Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Liberalism as political rationality of government: too much state governing, not enough self-governing

A useful passage from Barry Hindess on Liberalism:

What particularly distinguishes liberalism, as Foucault describes it, from earlier versions of the art of government is not the view, which is also shared by the science of police, that nonstate agencies play an important part in the life of the population. Rather it is, first, the concern that the state may be "governing too much," that there may be cases in which "it is needless or harmful for [the state] to intervene." . . . Second . . . is liberalism's more restricted usage of the term government, which is now confined to the work of the state and certain of its agencies. This liberal usage involves a major redefinition of the term: where government was once seen as a ubiquitous work of regulation performed by a multiplicity of agencies throughout the population, it now comes to be identified more narrowly with the work of the state and its agencies. Government is no longer regarded as a field of activity that constitutes and maintains the social order from within, but rather as acting on this order from without. "The happiness of society" remains its fundamental concern, as it was in the era of police, but since government is now identified with the activities of state, it is no longer seen as something that is necessarily best served by the actions of government itself.
[“Politics as Government: Michel Foucault’s Analysis of Political Reason.” Alternatives 30 (2005): 389-413.394]

This is useful precisely because it unsettles the ideology of liberalism which counterposes a realm of individual and civic freedom (fundamentally modelled on and legitimated by market operations, like contract) to state regulation and authority. Foucualt's concepts of government and governmentality unearth the genealogy of this liberal critique of government - governing too much - and place it into the forcefield of debates about the government of the self and the state, and the roles and limits of 'police'. Thus one of Liberalism's key techniques is to conflate state and government and use this conflation to practice a form of distancing from this form of government as a practice of freedom from government as such. But such a distancing relies on other forms of regulation to do the work of governing; other forms of governmentality not necessarily emanating from the state. These other forms presume and work with dominations and disciplines, positive and negative, that community-governance, self-governance, household 'codes of conduct' seek to better manage. Management of the self, through what Foucault calls techniques of self, is thus a fundamental set of tasks and constant goal of governmentality: tasks and goals that are conducted through the formative techniques of the education system and other arms of the state and are daily mediated by work, media technology, narratives, religion, and so on. One domain of governmentality is that set of techniques whereby the self comes of age: how the self forms as responsible adult; the description of the tasks and practices that adult formation must accept as the work of a mature-ing self, and must accommodate as 'real'.

How these tasks and these paths of formation are narrativised in fictional and non-fictional print genres during the so-called modernisation of the Australian Economy in the 1980s-1990s is what my research investigates: a National coming-of-age in which maturity is tied in political and media narratives to financial deregulation, labour market reform, the installation of managerial regimes in public administration, and the privatisation of state-owned instruments and corporations. Concomitant with these 're-forms' was a pressure to reform the self: Australians needed to become more open, competitive, efficient, productive, flexible, 'creative'. Technologies of the self promoted through a pedagogic political discourse spoken most persausively by Treasurer then Prime Minister Paul Keating.

Now that Australia is headed toward a concerted policy response to Global Warming and an Emissions Trading System (ETS) is being debated, in spite of the neoliberal uses to which Keating put his substantial rhetorical skills, I'm nostalgic for the clarity and persuasiveness of his tongue: where in the current government is anybody capable of simplifying the rationale and prospects for an ETS? Which would be, paradoxically, a market-based system once the state sets up its first-period ground rules and prices. Is an ETS too much of a problem for the liberal critique of government and too much of a problem for the Keynesian-based notion of re-regulation that so often comes as its counter-critique? Do we need another Foucauldian notion of governmentality - the governing of the ecosphere perhaps - that can operate as a well-spring for positive techniques and practises which cut across selves, households, corporations, community group, local municipal councils, state and federal government?

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