II Between Philosophy and Method

Political Spirituality: Parrhesia, Truth and Factical Finitude

Michael Dillon

Factical Finitude

Given the amount of effort, inspired by the work of Michel Foucault, that I have devoted to interrogating how and why it is that modern politics is essentially a politics of security, it was a relief to concentrate upon those lectures in which Foucault’s work interrogates what he calls the politics of truth. The relief lies in how Foucault’s analytic of the politics of truth, of the courage of truth (parrhesia), and of political spirituality in particular, begins to disclose an entirely different way of posing the questions that modern politics addresses to modern times and modern subjects. It is a project that holds out the prospect of loosening the ties that bind us individually and collectively as subjects of modern rules of truth and truths of rule dominated by security politics, its lethal dangers and the constant global surveillance to which it necessarily subjects us.

The objective of truth telling is therefore less the city’s salvation than the individual’s ethos (Michael Foucault, The Courage of Truth, The Government of Self and Others II, Lectures at the College de France 1983-1984, ed. Frederic Gros and Arnold I. Davidson (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), p. 65.

M. Dillon (*)

University of Lancaster, Lancaster, UK e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017 79

P. Bonditti et al. (eds.), Foucault and the Modern International,

The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-56153-4_5

I detect a quite different project of thinking politically emerging in these later lectures of Foucault concerning The Courage of Truth, The Hermeneutics of the Subject, Wrong-Doing Truth-Telling, The Government of Self and Others, and On the Government of the Living.1 It is a project of thought that critically engages the veridico-political matrix of modern politics as a theatrical political economy in which rules of truth and truths of rule are intimately connected. It requires a dramatic sensibility as much as it does an epistemic and veridical political awareness. It is sutured through and through by an overriding sense that truth and rule, both and equally, must take place together, and that this taking place is, in its essence, performative.

The truth at issue is not, however, truth as such. It is not any form or expression of truth. It is alethurgical truth, a truth, among other things, in which governors and the governed, alike, tell the truth about themselves. Moreover, thinking with and beyond Foucault in a foucauldian way, the alethurgical truth at issue in modern times differs from that of the ale- thurgical truth of Classical and Christian times to whose exploration the later Foucault devoted himself. The reason is that different modes of truth telling take place in different temporal political economies. Moreover, the rules of truth and truths of rule that they tell, and how these are told, enact temporal political economies of truth which are distinguished as much by their regimes of representation and figuration as they are by their rituals, liturgies and doctrines. Alethurgy was temporally posed on the one hand in terms of the temporal political economy of Greek cosmology and on the other in terms of the temporal political economy of Christian soteriology. Not so with the alethurgical truth of modern times. Modern alethurgical truth is posed—and problematized—in terms of the temporal political economy of modern factical finitude. Finite things exist sub specie aeternitatis for Christianity, for example, whereas factically finite things exist ad infinitum for the modern. (Not all of those who live in modern times are, of course, moderns or modernizers, just as not all those that lived in Christendom were Christians.)

Modern alethurgical truth therefore continues to display the same occulting character—the same excessive and ultimately even opaque char- acter—as does that of Greek and Christian alethurgy. But it does so for very different reasons. The excess of truth over appearance that continues to characterize modern alethurgy is not, for example, a function of cosmological mystery or Christian divinity. It is a matter of how the rules of truth and truths of rule of modern factical finitude are comprised of an infinity of finite rules of truth and truths of rule. The excess lies in the relation between the finite and the infinite not the mortal and the divine. The infinite is very much not the eternal. The eternal holds out a promise of redemption. The infinite holds out no such promise. Sub specie aeter- nitatis, the mortal is distinguished from the divine by an eschatological break that nonetheless serves to reconnect the two. Religious eschatology separates this world from the next and promises a return from the one to the other. Life everlasting is on offer. Amid the infinity of finite things, however, factical finitude immanentizes the eschaton. There is no division of worlds. There is one world. It is comprised of an infinity of finite things that continuously come and go. This world is also sewn and sown together eschatologically, but differently. The eschatological break, here, lies within, and persists between, the death of the old and the birth of the new. There is no such thing as life everlasting. For all its promises, everlasting life is not on offer factically. Renewal, however, is. It comes in an infinity of finite forms, one of which is currently called resilience governmentally, but it is necessarily also as violent as it is infinite. The infinite is then more a positivistic device that allows the finite to be mapped, quantified and brought to presence in its very measurable specificity. Modern veridico-political government thus takes place as an exercise in the infinite government of finite things. The shift is fundamental.

My title grandly gestures toward what this new thought must think. In this short chapter I can, however, do little more than point down the track of upon which it has to proceed. The task is ultimately that of thinking about the courage of truth and political spirituality in the modern age. Since Foucault doubts whether or not there can be political spirituality and the courage of truth under modern conditions of truth and rule, the thinking here has to be conditional.

It must first proceed by asking IF there is such a thing as parrhesia under the terms and conditions of modern rules of truth and truths of rule, what conditions of possibility and what conditions of operability would these modern rules of truth and truths of rule set for the exercise of parrhesia.? Since parrhesia is traditionally connected both to truth and rule, since it was in fact linked to the alethurgical account of truth just as it was to the tyrannical as well as democratic practice of rule, and since the expression of alethurgical truth to which it was allied was that of an alethurgical truth access to which required forms of spiritual training, we have also to ask, secondly, in what ways would modern truths of rule and rules of truth condition the very possibility of political spirituality as well today?

How also would it condition their very taking place? Such alethurgical truth is avowedly also a performative truth that seeks manifestation, finite modes of appearance in which alethurgy is given voice, aspect and face. We have then to ask, thirdly, what figurative regimes characterize the theatrical political economy of truth and rule that obtains under modern conditions? And, how might this theatrical political economy together with its regimes of figuration, imaging and gesture (decorum) impinge upon the possibility and operation of the courage of truth and of political spirituality? For, manifestly, alethurgy finds its expression in appearance—finite spatio-temporal manifestations of truth—its taking place is thus, essentially, figurative. Before we address any of these questions, however, we have therefore to attempt some summary of Foucault’s exploration of these two critical terms—parrhesia and political spirituality. Since Foucault devoted years and several lecture courses to pursuing these reflections this summary is bound to be inadequate. Again it can only gesture toward what must be done in a more sustained interpretative exegesis.

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