Conclusion: For the Death Relevailles, a Warning and Some Questions
Nevertheless, for his “death relevailles,” I may sound less enthusiastic than so many others, especially as I observe that the “creativity” with which Foucault’s work and terminologies are appropriated is also masking the destruction of the notion of critique, in the name of a necessity to prevent and anticipate the future, as if this rationale was pre-empting hazard and was capable of anticipating forms of freedom. It is not necessary to invoke a plot against the critical views of Foucault, as sometimes it is also cultural misunderstandings, and the naive belief that a foucauldian approach could be neutral in terms of value politics and used by right- as well as left-wing authors. But, here, I cannot escape the temptation to launch a warning against what I read as a profound depoliticization of Foucault, in particular when his name is used as a justification for reactionary politics with practices of exclusion, marginalization and the fabric of abnormals, that result from pre-emptive and speculative forms of security and surveillance.
Contemporary forms of (in)security that aimed at guaranteeing the highest possible security and freedom to the majority and to segregate it from an “abnormal” minority to be controlled and surveilled, have to be analyzed for what they are (Ungrammatically: logics of sacrifice, revenge and transversal struggles following a war matrix, and not for their apparent counter-terrorism program understood as a global security project with their pragmatic regime of justification evoking the taming of the future, the capacity to transform it into a perfect future through predictive policing techniques. This war matrix is now organized around surveillance as the optimum milieu for freedom.
Practices of surveillance for freedom and protection bear a long tradition related to colonialism, but it has been a more sub-terranean argument that may be called “differentialist freedom” (in contradistinction to “equalitarian freedom”) in which the “laissez faire” of the market becomes the main practice of freedom, and where this freedom has to be “cherished” and monitored to make sure that its development does not create negative consequences in terms of freedom for criminals to act, or freedom of people to move across borders without authorization.
In his Security, Territory, Population lectures series Foucault deciphered this reasoning about freedom as it draws on the Austrian liberal approach inspired by Friedrich Hayek. He envisaged security as a different modality of power, distinct from sovereign and disciplinary encryptions. Central to understand Foucault’s characterization of this approach of (hayekian) security as the limit of freedom in a specific area (milieu) is the way he approached the issue of limit. Indeed, he did not say a limitation of freedom opposing two different principles (freedom versus security) that have to be balanced from an arbitrary decision set up by a form of external (sovereign) power—be it the executive, the legislative or the judicial power. Foucault understood limit as a mathematical limit, in the sense of a point, a dot that is never fully achieved so that security reveals itself to be unachievable except under the benthamian dream of a utilitarian peaceful expression of all freedoms together.
This expression of security as the expandable conditions of possibility of freedom therefore opposes the traditional liberal understanding of security as exception and coercion limiting freedom by blocking its expansion. There is no balance here, only a subtle line where the last dot of a line connecting all the dots, changes function, and like in the famous Go game, transforms all the dots of freedom into a line of “freedom securitized,” as a model of surveillance and organization of the trajectory of freedom. In this reasoning of a positive relation between freedom and surveillance, non-exclusive of the first one but used as a more general regime of justification, the justification of surveillance is therefore not only the answer to a potential aggression, to a threat, but the condition of possibility of “real” freedom in current open societies.
Inspired by Hayek, and now central in the argumentation of the defenders of the large scale “five eyes” surveillance system, this second line of thought needs to be further investigated collectively to develop a thorough critique of it as it may be the more successful and “doxic” one.39 Contemporary practices of security cannot be analyzed in terms of disciplined bodies and forbidden movements only—as the “pessimist libertarian” stance in the surveillance literature argues for it remains stuck in the political imaginary of the Benthamian panoptic model. It should be analyzed in light of the diagrammatic and dispositif approach that Foucault came to articulate in the late 1970s to understand freedom in its “milieu.” What is happening is therefore more than just a misunderstanding. It is a proper re-appropriation of a work, which now appears to be at the heart of an IR “revival” expelling the specter of an IR mastered by US political science scholars becoming, as Ulrich Beck famously said in another context, the spoke-persons of a zombie institution, an institution that continues to believe that “she” is alive, but with a dead heart40 and is finally replaced by a political sociology and a political theory in harmony with a post-1968 line of thought.