History of the Human Sciences, April 2010, Vol.23(2), pp.1-19
Foucault famously claimed that in political theory the king’s head still needs to be cut off, proclaiming the imperative to move beyond a centralized and prohibitive conception of power and toward a more distributed, relational and productive understanding of power in political society. Ironically, Edmund Burke, famous for criticizing an actual revolutionary regicide in France, can be read as an ally in Foucault’s project of theoretical regicide and conceptual revolution. For although he staunchly defended existing monarchies in France and Britain, Burke’s political theory in many ways encapsulates the kind of approach that Foucault sought to call forth. In this article, I argue for three particular resonances between Burke’s and Foucault’s views on power’s place and role in political society: one, power precedes subjects; two, power exceeds subjects; and three, subjects must negotiate with existing power relations (as opposed to ignoring or destroying them). Combined, these resonances remind us that political practice, reform and resistance are (almost) always situated in an unchosen context, thus happening in the middle of things rather than on a blank social canvas. Recognizing Burke’s interest in reform conditioned by the socio-cultural and historical circumstances and Foucault’s concern for resistance even though we can never be outside power allows us to appreciate the unchosen constraints that shape political practice of individual and collective subjects alike.
Edmund Burke ; Michel Foucault ; in Medias Res ; Power ; Resistance ; Social Sciences (General)
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