Foucault’s Restraint

by zunguzungu

“Foucault sees Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations as effecting not only a transformation in political and economic thinking but also a transformation in the relationship between knowledge and government. For Cameralist thinkers, police science and state action are isomorphous and inseperable; the notion of ‘science’ carries here an immediately pragmatic connotation, akin, as Foucault puts it, to the calculating know-how of diplomacy.

“For political economy, on the other hand, scientific objectivity depends on the maintenance of relative distance and autonomy from the standpoint and preoccupations of state, while the content of economic science affirms the necessary finitude and frailty of the state considered a knowing subject. Liberalism can thus be accurately characterized in Kantian terms as a critique of state reason, a doctrine of limitation and wise restraint, designed to mature and educate state reason by displaying to it the intrinsic bounds of its power to know. Liberalism undertakes to determine how government is possible, what it can do, and what ambitions it must needs renounce to be able to accomplish what lies within its powers.”

–Colin Gordon, “Governmental Rationality: An Introduction