• A lecture given by Foucault at the Collége de France
in February 1978 on the course “Security, territory,
• Governmentality – a neologism meaning ‘government
rationality’, a theme of his later work. French word
‘mentalité’- mentality, mental attitude or mindset.
• In English - attitude, character, comprehension,
disposition, mind-set, intellect, make-up, outlook,
personality, rationality, reasoning, routine, sense,
• ‘the conduct of conduct’ – a form of activity aiming to
shape, guide or affect the conduct of some person or
The Problem of Government
• “Government as a general problem seems to me to
explode in the sixteenth century, posed by discussion
of diverse questions” (p. 87). He mentions:
• The question of the government of oneself (problem
of personal conduct – Stoic revival in 16th century)
• Government of souls and lives – (Catholic/Protestant
• Government of children “and the great problematic of
• Government of the state by the prince
Problematic of Government
• “How to govern oneself, how to be governed,
how to govern others, by whom the people will
accept being governed, how to become the
best possible governor…” (p. 87).
• The question in its multiplicity becomes
pressing at the break-up of feudalism with the
establishment of great territorial,
administrative and colonial states.
• “There is a problematic of governmental in
general” (p. 88).
Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513)
• The body of literature extends from 16th-to C18th.
Mentions Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513), a treatise
on the art of acquiring and maintaining political power:
– a willingness to imitate the behavior of great men
– the ability to illustrate how government is necessary to the
well-being of the populace
– a dedication to the art of war
– an understanding that apparent cruelty may be essential to
maintaining stability and power
– prudence with respect to disbursement of one's own wealth
– making efforts to appear religious to sway the "vulgar."
– the wisdom to seek advice and counsel only when it is
Literature on Government
• The literature centered on the art of government centered on the
state and ‘reason of state’, shorn of its religious and theological
foundations and taking the prince as its oject and principle of
• Foucault discusses Machiavelli’s The Prince and a series of anti-
Machiavellian texts (Guillaume de La Perrière’s Miroir Politique)
where Machiavelli is rediscovered in the early 19th century.
• The juridical theory of sovereignty draws the lines between
different types of power. A person who wishes to govern well
must learn how to govern himself (the pedagogical formation of
the prince); conversely when a person governs well, the head of
the family will know how to look after his family and goods, and
family members will know how to behave also. Upwards and
downwards continuum- pedagogical and ‘police’.
Introduction of Economy
• “The central term of this continuity is the government of the family,
termed economy” (p. 92). The central problem – how to introduce
economy, that is “the correct manner of managing individuals goods and
wealth in the family … and of making the family fortunes prosper”
• The essential issue of the art of government is “the
introduction of economy into political practice” (p. 92). Refers
• “To govern a state will therefore mean to apply economy, to set up an
economy at the level of the entire state, which means exercising
towards its inhabitants, and the wealth and behaviour of each and all, a
form of surveillance and control as attentive as that of the head of a
family over his household and his goods” (p. 92)
• Economy in C16th meant a form of government; in C18th a field of
• Government is also ‘the right disposition of things, arranged so as to
lead to a convenient end’. The sovereign must have as his aim ‘the
common welfare and salvation of all’
• ‘convenient end’ means efficiency.
• Late C17th and early C18: the art of government is formed around the
theme of reason of state: “the state is governed according to rational
principles which are intrinsic to it and which cannot by derived solely
from natural or divine laws or principles of wisdom and prudence” (p.
97). The first form of state rationality. Impeded in the C17th – 30 Years
war etc. It could only develop in an age of expansion, free from war.
• “Mercantilism is the first rationalization of the exercise of power as a
practice of government”
• The theory and system of political economy prevailing in Europe after
the decline of feudalism, based on national policies of accumulating
bullion, establishing colonies and a merchant marine, and developing
industry and mining to attain a favorable balance of trade.
Problem of Population
• The problem of population made possible the art of
government, recentering the notion of economy and
eliminating the model of the family.
• Foucault details ‘state-istics’ revealing the population
had its own regularities and enable a quantification of
phenomena specific to the population of a territory:
deaths, births, mortality, trade, labor, wealth.
• “prior to the emergence of the population, it was
impossible to conceive of the art of government
except on the model of the family” (p. 99) ; the family
nevertheless remained a privileged segment .
• Population “the ultimate end of government” (p. 100)
• “The ensemble formed by institutions, procedures, analyses and
reflections, the calculations and tactics that allow the exercise of
this very specific albeit complex form of power, which has as its
target population, as its principal form of political economy, and
as its essential technical means apparatuses of security.
• The tendency which, over a long period and throughout the
West, has steadily led towards the pre-eminence over all other
forms of power (sovereignty, discipline, etc.) of this type of power
which may be termed government, resulting, on the one hand,
in the formation of a whole series of specific government
apparatuses, and, on the other, in the development of a whole
complex of savoirs.
• The process, or rather the result of the process, through which
the state of justice of the Middle Ages, transformed into the
administrative state during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries,
gradually becomes ‘governmentalized’” (pp. 102-3)
An Era of Governmentality
• “We live in an era of a ‘governmentality’ first
discovered the eighteenth century” (p. 104)
• Governmentality was bon out of , on the one hand,
the archaic model of Christian postoral care, and, on
the other, a diplomatic-military technique, perfected
on a European scale with the Treaty of Westphalia”
• With the police, the art of government in the
administrative state in the C18th, “it made possible
the …governmentalization of the state” (p. 104)
Notes from Colin Gordon’s ‘Government rationality: an introduction’ in The Foucault Effect (1991)
Foucault applied the governmentality perspective to a number of
1. Nature of government in antiquity and early Christianity & idea
of government as a form of ‘pastoral power’;
2. Doctrines of government in early modern Europe associated
with the idea of reason of state and the police (administrative)
3. The C18th beginning of liberalism considered as ‘an art of
4. Post-war forms of neo-liberal thought in Germany, the USA,
and France considered as ways of rethinking the rationality of
In Discipline & Punish, Foucault developed a
form of political analysis based on the
“microphysics of power”, exemplified in the
disciplinary techniques of the modern prison
A focus on “techniques of power” or
“power/knowledge” designed to observe,
monitor, shape and control the behavior of
Notice the radial spoke-like pattern with
the central panoptic rotunda.Source: N.K. Teeters, The Prison at Philadelphia, Cherry Hill (1957).
Intérieur de l'Ecole d'enseignement mutuel, situeé rue du Port-Mahon, au moment de
l'exercice d'écriture. Lithographie de Hippolite Lecomte, 1818. (Collections
historiques de l'INRDP). Cf. p. 147 Eng. Edn.
Intérieur de l'Ecole d'enseignement mutuel, situeé rue du Port-Mahon, au
moment de l'exercice d'écriture.
Criticisms of ‘Power/Knowledge’
• Foucault's attention to the detailed specifics of
power failed to address on global issues or
relations between state & society;
• Foucault’s picture of society as a network of
power relations seemed to preclude individual
• Foucault’s bleak account of humanitarian
penal reform reflected a political philosophy of
nihilism and despair.