The Powers of the False

Beshty - sign of the times

PS: after discussing it w/ Gregg Flaxman, I’ve decided to “deontologize” the whole paper to sharpen the ontology/virtuality divide.

The powers of the false are what cause the science of governmentality and the philosophy of abstraction to part ways. Deleuze, following Nietzsche, argues that “the ‘true world’ does not exist, and even if it did, it would be inaccessible, impossible to describe, and, if it could be described, would be useless, superfluous.”[1] This critique is in part historical, much like Hardt and Negri’s depiction of colonial dialectics, as time “puts truth in crisis.”[2] Derrida explicates how time can subvert truth, whereby the legal order is founded through a violence that is illegitimate under the law.[3] Denouncing states, nations, or races as fictions does little to dislodge their power, however untrue the historical or scientific justifications for them might be.[4] Deleuze is intrigued by these “not-necessarily true pasts,” and in particular, the founding mythologies that fictionalize the origin of states and nations of people.[5] Recognizing power in the indistinguishability between the true and false does not mean the loss of value or that the world is a sham – in place of the model of truth, Deleuze poses the real. Put in these terms: disputing the truthfulness of an abstraction does not limit its power but in fact reiterates the real capacities of even false abstractions (to name two: that illegal violence can and has been used to found new legal orders, and that now-debunked science once justified eugenics and that new scientific paradigms will necessarily invalidate those currently used in social policy). To draw a sharp boundary between the state as a historical set of practices and “a mythicized abstraction,” as Governmentality Studies does, then turns a blind eye to the reality of the state.[6] Continue reading “The Powers of the False”


Foucault’s Targets: Functionalism and Fear




There are two targets to Foucault’s criticism: the classic state theories of Marxism and Anarchism, the first of which he charges with functionalism whereby the state is an epiphenomenal effect of a model of production, while the second he accuses of treating the state as a ‘cold monster’ to be universally feared (Security, Territory, Population, 109; 114fn39). In turn, Foucault suggests that political analysis should minimize the importance of the state, because perhaps “the state is only composite reality and a mythicized abstraction whose importance is much less than we think. What is important for our modernity, that is to say, for our present, is not the state’s takeover (éstatisation) of society, so much as what I would call the ‘governmentalization’ of the state” (Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 109).[1]

Anglo-American social sciences have taken up Foucault’s approach in earnest. Interestingly, they took their initial inspiration from a single lecture on governmentality that comes from the much longer lecture series entitled Security, Territory, Population – the lecture I quoted from above.[2] Even without the associated three-year lecture series where Foucault completed a genealogy of the liberal rule, Anglo-Americans were still able to developed a highly original methodology for Foucaultian state theory that took seriously Foucault’s enjoinment to study ‘the governmentalization of the state.’ Continue reading “Foucault’s Targets: Functionalism and Fear”