"Society Must Be Defended" Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976

Lectures at the Collège de France

Michel Foucault; Translated by David Macey; Edited by Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana; General Editors: François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana; English Series Editor: Arnold I. Davidson




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Now, nearly twenty years after his death, Michel Foucault remains among the most important cultural and intellectual figures of the last half century. Certainly no twentieth-century theorist deepened our understanding of and reoriented our thinking about knowledge, power, and the self more fundamentally than Foucault. His studies of sexuality, madness, the prison, and medicine are already classics, yet their impact is undiminished. His work continues to inspire us to reconsider and reformulate our basic assumptions.

From 1971 until his death in 1984, Michel Foucault taught at the Collège de France, one of the most unique and renowned institutions of higher learning in the world. The Collège enrolls no students and confers no degrees. Professors are required to deliver lectures to the general public on topics from their ongoing original research. During his tenure at the Collège, Foucault's teaching, which reached audiences that frequently numbered in the thousands, profoundly influenced a generation of scholars. These lectures, painstakingly reconstructed from tape recordings and Foucault's own notes, are now being made available in English for the first time. Under the guidance of series editor Arnold I. Davidson, Picador will publish all thirteen volumes of the lectures in North America.

In "Society Must be Defended" Foucault traces the genealogy of the problem of war in society from the seventeenth century to the present. Inverting Clausewitz's famous formulation "War is politics by other means," Foucault explores the notion that "politics is war by other means" in its relation to race, class struggle, and, of course, power. Providing us with a new model of political rationality, he overturns many of our long-held ideas of sovereignty, the law, and even truth itself. The full significance of the dictum "Society must be defended" becomes clear when Foucault's examination culminates in an extraordinary discussion of modern forms of racism.

Foucault's lectures at the Collège de France add immeasurably to our understanding and appreciation of his great works and yet also stand on their own as incomparable performances of intellectual daring, imagination, and insight. As Arnold I. Davidson writes in his introduction, "These lectures show us the unfolding of Foucault's thought in all of its vivacity, intensity, clarity, and precision."


Praise for "Society Must Be Defended"

"Exploring the interrelationship between war and politics, [this] series of lectures by the late French philosopher traces the evolution of a new understanding of society and its relation to war, revealing war as the permanent basis of all institutions of power."—Paper Clips
"[These] lectures take a provocative, even aggressive stance, one that seems timely. Foucault's thesis is as simple as it is bold: He reverses Clausewitz's dictum 'war is a continuation of politics by other means' into 'politics is a continuation of war by other means.' In other words, Foucault's thesis is that war is a permanent feature of political life and that the theory of the legitimacy of political sovereignty is a ruse hiding the ongoing war that is organized political life . . . Foucault argues that there is a hidden thread running through the cultural history of Europe since the English civil wars of the 17th century, a discourse that concentrates on a permanent war between the privileged and the disadvantaged . . . There are many points in [this book] that provoke reflection and productive concern. The writing is bold and clear, and [Foucault] challenges accepted theories of sovereignty in a way that undermines cultural histories that depend on notions of individual rights or on security through the social contract."—Michael S. Roth, California College of Arts and Crafts, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Almost 20 years after his death, the first volume of the English translation of [Foucault's Collège de France] lectures has appeared, and its subject—how we think about war—couldn't be more timely. Indeed, what he says in this book may help explain why both Germany and France (not to mention most of the rest of the world) are so openly opposed to our going to war with Iraq (and/or North Korea). Moreover, what Foucault said in 1975-6 also helps us appreciate why it's so difficult to understand the motives for any war. He warns us that there are never single causes . . . [Throughout these lectures, Foucault's] point of view is particularly helpful in enabling us to think critically about political acts—most of which are verbal—that are already, now, the means of war, even before the first shot or bomb. Foucault's sobering message in these lectures is that (1) there is no sense to be made of the expressed causes of war, since they are always multiple and contradictory, and (2) wars don't happen because of failed politics; politics is already verbal warfare, war by other means."—Michael Payne, Bucknell University, The Daily Item (Sunbury, PA)
"Capably and collaboratively edited, [this book offers] unusually insightful perspectives and wisdom on a wide variety of educational topics ranging from the origins of feudalism, to the functions and domains of racism, to Hobbes' ideas on war and sovereignty . . . A very thought-provoking and instructive collection [of lectures] from a uniquely informed and informative point of view."—The Midwest Book Review
"One of the most penetrating philosophers of the late 20th century, Foucault gazed into human discourse and cultural practice with an unstintingly historical eye, uncovering the power relations that formed the base of our culturally constructed institutions . . . Using his method of digging historically (as in archaeology) to discover the philosophical relations of ideas (as in genealogy), Foucault contends that after the Middle Ages war can be understood less as the divine right of a sovereign (or juridically) and more as the hidden power that divides societies and thus influences political decisions. These lectures offer important insights into the evolution of the primary focus of Foucault's later work—the relationship between power and knowledge. This [is the] first volume of an anticipated 13-volume set of Foucault's lectures."—Library Journal
"Nearly two decades after his death, [Foucault's] work remains a touchstone for thinking about the intimate relationship among power, knowledge, and identity in bourgeois culture . . . His interrogation of the discursive roots of experience has become almost second nature, even as his resolute, if unorthodox, historicism and dazzling interpretive skills continue to inform our sense of what the history of ideas should look like . . . 'Society Must Be Defended', which collects the course of lectures that Foucault gave at the Collège de France in 1976, summarizing his research over the previous year, comes as a welcome surprise. Foucault gave thirteen such lecture courses at the institution [between the years] 1971 and 1984 . . . 'Society Must Be Defended'—though not the first course Foucault gave—is an excellent choice to inaugurate the Picador series. Its subject is a typically Foucauldian inversion of Clausewitz's famous dictum: 'Politics is the continuation of war by other means.' This is not a topic Foucault wrote on at length in any of his previously published work, so the lectures include a lot of new, compelling material. And the volume presents Foucault at a crucial moment in his career, roughly between Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality, as he leaves behind his fascination with the construction of 'knowledge' as a category and turns his attention to the question of power . . . [A] sense of contingency, of Foucault actually thinking his way through problems he has not fully resolved, gives [this book] much of its charm. And throughout, [the author's] prose—and David Macey's translation—is remarkable for its clarity, [and even] its accessibility. More important, ideas spark off nearly every page of this book, as Foucault manages to reinvigorate questions of power and violence that might have seemed well-worn. The words may have been spoken in 1976, but they seem as alive and as relevant as if they had been written yesterday."—James Surowiecki, Bookforum

Reviews from Goodreads



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Michel Foucault, acknowledged as the preeminent philosopher of France in the ’70s and ’80s, had enormous impact throughout the world in many disciplines.

David Macey has translated twenty books from the French and is the author of The Lives of Michel Foucault and Frantz Fanon (Picador). He lives in Leeds, England.
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  • Michel Foucault; Translated by David Macey; Edited by Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana; General Editors: François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana; English Series Editor: Arnold I. Davidson

  • Michel Foucault, acknowledged as the preeminent philosopher of France in the 1970s and 1980s, continues to have enormous impact throughout the world in many disciplines. His works include  Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, The History of Sexuality, and Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.

    Series editor Arnold I. Davidson teaches philosophy, divinity, and comparative literature at the University of Chicago and is executive editor of the journal Critical Inquiry. The author of numerous studies on Foucault, he has been a visiting professor at the Collège de France.

    Translator David Macey is the author of The Lives of Michel Foucault and Frantz Fanon: A Biography.