‘Could you define the sense you give the word “political”’? Michel Foucault as a political philosopher
History of the Human Sciences October 1, 2011 24: 43-59
Foucault’s political thinking is focused on the concept of power relations. Under the influence of Nietzsche he proposes two different accounts of how power is related to human action. Nietzsche had argued, on the basis of a reading of Kant’s antinomies of pure reason, for two different accounts of that relationship. On the one hand, he had sought to understand action as a phenomenon of the will to power; on the other, he had also spoken of the will to power as an aspect of human agency. On Nietzsche’s views, we need to assert both positions even though they are for us irreconcilable. In his writings on power and action Foucault finds himself driven into adopting a similarly dual view. While he speaks of action in the nineteen seventies as subsidiary to power relations, he reverses himself in the nineteen eighties by treating power as a feature of human action. Just like Nietzsche, he offers us no way of reconciling these two distinct accounts.