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The term “politics” can be defined in various ways. The different scientists give different definitions; however, in general politics can be equaled to the process of governing. As a rule, politics is associated with organization and regulation of some community, at least this is its interpretation from the scientific point of view.
In this essay we will have an opportunity to learn about politics from the philosophical point of view. We will briefly summarize and compare the works of three different authors; namely, of two men, Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard, and of a woman Simone Weil. All the authors are French philosophers who lived and wrote their books during the last century. Their oeuvre is concentrated on the sociological issues, which include politics as a notion and as a social phenomenon.
The analyzed books were written in one century; still the years of their publications were different, which suggests different historical background of the works. For instance, the earliest of the three works was “The need for roots” by Simone Weil; it was published in 1949.
Obviously, the period of the book’s creation coincided with the World War II, which most possibly influenced the author’s ideas and views. The Vichy regime together with fascist policy, which was in France in 1940-1945 have also contributed to the formation of an individual opinion of Weil about politics and its influence on society.
The next book in the chronological order belongs to Michel Foucault and is called “Discipline & Punish”. Written in 1975, this work contains the ideas formed by the events of the preceding years. Namely, France became an important part of the World politic system. During his work on the book, the writer had a chance to observe the policies of Mao Zedong, President Nixon; he also became a contemporary of the Watergate scandal, which, by the way, is also mentioned in the book.
The last of the analyzed books, “Simulacra and Simulation” was written in 1981 by Jean Baudrillard. Interestingly, the late 1970th are associated with the end of the corporal punishment in France, which was a significant change in the way of regulating the country. The society and its relationships with government reached a new level, which undoubtedly influenced the ideas of the philosopher Baudrillard.
Practice of politics
Taking into consideration the different historical background of the three books, we can assume that the notion of politics is different in all three works. Inded, the way how politics is practiced is presented differently by all the three authors.
For instance, Simone Weil considers politics as a set of actions realized by the government, aimed at strengthening the industrial and military potential of the country. The author is very critical about the policies led at that time; she expresses an opinion that all the policies in the country should be aimed at serving its citizens, improving their living standards and satisfying their needs. Instead, the practice of politics in the whole world is inseparably connected to leading wars. Thus, one of the most famous quotations from this book is:
“What a country calls its vital economic interests are not the things which enable its citizens to live, but the things which enable it to make war. Gasoline is much more likely than wheat to be a cause of international conflict.” (Weil,161).
The other author also describes the practice of politics as of a complex system, aimed at developing the new economics and industrialization. In his book, Michel Foucault focuses on the regulatory functions of politics, which are realized by different kinds of punishment.
However, the author’s point of view is different, as he approves such character of politics. Foucault thinks that imprisoning is the most effective for controlling the behavior of the citizens and developing certain qualities in people. He also supports an idea introduced by Bentham about the Panoticon. By this kind of punishment, Foucault hopes to atomize the practice of politics, or verbatim reach the “automatic functioning of power” (Foucault,32).
The author of the third book, Jean Baudrillard, analyzes the practice of politics from the point of view of connection between the historical events and the society. His work is more philosophical comparing to the previously mentioned, as it contains the description of real and imaginary facts and events, explanation of different symbols etc.
Just like every subject described in his book, politics is judged from the point of view of comparing the two realities. The practice of politics, according to Baudrillard, is just an imitation of real actions. The images created by the government are just a simulation of the real facts; moreover, people accept these images as real. That is why the “imaginary” world created by politics becomes a real world for the society. Following these ideas, the author calls Disneyland an “objective profile of America” (Baudrillard, 12).
While we talk about political venues, we usually mean the sphere of the social life which is regulated by politics and influenced by it. The political venues are also presented differently in the three books.
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Simone Weil’s book is focused on the sphere of duties and freedoms of the citizens. Obviously, these duties and freedoms are defined by the state. Thus, the book analyzes the interaction between the state and the citizens. In addition, Weil also mentions the international relationships, which means that the author studies the other political venue, which is the international arena an a ole of a separate country in it.
In contrast, Foucault does not differentiate various venues of politics, focusing on the sphere of regulation by punishment. The author studies the history of punishment in the world and in France, tracing the development of prisons and other kinds of punishment. Interestingly, his book was very popular and it probably had a great influence on its reader.
Therefore, we can assume that there is a connection between the Foucault’s ideas of punishment and the abolishment of the corporal punishment, which was realized just in few years after the date of the book’s publishing.
The third book describes the nations and countries as the political venues. The author is rather global in his philosophy; he critically analyzes the political practice and the way it tends to form the country’s territory, ethics, religion, structure etc. In addition, Baudrillard develops his idea about the cyclic nature of all the phenomena in the world, including politics. This makes his view of the political venues rather unclear, as they are more of a philosophical, not material character.
The author argues that the existence of any notion can only start when the object that it denotes stops existing. This idea was illustrated by the example of Tasaday tribes, traced by Philippine government, which points to the fact that “for ethnology to live, its object must die” (Baudrillard, 7). Similarly, the author claims that the social policies will only be introduced when the society will not exist anymore (Baudrillard, 172).
Subjects of politics
Among the subjects of politics, all the three authors mention both people and facts influenced by political practice.
Weil, perhaps because of being a female, expresses the greatest compassion to the members of society comparing to the other two authors. Therefore, the main subjects of politics outlined by the author are the citizens. Among the abstract subjects are the obligations and duties of the members of the society together with their rights and freedoms. The author claims that the citizens are given too many obligations, while the government fails to follow their own duties. However, the author notes that there should be a strong interrelation between rights and obligations for the successful governing.
Weil clearly sees the whole Europe as one of the subjects of the politics. Observing the fascist regime, the writer realizes how much every country is influenced by it. Therefore, Weil develops a plan for the recovery of Europe after the World War II. Being a Christian mysticism, the writer gives a great significance to the religion.
She claims that this is the most powerful instrument for the renewal; moreover, Weil argues that the religious principles have to be combined with political actions in order to develop a healthy economy and bring up a conscious society of a country (Weil, 39). The author focuses on the moral renewal of the nation, as far as it was necessary in the historical background. Thus, the morality of people is one more subject of politics mentioned by the writer.
The other book, which is the mentioned “Discipline & Punish” also mentions the citizens as the subjects of politics. For instance, the upbringing of the citizens can only be realized with proper policies, according to the author.
Foucault focuses on the interrelation between the punishment and the behavior of the citizens. If there is a well-developed system of regulation, including monitoring of the people’s behavior and punishment of the guilty people, the citizens are aware of the possible consequences of their actions and therefore behave properly.
And if the citizens behave properly, than according to Foucault, the politics is realized by nation itself. So the main concern which is left to be resolved in today’s politics is its proper organization, including the introduction of more effective system for regulation. In general, one of the main subjects of politics presented by the writer is discipline, which can be reached by the mentioned means.
The last of the analyzed books, as it was mentioned before, is of the most philosophical character. Moreover, some of its ideas can even be called psychedelic. That is why the notion of political subject is of a very global character. Indeed, Baudrillard starts with the individuals as those who are influenced by politics. Namely, he mentions citizens of different countries and their way of life dictated by the politics. Next, the author presents the communities as political subjects.
The tribes, nations, and countries are shown as those who not only cannot escape the influence of politics, but who need politics for their proper organization. As an illustration of the interconnection between the politics and society, we can mention the idea that the capital is “a challenge to society” (Baudrillard, 15). And finally, Baudrillard expresses an idea that the whole reality is influenced by the politics. For instance, the author calls political actions the repeating process of “production and reproduction of the real” (Baudrillard, 179).
According to the author, politics cannot be treated as real; it is just a simulation of government. The images and signs offered by politicians to the citizens are not real either; however, they are aimed at “feeding the reality”, modifying people’s life in accordance with the general plan (Baudrillard, 13). Baudrillard suggests that the game has gone so far that now there is no chance for the planet to return to the healthy political, economical, and social situation.
The three visions
Having introduced the three books and analyzed their content, we can now differentiate the main ideas represented by the authors and the styles of their writings. However, while comparing the analyzed books, it is important to define whether the views that they represent are reconcilable or not.
Among the three books, the one which belongs to Baudrillard is of a very specific nature. It is distinctly different from the works of two other authors, as it sees all the notions through the perspective of two realities, real and imaginary. The ideas of the author are barely reconcilable to the ideas of the other authors.
For instance, Weil has a lot of religious directions in her writing; the writer claims that religion can be a rather effective method for regulating the society, and that it is “even more real than politics” (Weil, 67). These ideas are obviously controversial to those of Baudriller, who denies the existence of the factual reality in human life. Baudrillard thinks that religion is also an image created for people, and even mentions that religions are born when Gods die (Baudrillard, 214).
The “Simulacra and Simulation” also contradicts to the ideas expressed by Foucault, who sees the discipline as the main tool and aim of politics. Baudriller again argues that the discipline is just one of the images offered to the citizens by government and that the punishment is not more than just a simulation of real regulation. Taking into consideration the difference in the ideas of the authors, the books can be called mutually exclusive.
On the other hand, the books of Weil and Foucault can be considered as reconcilable. The views expressed in the books do not contradict to each other; moreover, the proposed ideas can even be combined. For example, Weil’s idea of the interrelation of obligations and rights suggests that the obligations are very important and they should be clearly introduced for the citizens to be more responsible.
Foucault also argues that the upbringing of consciousness and feeling of responsibility in citizens is of a paramount importance and should be considered by politicians. Furthermore, the both authors trace the mutual dependence of the society and the organs of its regulation. Therefore, taking into consideration the similarity of some of the ideas, it can be stated that these two books are not mutually exclusive and can be considered as compossible.
We have analyzed the books of three writers, Weil, Foucault and Baudrillard, from the point of view of politics. Specifically, we have compared the notions of politics in the three books, the venues and subjects of politics, its tools etc.
As a conclusion, we can state that even though all the three authors are the citizens of one country, their visions of politics vary significantly. The Weil’s book is focused on the interconnection between the society and its government and contains some religious ideas. Foucault wrote about discipline and ways of its organization.
Finally, Baudrillard presented politics from the perspective of psychology and postmodern philosophy. All the authors have individual perception of the world, society, and political, and they all are very persuasive and logical in expressing their ideas. Even though the books express different ideas, all of them played an outstanding role in the social and political theory of the world. The books have inspired a lot of scientists and politicians and are still popular nowadays.
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulations. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
Foucault, Michael. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. NY: Vintage Books, 1995.
Weil, Simone. The need for roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties Towards Mankind. Paris: Routlege, 2001.