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1 Jonathan Langseth Foucault and Habermas on Power

Questions concerning the nature of power have been wide and varied. In the

introduction to the anthology, Power, Steven Lukes says that answering the question of what exactly power is turns out to be far from simple (Lukes 1). Definitions of power offered by the contributors to this anthology range from the production of intended effects (Russell), to a generalized facility or resource in society (Parsons). The debate centered on Michel Foucault and Jurgen Habermas is largely focused upon the question of the nature of power. More specifically, we should say it is a question of power relations, of the cause and location of domination and subjugation, and the question of justification. This immediately brings into question the nature of freedom, agency, and autonomy. Both authors have expressed as the normative task of their studies this very question of autonomy. Habermas, following the work of early critical theorists from Marx to Adorno, asks what forms of control over nature, society, or the individual, result in either emancipation or domination. Domination, says Habermas, can only be altered by a change in the state of consciousness itself, by the practical effect of a theory which does not improve the manipulation of things and of reifications, but which instead advances the interest of reason in human adulthood, in the autonomy of action and liberation from dogmatism. This it achieves by means of the penetrating idea of a persistent critique.1 Foucault has expressed his intention as consisting in exposing to the individual the false bondages of universalized knowledge: My roleis to show people

Jurgen Habermas Theory and practice (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), 256

2 that they are much freer than they feel, that people accept as truth, as evidence, some themes which have been built up at a certain moment during history, and that this socalled evidence can be criticized and destroyed. To change something in the minds of people thats the role of an intellectual.2 2 The comparison of Foucault and Habermas approaches to an analysis of power is

of importance today for a number of reasons. First, this debate has its origin in the writings of the two authors themselves, and persists to the present day. Second, this debate, while revolving around questions of power and freedom, also brings into question the role of reason, critique, truth, and the relation between the individual and society in modernity. Third, this debate raises the question of legitimacy in social hierarchy. And lastly, at the level of methodology, this comparison asks what is the most viable approach to investigating the relational balance or imbalance between the individuals that compose society. In this essay I will argue that although there are nontrivial discrepancies between the work of Foucault and Habermas, there are also important similarities, and further, that at least in one important respect, their approaches to the question of power are complementary. 3 Instead of directly attempting to answer what power is, Foucault is interested in

the how of power, and approaches this question from two points of reference: On the one hand, to the rules of right that provide a formal delimitation of power; on the other, to the effects of truth that this power produces and transmits, and which in their turn reproduce this power. Hence we have a triangle: power, right, truth.3 From these two Martin, L.H. et al, Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault (London: Tavistock, 1988), 9 3 Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), 93

3 points of reference Foucault reformulates the traditional question of political philosophy concerning how discourses of truth can fix limits on the rights of power, into the question of what rules of right are implemented by the relations of power in the production of discourses of truth?4 In effect Foucault inverts the relation between power and truth from that of truths limiting effect on power to powers production of truth, as Habermas notes in his analysis/critique of Foucault in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Foucault abruptly reverses powers truth-dependency into the power-dependency of truth.5 Yet Foucault goes on to say, We cannot exercise power except through the production of truth.6 So the inversion is in actuality a kind of reciprocity: Power produces the discourse of truth as a necessary means of its own articulation and right. These articulations, in so far as they are truths, determine the way in which the individuals of particular societies conduct their lives, and, in so far as they are rules of right, are used as justification of social action. Power is dependent upon its surfacing in terms of truth (as knowledge) and right (as justification). 4 Habermas argues that if Foucault is correct, if power is the underlying force that

produces discourse, truth, and right, then his analysis ultimately self-destructs, for Foucaults own discourse would also be an articulation of power, lacking legitimacy like all other discourses. However, Foucault recognizes this fact and wants to move away from any talk of legitimacy, including the legitimacy of his own work. Rather he sees his own discourse as, what he calls, an antiscience or countermodernity. I believe this Ibid Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), 274 6 Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), 93
4 5

4 terminology can be interpreted in two complementary ways: as a means of exposing the historical contingencies that have produced certain conceptions of universal truth and/or as a contribution towards creating a counterbalance to the dominant forms of discursive, objectified power. Yet to the extent that Foucault implicitly posits value claims in the rhetoric of his work, he is in fact already speaking in terms of legitimacy. Concerning truth, Foucault wants to say that there is not one universal, objective truth, but rather a multiplicity of truths, and he views universalized truths in terms of dominating power relations. We will have to ask what implications such a belief has for Foucaults overall project. 5 As a starting point of an analysis of power, Habermas locates what he takes to be

the three fundamental human interests: technical, practical, and emancipatory, with corresponding medias and sciences respectively: work (empirical), communication (historical-hermeneutic), and power (critical or self-reflective). Briefly, we have a fundamental interest in what we produce, our relations with other people, and the degree to which we are free to choose both what we do and how we relate to others. Habermas sees the imbalance of power as directly related to the extent to which the production of labor is privatized, communication is distorted, and critical self-reflection is absent within society. In conjunction with his analysis of these imbalances, Habermas proposes a means by which a democratic distribution of power relations can be achieved. Such a means is inherently universalized. 6 At the outset it appears as though the debate between Foucault and Habermas is a

debate about whether there exists, as Habermas suggests, a single universalized criterion of legitimacy that stands as a gauge of the degree of the balance or imbalance of power,

5 or whether, as Foucault seems to suggest, any universalized normative claim regarding the legitimacy of power is no more than power in the guise of a claim to sovereignty. 7 Foucault argues that there are two heterogeneous forms of power at work within

modern Western society; what he calls sovereign power and disciplinary power. Sovereign power is based upon rules of right and legitimacy. According to Foucault, analysis of this sole form of power, which at one time would have produced an accurate expression of the state of affairs, is now one-sided. Instead, he sees a need to focus on the ever increasing prevalence, since at least the beginnings of market economies, of disciplinary power. Foucault finds the paradigm of disciplinary power in the architectural conception of Jeremy Benthams Panopticon:
We know the principle on which it was based: at the periphery, an annular building; at the center, a tower; this tower is pierced with wide windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole width of the building; they have two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the windows of the tower; the other, on the outside, allows the light to cross the cell from one end to the other. All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker, or a schoolboy.7

The Panopticon creates a situation in which the individuals in the outer, annular

building are seen without seeing, while those occupying the inner tower see without being seen. This is a form of power based more on efficiency than force: it arranges things in such a way that the exercise of power is not added on from the outside, like a rigid, heavy constraint, to the functions it invests, but is so subtly present in them as to increase their efficiency by itself increasing its own points of contact.8 The typical resistance to forms of sovereign power is, in disciplinary power, incorporated into forms of domination. The person who is seen without seeing falsely believes him or herself to Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 200 8 Ibid, 206

6 see without being seen. Such a form of power relations produces a false sense of individuality and autonomy. This conception of power is found manifest within multiple facets of society in the form of reports, procedures, techniques, etc., geared at ordering the bodies of individuals in the most economic mode of utility. 9 Disciplinary power differs from sovereign power in a number of ways. First, one

individual or class does not impose disciplinary power over others. In fact disciplinary power incorporates those seemingly in control within its grasp. They are a function of the process of efficiency just as much as those under surveillance. Similarly, disciplinary power is not imposed upon society from without, but is infused within the very functions of society itself. Further, because those under surveillance cannot see the gaze of those watching them, the observed cannot know at any point whether or not they are being watched (or controlled). The configuration of the Panopticon renders the actual exercise of power by any individual or party unnecessary. The social structure analogous to the architectural configuration of the Panopticon renders the exercise of power from a central location unnecessary because its effective procedure is found in the individuals knowing or unknowing compliance. 10 The invisibility of disciplinary power is the result of its manifestation within the

functional processes of society; disciplinary power is found in localized discourses, techniques, effective instruments for the formation and accumulation of knowledge methods of observation, techniques of registration, procedures for investigation and research, apparatuses of control.9 Rather than turning his attention to how power is justified or who holds power, Foucault looks at how power becomes evident in localized Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), 102

7 techniques, norms, discourses, and exclusions. 11 Foucault calls his approach to exposing disciplinary forms of power a dual

process of archeology and, following Nietzsche, genealogy. Archeology is a method of analyzing instances of discourse that articulate what we think, say, and do as so many historical events.10 Foucault conducts an investigation of local discurvities and an ascending analysis of power relations as opposed to a global, all-encompassing analysis because localities are where power is implemented, where it becomes evident and manifest. Genealogy claims attention of local, discontinuous, disqualified, illegitimate knowledge against the claims of a unitary body of theory which would filter, hierarchize, and order them in the name of some true science.11 In Habermas words, Whereas the archeology of knowledge reconstructs the stratum of rules constitutive of discourse, genealogy strives to explain the discontinuous succession of the sign-systems that coerce people into the semantic framework of a determinate interpretation of the world.12 12 In short, Foucault wants to reverse the traditional mode of analysis centered on

the theory of right and re-center it on an analytics of power. He argues that theories of right are designed to fix legitimacy of power, and this legitimacy is designed to eliminate the consciousness of domination and its consequences. Legitimacy takes the form of law, while disciplinary power produces normalization. This normalization is the result of a panoptical means of control, a means of control that is not imposed from without as law, but rather is infused unknowingly from within and is found in the very discourse of Michel Foucault, What is Enlightenment? in Critique and Power, ed. Michael Kelly (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), 46 11 Michel Foucault, Two Lectures, in Critique and Power, ed. Michael Kelly (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995) 22

Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), 255

8 everyday, social existence. 13 Like Foucault, Habermas conceives of power as manifest in discourse. Their

projects are similar at least in that they both analyze imbalances of power relations within society and try to suggest a way towards the freedom of consciousness from falsely objectified belief. In contrast with Foucault, Habermas argues for the need to analyze power relations in terms of legitimacy. Habermas says, Legitimate power arises only among those who form common convictions in unconstrained communications.13 Illegitimate power arises out of systematically distorted communication. So, an analysis of power in terms of legitimation must look both at distortions of and constraints on communication, and at what ideal situations, even if unattainable, would enable undistorted communications. This approach relocates legitimacy from that of the sovereign, religious or metaphysical to that of the discursive, argumentative, rational forms of validation. 14 Habermas avoids Foucaults criticism that viewing power in terms of legitimacy

veils modes of domination by placing the communication and discourse that operate modes of domination at the very heart of the question of legitimacy. Fix!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 15 Both Foucault and Habermas recognize the undemocratic distribution of power,

and locate power in its discursive articulation and the resulting actions such articulations produce, yet Foucault wants to expose the historical conditions responsible for local instantiations of power while Habermas wants to provide a non-transcendental/nonmetaphysical ideal by which to determine legitimacy of power in terms of the degree in which communication, which leads to action (and techniques, norms, etc.), is constrained Jurgen Habermas, Hannah Arendts Communications Concept of Power, in Power, ed. Steven Lukes (New York: New York University Press, 1986), 85

9 or distorted. This ideal, which Habermas calls an ideal speech situation, is an

intersubjectivistic interpretation of Kants categorical imperative: discourse principle (D), according to which only those norms can claim validity that could meet with the agreement of all those concerned in their capacity as participants in a practical discourse. From the outset Habermas concedes that this ideal is unable to be achieved, but asserts its necessity based upon the recognition of fundamental human interests and from a transcendental-pragmatic justification which proves that such an ideal is anticipated in every act of communication.14
16 In his essay, The Critique of Impure Reason, Thomas McCarthy enumerates

what he sees as the differences between Foucault and the Frankfurt school, including Habermas, as follows: 1) Foucault attacks rationalism at its very roots, while critical social theoristsunderstand critique rather in the sense of a determinate negation that aims at a more adequate conception of reason. 2) Foucault rejects humanism, while critical social theorists attempt to reconstruct the basic humanist notions of subjectivity and autonomy 3) Foucault rejects transcendental and universal truth claims, while critical social theorists attempt to relocate such truth claims in intersubjectivity. 4) Critical social theorists use agents conscious views as a starting point for their critiques, while Foucault (prior to volumes 2 and 3 of The History of Sexuality) displaces the participants perspective with an externalist perspective in which the validity claims of participants are not engaged but bracketed. 5) Foucault sees the human sciences at large as promoting domination, while the Frankfurt school identifies only particular aspects of the human sciences as such. 6) Foucault does not see genealogy as being in the service of reason, truth, freedom, and justice, since, under his view, all is power, while the Frankfurt school wishes to establish non-instrumental forms of reason that dissuade forms of domination.15 See Discourse Ethics in Jurgen Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990) 15 Thomas McCarthy, The Critique of Impure Reason, in Critique and



Of these six differences noted by McCarthy numbers 2 and 4 seem unproblematic

for the present discussion, while 6 seems questionable as far as Foucaults intentions for genealogy (see quote by Foucault in the introduction of this essay), while the combination of 1, 3, and 5, if true, collectively expose what appears to be an irreconcilable difference between Foucault and Habermas. Concerning point 5, Foucault certainly expresses the role of the human sciences in the execution of disciplinary power, yet if he in fact claims that all truths and rules of right are forms of power it seems that he would be unable to locate which forms of power are domination and which not. And, in effect, if this is true, if there is no way out of power relations and no way of distinguishing between good and bad forms of power, then we must ask of Foucault why he has given himself the intellectual task he has. If Foucault rejects all universal truth claims then what about his own claims? This is similar to the response to the relativist statement that all claims are relative, in which one asks whether the claim that all claims are relative is itself relative. It seems that not only is Foucault making a universal claim in stating all truths and rules of right are forms of power, but also that such a claim, as Habermas notes, self-destructs as with the relativist claim. Point 1 is also problematic for Foucault, for in his analyses he uses at the very least the basic forms of rationality that are inherent in the logical form of argumentation (such as modus ponens). It appears that Foucault drove himself into a corner that he was unable to back out of. By viewing universality as the form of power he wishes to attack, he is unable to put forth his own account of a universal principle by which he or anyone else may conduct such an attack or critique. How can one be critical without some standard by which to criticize? Power, ed. Michael Kelly (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), 248-9.

11 Yet if he put forth such a universal principle or standard it would contradict his intention of critiquing all universal truth claims. 17 Although these claims seem justified and would require an in depth apologetics

on the part of a Foucauldian, I think there is, independent of such an apology, a salvageable component of Foucaults thought that is compatible and complementary with Habermas project. Of the three fundamental human interests put forth by Habermas, Habermas claims that the first two, production and communication, are impossible to obtain without the last, the critical interest. He sees the critical element of human interests as a mode of self-reflection by which an individual or society is able to overcome domination, and without which, both production and communication become forms of domination. 18 Despite his apparent inability to reconcile his methodology with his intentions, in

the quest for means by which the emancipation of humanity from forms of domination may be realized, Foucaults contributions to social theory are not to be ignored. His analyses of power pierce through the surface of the present in a way that enables the individual to recognize certain artificialities universally and uncritically taken as fact. The attentive reader of Foucault sees the world differently. This way of seeing Such recognition can aid in the implementation of critique as suggested by Habermas. 19 In his January 14th 1976 lecture Foucault said, If one wants to look for a

nondisciplinary form of power, or rather, to struggle against disciplines and disciplinary power, it is not towards the ancient right of sovereignty that one should turn, but towards the possibility of a new form of right, one which must indeed be antidisciplinarian, but at the same time liberated from the principle of sovereignty.16 How Habermas

Michel Foucault, Two Lectures, in Critique and Power, ed. Michael Kelly

12 reformulates the concept of critique can be seen at least as a step in such a possibility of a new form of right. This form of critique is an intersubjective self-reflection to the degree in which interactions, both communicatively and as regards production, are clearly expressed. 20 Critique as a means of leveling power relations, thus giving individuals the ability

to produce the norms, institutions, and regulatory rules by which they conduct themselves in social relations, requires, as Habermas notes, the recognition of distorted forms of communication since power relations are articulated in discourse. Foucaults genealogical method exposes to the reader how certain forms of domination have come into existence by their ability to increase efficiency and establish normativity. Although Foucault is not explicit in delineating which forms of power are in fact forms of domination, if we consider the empirical-historical conclusions of his texts in the framework of Habermas conception of the discourse principle, using the discourse principle together with a rational criterion of distorted and non-distorted communication as a measure of the justificatory validity of power, we find a useful contribution to the domain of discourse. This contribution is the ability for Foucaults texts to induce in the agents consciousness the awareness of certain forms of domination hidden from view, to see the panoptical structures that were disenabling individuals from seeing the nature of disciplinary power. Such awareness can aid the premises of the argumentation that takes place in communicative consensus.

(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995) 45