Friday, July 11, 2008
Homo Economicus v. Homo Sacer: Foucault replies to Agamben, Part 2
[Excerpts from The Birth of Biopolitics]
Since the eighteenth century, has homo economicus involved setting up an essentially and unconditionally irreducible element against any possible government? Does the definition of homo economicus involved marking out the zone that is definitively inaccessible to any government action? Is homo economicus an atom of freedom in the face of all the conditions, undertakings, legislation, and prohibitions a possible government, or was he not already a certain type of subject who precisely enabled an art of government to be determined according to the principle of economy, both in the sense of political economy and in the sense of the restriction, self-limitation, and frugality of government? Obviously, the way in which I have formulated this question gives the answer straightaway, but this is what I would like to talk about, that is to say, homo economicus as the partner, the vis-à-vis, and the basic element of the new governmental reason formulated in the eighteenth century.
Homo economicus is someone who can say to the juridical sovereign, to the sovereign possessor of rights and founder of positive law on the basis of the natural right of individuals: You must not. But he does not say: You must not, because I have rights and you must not touch them. This is what the man of right, homo juridicus, says to the sovereign: I have rights, I have entrusted some of them to you, the others you must not touch, or: I have entrusted you with with my rights for a particular end. Homo economicus does not say this. He also tells the sovereign: You must not. But what must he not? You must not because you cannot. And you cannot in the sense that “you are powerless.” And why are you powerless, why can’t you? You cannot because you do not know, and you do not know because you cannot know.
You can see that in the modern world, in the world we have known since the nineteenth century, a series of governmental rationalities overlap, lean on each other, challenge each other, and struggle with each other: art of government according to truth, art of government according to the rationality of sovereign state, and art of government according to the rationality of the economic agents, and more generally, according to the rationality of the governed themselves. And it is all these different arts of government, all these different types of ways of calculating, rationalizing, and regulating the art of government which, overlapping each other, broadly speaking constitute the object of political debate from the nineteenth century. 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 these different arts of government give rise? It seems to me that it is here that politics is born.