Foucault's Political Challenge. Where There Is Obedience There Cannot Be Parrhesia

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If one reads Michel Foucault "backward," so to speak, one can sense the contours of a "big narrative" of "the political" which is founded on the claim that "Where there is obedience there cannot be parrhesia" (Foucault, 2011, p. 336). What Foucault is doing with this sentence is breaking the circle between representation of the multitude and obedience as the political means of creating unity. He is no longer just problematizing how "We the People" and its "free individuals" are constructed in, and through, the exercise of disciplinary subjection. He is moving into a recoding enterprise, starting from showing how obedience is incompatible with a politics of truth. The unity created by centralized domination, he holds, is democratically "false," however legitimate it may be. There can be no real democracy where laypeople are commanded to hand over their capacity and right to govern themselves to a sovereign authority. This political claim runs like a red thread through Foucault's texts, providing his formal, strategic, and tactical analyses with the minimal degree of coherence required to form a great narrative about acceptance and recognition of political authority as prior to the generation of conflict and consensus. Modernity has not only failed to decapitate the absolutist king, Foucault argues; it also keeps democracy imprisoned in a circulating rulers/ruled opposition. The king's legitimate domination must be problematized and recoded as a new, more positive, creative and facilitative political authority relationship inherently open to self- and co-governance from below. This is what Foucault's political challenge is about.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-196
Number of pages22
JournalAdministrative Theory and Praxis
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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