Foucault did several works such as The Care of the Self, The Use of Pleasure, and The History of Sexuality. In these works, he points out the various forms of subjectivation that can be used to influence the development of self through homogenous and heterogeneous means (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). Foucault’s work supported the genealogy of the state as well as the political rationalities. He also thought that the questions of ethicality arising from social relations as seen in the history of sexuality happen because of the government’s missing link. This missing link is seen in the interplay between the formation of state and the constitution of subject.

The difference between government and state

Foucault notes the largely political interpretation of the word “government” used today, contrary to the early days before the 18th C (Foucault, 2014).  In those days, the government was seen from an apolitical angle and could be used in medical, philosophical, pedagogic and religious discourses. It was the organ mandated to be managed by the state (Foucault, 2014). Government practices an effective explanation to the idea of the state (Foucault, 2014). The tactics of government are what constitutes the state, as people gain an understanding the elements that define state competence and those that do not (Foucault, 2014).

The nexus between government and power

There are varying forms of power that the government uses to execute the processes of subjectification (Lemke, 2002). Government was associated with issues concerning self-control, household management, and family guidance (Lemke, 2002). These aspects made Foucault to view the government as some form of conduct, or more precisely, “governing the self” and “governing others” (Lemke, 2002). Foucault thought that government exercised its centralized power through war and struggle rather than mere consensus or law (Lemke, 2002). This was a juridical-discursive perception of power within the legitimacy of the law (Lemke, 2002).  Foucault claimed that the juridical model need to be an exact opposite of the strategic conception by the government (Lemke, 2002). He would support constraint and war as opposed to law and consensus, and would support anonymous strategies and microphysics of power as opposed to the idea of centralized power-holders benefiting from the micro-perspective of the state (Lemke, 2002). Foucault preferred to conduct political analysis without paying much focus on the king, legitimization, consensus, law or will (Lemke, 2002). He effectively replaced contract and law with conquest and war (Lemke, 2002). Historical power relations can be easily concentrated in the form of state, but care should be taken to avoid making them one and the same (Lemke, 2002).

The government’s link between the technologies of self and the technologies of domination

The idea of government was central to most of Foucault’s work, as it helped to explain the concepts of power beyond the simple dynamics of violence or consensus (Lemke, 2002). The government links the technologies of domination with the technologies of self, and constitutes the subject required for the formation of state (Lemke, 2002). Power creates an asymmetrical relationship through the technologies of government. These technologies of government effectively regulate the power relationships, systemize them and stabilizes them to entrench domination (Singer & Weir, 2008). There is always a persistent duality of constraint and personal freedom on which the government rides on to push for sustained influence. It also rides on the duality of consensus and violence (Lemke, 2002). The government operates in a continuum that is far-reaching and transcends beyond the scope of self-regulation (Lemke, 2002). Foucault calls them the technologies of self. The trouble that comes with this model is that it gives individual responsibility to the subjects being governed (Lemke, 2002).

Neoliberalism in the context of governance

Neoliberalism is seen as a wrong knowledge intent on manipulating the society, making it necessary to change it with impartial scientific knowledge that is right (Lemke, 2002). Neo-liberalism has many contradictions, making it less suitable for developing true laws (Lemke, 2002). Neoliberalism also appears to be an attempt to merge politics with economics, where the capitalist mindset trudges the authority or influence of the state (Lemke, 2002). People want to globalize business operations so that they overcome the individual state’s political regulation (Lemke, 2002). The political class has in turn sought to defend against the expanded capitalism that is uncontrolled by pursuing re-regulation. Neoliberalism has been known to cause destructive influence in individuals by devaluing past traditional experiences and encouraging individualization (Lemke, 2002). It supports risk-taking, flexibility and mobility that end up breaking personal affiliations and family values (Lemke, 2002). Neoliberal governmentality represents some sort of a “retreat of the state”, where there is a transformation of politics to create newly restructured power relations (Foucault, 2014). Neoliberal rationality would thus be a representation of the politics of truth meant to generate new concepts, notions and knowledge to achieve governance for emerging domains requiring intervention and regulation (Foucault, 2014). Politics also influences economics by changing the neoliberalism ideals driven by capitalists. Every individual has to try and address their social risks such as poverty, illness, and unemployment, leaving the government with less responsibility to the neo-liberalist subjects (Lemke, 2002). This situation breeds a divide between the characters of individuals with a moral and responsible character and those with an economic and rational character. The subjects are encouraged to be responsible by pursuing self-care. People can express their free will through self-determination and be ready to bear the consequences that come with it.

Foucault’s perception of liberalism

Foucault believes that the states should know their limits in relation to the greater economic interests of the subjects. The political actors also understand that the society is complex, heterogeneous and decentralized (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). Foucault believed in making politics less radical and unglobalized. Liberalism too had to be tamed by instituting mechanisms for achieving self-regulation, and enhancing the ideas of social markets (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). Foucault sees liberalism as a political rationality that aims to separate the idea of maximum government intervention from the ‘reason of state.’ Liberal governance would often seek to improve the population’s wellbeing through an ideology of substantiality, positivity and epistemology (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). This should be done in a manner that preserves the perception of the population’s needs being handled irrespective of the government authority actions. This is not to say that the liberal government is not established using the state apparatus. The knowledge need to be separated from the power wielded by the state agencies (Foucault, 2014). This is in light of the fact that when ultimate power is vested in one person, this single source of power would influence the order, intelligibility and coherence, law and knowledge  to be used by the subjects (Foucault, 2014). If such knowledge is inappropriate, the subjects have to bear the consequences of such misguided action emanating from the single power source (Singer & Weir, 2008). Nevertheless, Foucault believed that power had a direct connection with knowledge. There is need to separate the two before attempting to a connection between them. This would allow the rulers and the subjects to have a different perspective of the individual concepts of knowledge and power, and devise better ways of improving these single elements by fusing them together (Foucault, 2014).

Foucault Ideas on Governmentality

Foucault sees governmentality as underpinned in political rationality. Foucault supported the idea that governmentality should seek to propagate political knowledge as opposed to simple juxtaposition of knowledge and politics (Foucault, 2014). Trying to reduce it to simple relations between rationalities and practices amounts to shortened reasoning (Foucault, 2014). The political practices seen in society should be examined on the basis of the specific rationality that they are using rather than whether the practices are comformative to common rationalities (Foucault, 2014). Foucault sees governmentality as an economy of power attributed to specific historical eras. It organizes the society into different domains that relate to each other through certain established logics (Foucault, 2014). Individuals are construed with respect to different sites – such as schools, family, business; and are seen in light of different regularities such as death, birth or health (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). For these varied regularities and sites, there are distinct governance modes applied to influence the subject population’s knowledge on the preferred conduct. Foucault’s ideas consistently questions the conditions on which consensus should be accepted (Foucault, 2014). He looks at governmentality beyond the balance of will and consensus or war and conquest. The government should represent power through action that is neither juridical nor warlike.

Perception of the relationship between sovereign power and disciplinary power

Sovereign power and disciplinary power are seen as separate technologies of government, not necessarily opposite in their operation (Singer & Weir, 2008). This is similar to the way the inclination to the idea of state is meant to improve world welfare.  The modern autonomous individual and the sovereign state directly influence each other’s emergence (Foucault, 2014). There is more transition to informal governance practices from the traditional formal methods as new non-governmental organisations emerge to gain legitimate scope to do their work. This does not necessarily mean that the state is now facing diminishing sovereignty or fall in their capacity to plan (Foucault, 2014). Sovereignty and government also need to be separated to create a distinction between the two. A change in government may not necessarily mean a change in sovereignty. Sovereignty can be defined as a discourse meant to justify power, while government is a structure for enacting power relations through assemblages (Singer & Weir, 2008). Such enaction can be done without making direct references to the idea of sovereignty (Singer & Weir, 2008). Sovereignty is more symbolic in its aspects, while the government is more realist in its perception. Government should be perceived and construed separately from the concepts of law and power. This way, it would be possible to easily conceptualize the possibility of using sovereignty to suspend the law (Singer & Weir, 2008). Foucault rejected any ideas suggesting that governance as it is known in modern politics was a historical successor to the early concept of sovereignty (Singer & Weir, 2008). These are separate elements that continue to coexist in the larger interpretation of political governance (Singer & Weir, 2008).

Government’s Pursuit of Subjectivation through the Exercise of Power

Power plays a critical role in constructing order, intelligibility and coherence. Power is seen as meant to serve the crucial function of guidance first to influence the structuring and form of self-government and shape appropriate action to be met by all subjects (Lemke, 2002). Interestingly, these concepts remodel consensus through new elements called the instruments of power that define power relationships within the government (Lemke, 2002). Foucault believes that the individual should remain autonomous to achieve self-control as they pursue varied economic exploits and submit to different political rule (Lemke, 2002). The government pursues certain processes of subjectivation to establish its authority amongst the people. People are handled like docile bodies through established processes of discipline (Lemke, 2002). The government creates the link between the interplay of technologies of domination and technologies of self. Government creates processes that force individuals to be driven by others (Lemke, 2002). It creates complementarity among individuals, establishes a versatile equilibrium and may sometimes face conflicts in the processes that build self-autonomy against those that build widespread coercion (Lemke, 2002). Foucault sees some difference in domination and power. Power is a strategic struggle between liberties to allow the governing people to control the action of others. This is done through ideological manipulation, economic manipulation, or moral advice (Lemke, 2002). The common perception is that the move to try to influence the actions of others may be intrinsically bad, but in reality, this is not always the case.  Such influence may not necessarily entail the erosion of individual liberties (Lemke, 2002). Instead, it creates opportunity for empowering the subjects and making them responsible to create space for free decision making (Lemke, 2002). Power can also be seen in the sense of government, where a systemized and regulated power structure is used to support specific reasoning/rationality that would include action on other people. Legitimate government action may be pursued through certain means (Lemke, 2002). Power is also viewed in the perspective of domination, where a hierarchical and stable power relationship is bred and sustained to control a group of subordinate people by limiting their action space and controlling their liberties (Singer & Weir, 2008).

Foucault’s perceptions on the art of government

Foucault believes that the art of government is meant to go beyond the idea of separating the economy and politics. Instead, proper rationality should be used to establish autonomous laws that satisfy the idea of an economic government (Foucault, 2014). Family economy was introduced in most civilian governments in the 17th C as part of experimentation with the ‘art of government’ (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). In order to solve the ‘problematic of the government’, Foucault thinks that there is need to decouple the Machiavelli ideas of a government captured in the 17th C  to separate the inherent problematic of the prince from the main rationalities supporting the ‘art of government.’ This allows for pursuit of greater interests beyond those of the prince (Dupont & Pearce, 2001).  The art of government also seems to target population as its key domain.

The interplay between capitalism and politics

Capital accumulation is meant to support technologies of production that can suffice the widespread engagement of people on profitable production activities (Foucault, 2014). This way, individuals end up being subjugated to live within  the production cycle by forming accepted work habits. This means that economic capitalism has an element of self-political incentive by the individuals contributing labor (Foucault, 2014). It encourages the separation of the market economics from the notion of the state. This goes against the initial assertions by authors like Karl Marx who thought that no market would exist without having the state’s economy (Foucault, 2014). Most of the elements of economy known today is actually political economy.

Foucault’s perception of similarity between government power and pastoral power

The early governments exercised power vested in the modern state in a much similar way to the ‘pastoral modality of power.’ Foucault simply secularizes the early pastoral themes existing in the early societal governance of communities such as the Hebrews into an idea of the modern state (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). Sovereign power and disciplinary power have a relationship that is similar to the way Christian pastorates provide some form of spiritual government to those seeking salvation (Singer & Weir, 2008). Foucault supported the idea of a government that focuses less on territory, with more concentration on making right decisions concerning the general disposition of things, leading to a convenient end for all. The things include famine, wealth, territory, epidemics, resources, and climate (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). Territory becomes a mere variable as opposed to a core factor. These elements appear to justify the ‘reason of the state’ and create a clear rationality that should be used to govern the state (Dupont & Pearce, 2001).

The reason of state

Thereafter, people began to accept the doctrine of ‘reason of state’ and the supporting political arguments that establish it – including the use of political statistics, and police. Foucault believes that governance should not be done from  traditional virtues such as justice and wisdom, but from a rationality of principles meant to govern specific domains in the state (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). Most governments would strive to enhance its strength and makes their relative strengths and capacities known by other states. This is how the political arithmetic (statistics) link with the notion of the ‘reason of state’ (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). This would include controlling domains such as public safety, factories, laborers, supplies, religion, liberal arts, trade, the poor, buildings and roads. Foucault believed that the ‘reason of state’ was a suitable response to the ideals of governance proposed by Machiavelli (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). He sees the ‘reason of state’ as purely apolitical and considerably inadequate. It does not look at the territory as the object of rule. Rather, it looks at the lives of the people as the object of rule (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). The ruler needs to make responses concerning the issues affecting the ruled, as the ruled remain silent and cooperative when receiving the actions instituted by the government through its various instruments (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). The ruled persons often fail to remain silent, making the whole governance process to be political. The rulers would use purposive speech to separate the subject and the object and their influence their perception of reality (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). The objects will receive the targeted speech and action, as the objectives receive the reality of the government’s political action.

The relationship between the state and policing

Foucault would see police as all those strategies employed by the government to control the actions of the people and enhance their usefulness (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). The main objective of policing should be to support life and not just focus on the pleasures, morality and conveniences that improve life (Dupont & Pearce, 2001). The objective should be geared towards achieving happiness for the masses. The state will also gain relative strength when its actions are linked with those of the state. Foucault describes the ‘paradox of police’ as the collective action by the government that is meant to foster citizens’ lives and improve their living standards, while supporting the strength of the government (Dupont & Pearce, 2001).


Most government analysis often focus on the knowledge justifying the systemic processes that rationalize government action; and some examined the actual mechanisms that government uses to mask violence and legitimize domination (Foucault, 2014). These are repeated in form of historical practices to influence social relations without passing normative judgments. This makes  political rationality to be a non-neutral knowledge mean to reinforce the prevailing realities of governance (Foucault, 2014). Foucault  also sees the prison system as having failed in its intent. It led to the creation of widespread delinquency that was not intended in the first place. It filtered, concentrated, circumscribed and professionalized a criminal culture (Foucault, 2014).





Dupont, D., & Pearce, F. (2001). Foucault Contra Foucault: Rereading theGovernmentality’Papers. Theoretical Criminology5(2), 123-158.

Lemke, T. (2002). Foucault, governmentality, and critique. Rethinking marxism14(3), 49-64.

Foucault, M. (2014). On the Government of the Living: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1979-1980. Springer.

Singer, B. C., & Weir, L. (2008). Sovereignty, governance and the political: The problematic of Foucault. Thesis eleven94(1), 49-71.



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