Truth and Verediction: How to Construct a Speaking Subject (even if that subject is ‘money’ or ‘the market’)

When I spoke of the coupling carried out in the eighteenth century between a regime of truth and a new governmental reason, and the connection of this with political economy, in no way did I mean that there was the formation of a scientific and theoretical discourse of political economy on one side, and then, on the other, those who governed who were either seduced by this political economy, or forced to take it into account by the pressure of this or that social group. What I meant was that the market-which had been the privileged object of governmental practice for a very long time and continued to be in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries under the regime of raison d’etat and a mercantilism which precisely made commerce one of the major instruments of the state’s power-was now constituted as a site of veridiction. And this is not simply or so much because we have entered the age of a market economy-this is at once true, and. says nothing exactly-and it is not because people wanted to produce the rational theory of the marlcet-which is what they did, but it was not sufficient. In fact, in order to reach an understanding of how the market, in its reality, became a site of veridiction for governmental practice, we would have to establish what I would call a polygonal or polyhedral relationship between: the particular monetary situation ofthe eighteenth century, with a new influx of gold on the one hand, and a relative consistency of currencies on the other; a continuous economic and demographic growth in the same period; intensification of agricultural production;the access to governmental practice of a number of technicians who brought with them both methods and instruments of reflection; and finally a number of economic problems being given a theoretical form.

In other words, I do not think we need to look for-and consequently I do not think we can find-the cause* [* Foucault repeats the words, stressing the article: the cause] of the constitution of the market as an agency of veridiction. If we want to analyze this absolutely fundamental phenomenon in the history of Western governmentality, this irruption of the market as a principle of veridiction, we should simply establish the intelligibility of this process by describing the connections between the different phenomena I have just referred to. This would involve showing how it became possible-that is to say, not [pg 34] showing that it was necessary, which is a futile task anyway, nor show ing that it is a possibility (un possible), one possibility in a determinate field of possibilities … Let’s say that what enables us to make reality intelligible is simply showing that it was possible; establishing the intelligibility of reality consists in showing its possibility. Speaking in general terms, let’s say that in this history of a jurisdictional and then veridictional market we have one of those innumerable intersections between jurisdiction and veridiction that is undoubtedly a fundamental phenomenon in the history of the modern West.

It has been around these [questions] that I have tried to organize a number of problems – with regard to madness, for example. The problem was not to show that psychiatry was formed in the heads of psychiatrists as a theory, or science, or discourse claiming scientific status, and that this was concretized or applied in psychiatric hospitals. Nor was it to show -how, at a certain moment, institutions -of confinement, which had existed for a long time, secreted their own theory and justifications in the discourse of psychiatrists. The problem was the genesis of psychiatry on the basis of, and through institutions’ of confinement that were originally and basically articulated on mechanisms of jurisdiction in the very broad sense-since there were police type of jurisdictions, but for the present, at this level, it is not very important-and which at a certain point and in conditions that precisely had to be analyzed, were at the same time supported, relayed, transformed, and shifted -by process of veridiction.

In the same way, studying penal institutions meant studying them first of all as sites and forms where jurisdictional practice was predominant and we can say autocratic. [It meant studying] how a certain practice of veri diction was formed and developed in these penal institutions that were fundamentally linked to a jurisdictional practice, and how this veridictional practice-supported, of course, by criminology, psychology, and so on, but this is not what is essential~began to install the veridictional question at the very heart of modem penal practice, even to the extent of creating difficulties for its jurisdiction, which was the question of truth addressed to the criminal: Who are you? When penal practice replaced the question: “What have you done?” with the question: “Who are you?” you see the jurisdictional function of the penal [pg 35] system being transformed, or doubled, or possibly undermined, by the question of veridiction.

In the same way, studying the genealogy of the object “sexuality” through a number of institutions meant trying to identify in things like confessional practices, spiritllal direction, the medical relationship, and so on, the moment when the exchange and cross-over took place between a jurisdiction of sexual relations, defining the permitted and the prohibited, and the veridiction of desire, in which the basic armature of the object “sexuality” currently appears.

You can see that all these cases-whether it is the market, the confessional, the psychiatric institution, or the prison-involve taking up a history of truth under different angles, or rather, taking up a history of truth that is coupled, from the start, with a history of law. While the history of error linked to a history of prohibitions has been attempted fairly frequently, I would propose undertaking a history of truth coupled with a history of law. Obviously, a history of truth should not be understood in the sense of a reconstruction of the genesis of the true through the elimination or -rectification of errors; nor a history of the true which would- constitute a historical succession of rationalities established through the rectification or elimination of ideologies. Nor would this history of truth be the description of insular and autonomous systems of truth. It would involve the genealogy of regimes of veri diction, that is to say, the constitution of a particular right (droit) of truth on the basis of a legal situation, the law (droit) and truth relationship finding its privileged expression in discourse, the discourse in which law is formulated and in which what can be true or false is formulated; the regime of veridiction, in fact, is not a law (loi). of truth, [but] the set of rules enabling one to establish which statements in a given discourse can be described as true or false.

Undertaking the history of regimes of veridiction-and not the history of truth, the history of error, or the history of ideology, etcetera obviously means abandoning once again that well-known critique of European rationality and its excesses, which has been constantly taken up in various forms since the beginning of the nineteenth century. From romanticism to the Frankfurt School,9 what has always been called into question and challenged has been rationality with the weight of power [pg 36] supposedly peculiar to it. Now the critique* [* The manuscript adds, p. 10bis: “political”] of knowledge I would propose does not in fact consist in denouncing what is continually-I was going to say monotonously-oppressive under reason, for after all, believe me, insanity (deraison) is just as· oppressive. Nor would this political critique of knowledge consist in flushing out the presumption of power in every truth affirmed, for again, believe me, there is just as much abuse of power in the lie or error. The critique I propose consists in determining under what conditions and with what effects a veridiction is exercised, that is to say, once again, a type of formulation falling under particular rules of verification and falsification. For example, when I say that critique would consist in determining under what conditions and with what.effects a veridiction is exercised, you can see that the problem would not consist in saying: Look how oppressive psychiatry is, because it is false. Nor would itcoilSistinbeing a little more sophisticated and saying: Look how oppressive it is, because it is true. It would consist in saying that the problem is to bring to light the conditions that had to be met for it to be possible to hold a discourse on madness-but the same would hold for delinquency and for sex~that can be true or false according to the rules of medicine, say, or of confession, psychology, or psychoanalysis.

In other words, to have political significance, analysis does not have to focus on the genesis of truths or the memory of errors. What does it matter when a science began to tell the truth? Recalling all the erroneous things that doctors have been able to say about sex or madness does us a fat lot of good … I think that what is currently politically important is to determine the regime of veridiction established at a given moment that is precisely the on~ on the basis of which you can now recognize, for example, that doctors in the nineteenth century said so many stupid things about sex. What is important is the determination of the regime of veridiction that enabled them to say and assert a number of things as truths that it turns out we now know were perhaps not true at all. This is the point, in fact, where historical analysis may have a political significance. It is not so much the history of the true or the history of the false as the history of veri diction which has a political [pg 36] significance. That is what I wanted to say regarding the question of the market or, let’s say, of the connecting up of a regime of truth to governmental practice.

–Michel Foucault, 17 Jan 1979 Lecture from the series “Birth of Biopolitics” on the topic of ‘regimes of verediction’


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