I'm reading Brent Pickett's "Foucault and the Politics of Resistance" and on page 452 he writes the following:

At the heart of humanism, according to Foucault, is the theory of the subject. Foucault means two things by "the subject." The first is the subject of a hierarchical political order. This is the humanist notion the "sovereign" individual who is subjected to the laws of society, nature, truth, and God. The subject, even though he exercises no power, is the sovereign. The humanistic theory of the individual rests, Foucault contends, upon a subjected will to power. That is, the very desire for power is to be eradicated from the individual in the name of truth, nature, and society.

What does he mean by "The subject, even though he exercises no power, is the sovereign"? It seems like a contradiction in terms.

  • 1
    Good question - It would depend on what Foucault means by power; I'm not a close reader of Foucault so I can't say; one guess might be here that power refers to the power exerted by a real, concrete individual, say a king in a monarchy, or a prime-minister in a democracy; if this is so, then the sovereign in the sense in the text doesn't exercise power in the sense indicated, since what is sovereign is the 'political order'. Nov 8, 2016 at 4:22
  • Arendt, for example, has a notion of power which is close to this; power is potential for action when men come together in the plural; strength, is the the same, but in th singular; I'd be curious if this is where Foucault s taking his notion of power from. Nov 8, 2016 at 4:33
  • One can try to make the question concrete to see how it stands; for example France is a democracy - does one say that democracy exerts power? Nov 8, 2016 at 4:42
  • I'm not very familiar with Foucault, but it appears to be similar to Locke's notion that the individual is endowed with authority from God and may delegate it to the government. In so doing, he enters into a social contract with the government and must submit to it. Man might be considered sovereign in this respect, but because he relinquishes his authority, he exercises no power. In fact, it would be a grievous breach of the contract to try to reclaim that authority without just cause. This philosophy was the basis of The Declaration of Independence.
    – user3017
    Nov 8, 2016 at 9:01
  • 1
    page 452 - Congratulations, you've gotten further than I'd ever be able to
    – M. le Fou
    Nov 8, 2016 at 9:49


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