation is encouraged against any public official who is not bovine and a link in the gigantic gear of fake news, either by the population or by colleagues who identify with such a measure. As Pericás reported right here in A Terra é Redonda, what we see is the rise of a rough troop, a cognitive, intellectual and moral regression within the state bureaucracy, elevating to positions of leadership and command figures that would previously be sidelined.

Another controversial measure that is in line with this new governance that breaks the bureaucratic and liberal Modern State is the death by starvation of the IBGE and the impracticability of the Census. The 2020 Census budget, approved in 2018, was 3,2 billion reais and today, in 2021, it continues to be drained, reaching 2,3 billion. Only by way of comparison, these 3,2 billion reais today would be equivalent to 4,6 billion. These 2,3 billion today are equivalent to the 3,2 billion in 2018 (values ​​corrected based on the IGP-M, available on the citizen's calculator on the BC website). It is worth remembering that Statistics is the science of the State! It was created precisely to quantify the population and better plan, control and anticipate future measures that the State must take in relation to its citizens. Again Foucault teaches us that this happened precisely with the German unification in 1871 and all of Bismarck's measures in order to avoid revolutions and better manage the Germans. Note that we have a double regression. If the transition from people to population was traumatic, since it left differences aside and sought to standardize and objectify citizens, the return to the people category is equally bad: in Brazil today, it is the passage from material reality to pure metaphysics. Census crashes, fractured bureaucracy, and even the pandemic's new death count measures are meant to create official falsehoods.

However, does the Brazilian government really want this regression in order to change the structure of the State? Most likely not. The figure of the Minister of Economy makes this very clear. It is nothing more than the heavy application of the ultraliberal playbook of total privatization of the country, a Chile of Pinochet 2.0, but now with messianic traits, no more than a pure scientism supported by a cohesive military group behind it (see last week's dismissals) . Grespan, when dealing with Marx's work, indirectly helps in understanding the development of Brazilian measures. The production of a government that makes part of the population believe that there is an intimate connection between the president and them is a fable. The president is a puppet of the market, who has his presentation, presentation, linked to the denial of everything he really does. That is, still in Grespan[iii], the president presents himself as a thing, but that thing is only a representation, idea, an empty form of actual content, eine form, die keinen wirklichen Inhalt hat. If form is sedimented content, the real content of the presidency is empty, it is metaphysical, it only exists in discourse and it works as a mechanism to maintain precisely what it denies: ultraliberalism in its purest state.

*Gustavo Felipe Olesko He holds a PhD in Human Geography from USP.


[I] In the entire text and all quotes from Foucault are present in FOUCAULT, Michel. Security, territory, population. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2008.

[ii] MARX, Carl. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2011.

[iii] Grespan, George. Marx and the critique of the capitalist mode of representation. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2019.

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