Review: "On the Government of the Living" by Michel Foucault -- Lectures 1979-1980 College de France
This post provides a synopsis for the lectures given by world renown philosopher Michel Foucault at the College de France between 1979-1980 titled "On the Government of the Living". In these lectures, Foucault annotates and traces the history of the truth and truth between subjects. He looks at the genealogy of how the Christian religion has created a system of "truth telling" in Western history up until the present day and how subjects of the West have been made docile by the opening up of the soul.
Foucault initializes the discussion by examining the Christian religion all the ways back to the Greco-Roman era -- especially between the 5th and 7th centuries. Throughout history, religion had grown govern subjects by creating a docile subject and a subject who is always obedient claiming that obedience is to the beneficiary of the rulers. But how does Christianity do this exactly? Foucault states that Christianity does just this through a series of institutional practices. He points out that Baptism is a major factor in creating a docile subject. Essentially through the act of repenting ones sins under the holy water and renouncing all sin and thus becoming Christianized through Baptism -- one is now able to live "holy". But Foucault states that this newly Christianized subject now always must live in a constant state of fear. A fear that is renewed every day for the fear of sin entering into one's soul and heart and the devil attacking. Therefore, the more Christianized the subject becomes -- the more fearful/anxious the subject must be as he/she must constantly be on watch and constantly guarding him/herself against darkness through constant self-examination. The act of doing this, of trying to wipe away all defilement of a human being through the elimination of sin creates a subject who is nonetheless obedient. Obedient to the pastor, to the church and to the rulers -- it creates a subject that always seeks guidance from others to make sure he/she is not falling back into sin and is living the moral way that God would expect.
Foucault also talks about the divergence in Christianity between Confession and Faith. While the East had always maintained a strong Faith, the Western Church on the contrary systematized the practice of confession and confessing ones sins. By constantly being forced to confess and tell the truth about oneself, to open oneself up to ridicule, Foucault argues that Christianity has essentially made the subject obedient in this manner as well to power through the institutionalization of this practice. He further goes on to speak on the subject of the bible and the divergence between the old and new testaments'. He states that the old testament is essentially that of the law -- of judeo law that is while the new testament is that of salvation. From this standpoint, Foucault goes on to argue that the bible and Christianity itself had to find away to break itself apart from the old testament because the law in the eyes of the Church is manmade -- and it is seen as evil. Thus, in order to counter the growing gnostic sentiment, it had to offer its believers a way out -- thus, salvation and the new testament came to the rescue. Now Christianity was able to break free of this inherent contradiction and offer itself up as truly righteous and holy and to set oneself on the path towards salvation.
One final point, Foucault talks upon one other important aspect -- that of obedience as humility. He states that it is a relationship between oneself of constantly putting oneself in a subservient position and inferior to any other and as one who must obey and serve in everything. Because now one judges oneself to be of no value, it de facto eliminates one's own will of having no right to want anything since that individual is worthless, a sinner.
In conclusion, Foucault in these lectures moves away from biopower and looks at a different type of power, the power of religion and how it has been weaved into society since early times.