Skip to content

The Return of the Leviathan Part 2

Notoriously lacking from Foucault’s initial excursion into governmentality is a sound political economic analysis of the state. Had he done this, it could have helped him to contextualize the economic effectiveness of discipline by focusing on, for example, the expanding role of the state in economic affairs since the 19th century. The birth of the welfare state could easily be interpreted along the same lines of the expanding disciplinary society. Indeed, in most Western European countries, the welfare state served an openly acknowledge dual role in stabilizing the economy through systems of income distribution and support and disciplining the population at large (and not only the work force, who were already integrated through various trade-union based social security systems).

In Gramsci’s terms, the welfare state offered capitalist social formations a most effective means of organizing hegemony, not simply through ideology (as with for example nationalism), but by taking care of the long term interests of capital itself. Although worker’s unrest had not been totally quelled, it is obvious that the advent of the welfare state took a lot of sting out of the revolutionary appeal of the worker’s movement. It effectively incorporated class struggle into the realm of the state (Poulantzas, 1973; Offe, 1984). It is also important to stress that this incorporation was not a primarily ideological achievement. It had nothing to do with ‘the imaginary relationship of human beings to their real conditions of existence’ (Althusser, 1971: 161). Instead, it had everything to do with ‘the real conditions of existence’ themselves, as the welfare state actively intervened in preventing the worst excesses of capitalism to damage the social fabric of modern society.

To be continued…

One Comment

  1. Joost van Loon wrote:

    omg spam has arrived at space & culturetv

    Tuesday, July 4, 2006 at 17:52 | Permalink