The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society

The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society

The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society

The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society

Synopsis

This book takes up Foucault's hypothesis that liberal "civil society," far from being a sphere of natural freedoms, designates the social spaces where our biological lives come under new forms of control and are invested with new forms of biopower. In order to test this hypothesis, itschapters examine the critical theory of civil society - from Hegel and Marx through Lukacs, Adorno, Benjamin, and Arendt - from the new horizon opened up by Foucault's turn to biopolitics and its reception in recent Italian theory.Negri, Agamben, and Esposito have argued that biopolitics not only denotes new forms of domination over life but harbors within it an affirmative relation between biological life and politics that carries an emancipatory potential. The chapters of this book take up this suggestion by locating thisemancipatory potential in the biopolitical feature of the human condition that Arendt called "natality." The book proceeds to illustrate how natality is the basis for a republican articulation of an affirmative biopolitics. It aims to renew the critical theory of civil society by pursuing the tracesof natality as a "surplus of life" that resists the oppressive government of life found in the capitalist political economy, in the liberal system of rights, and in the bourgeois family.By contrast, natality offers the normative foundation for a new "republic of the living." Finally, natality permits us to establish a relation between biological life and contemplative life that reverses the long-held belief in a privileged relationship of thinking to the possibility of our death.The result is a materialist, atheological conception of contemplative life as eternal life.

Excerpt

One of the legacies bequeathed by the twentieth century to political language is the confusion of politics with government. Politics today seems to be reduced to the alternative of having more or less government. Liberalism has taught that the less politics we have, the less governed we are, and thus the freer we become. the republican understanding of freedom rejects this basic axiom of liberal government. Republicanism stands for the irreducibility of politics to government; it teaches that more politics may be necessary if we are going to be governed less. the Courses that Michel Foucault delivered at the Collège de France during the late 1970s and early 1980s were intended to provide a “history of governmentality” that distinguishes government from politics. For Foucault, the activity of “governing” is something other than political action: the more civil society governs the life of individuals, the less a people can act politically. the genealogy of governmentality shows that government is not a function of the people’s power to give itself a political constitution or form of life in common. Government takes place in the spheres that compose civil society: the economy, the legal system, the family. For liberalism, civil society is where the enterprising individual is “naturally” free to pursue his or her interests. By deregulating civil society, neoliberalism seeks to further unleash its “natural” dynamics in the name of the liberty of enterprise. For Foucault, instead, the “naturality” of the enterprising universe of civil society is the artificial outcome of “technologies” of government and of a “conduct of conducts” that is as “total”—in its extension of governmentality into both the subjective and the natural worlds—as the “totalitarian” state was in its extension of domination.

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