In his January 7, 1976 lecture, Foucault says:

The system of right, the domain of law, are permanent agents of these relations of domination... Right should be viewed not in terms of a legitimacy to be established, but in terms of the methods of subjugation that it instigates.

So could we assume that he means the judicial and penal system? Law that include everything from jay walking to embezzlement to murder and prostitution?

What throws me off is that later in the same lecture, he says this:

"...the theory of sovereignty, and the organization of a legal code centered upon it, have allowed a system of right to be superimposed upon the mechanisms of discipline in such a ways to conceal its actual procedures...."

I would assume that if the system of right is the judicial and penal system, then those are the mechanisms of discipline. So now I'm wondering what these mechanisms of discipline are and what specifically is this System of Right?

  • It seems to me that it is January 14, 1976 Lecture. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 9:23
  • 1
    See some line above the quote: "when I say right, I am not thinking just of the law, but of all the apparatuses, institutions and rules that apply it." Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 9:26
  • Basically, I think that what he means is that the system of right is not formed of only the "theoretical" part: the laws, but also of a "practical" part, made of institutions, procedures and "mechanism" apt to implement sovereignity. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 9:29
  • 4
    Are you familiar with the French text? That would help since the French "droit" has a very similar range of meanings to English "right", but not exactly the same. In particular "systeme de droit" is the plain, usual way to say "legal system." Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 13:28
  • 2
    @MoziburUllah Usually, positive law means laws which have been specifically posited by an authority (not natural, customary, or implicit). Some authors also take it to exclude laws of God. Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 0:25

1 Answer 1


I don't think that the following extract from Whiteheads Science & The Modern World constitutes an answer, but it might help; he quotes Lecky, History of European Morals

The Roman legislation was in a twofold manner the child of philosophy. It was in the first place formed upon the philosophical model, for instead of being a mere empirical system adjusted to the existing requirements of society, it laid down abstract principles of right to which it endeavoured to conform, and in the next place these principles were directly borrowed from Stoicism.

This suggests to me, at least that a system of Right are principles of Right; that is they have been formed with a specific philosophical end in sight; a modern example, would be freedom of speech whose motivating philosophical principle, amongst others, would be freedom.

I take this is what Foucault is possibly describing as a 'legitimacy to be established'; but his perspective is not legitimacy - even when it is legitimate - but 'subjugation'.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .