“It seems to be condemned to dispersion, dependency and pure heteronomy” (Foucault, p.42). It is therefore a reaction to an external force.
But it has to be pointed out that this force must be significant and powerful enough to create discomfort and by creating this high-level of unease people learns to be critical This supports the original assertion of Foucault that there will be no critical attitude unless there exists an external stimulus that forces an individual or a group to rise up in favor or against it.
Foucault thus clarified that the rise of critical thought was not coincidental to the occurrence of the Reformation and the Renaissance. It is at this period in human history when people began to understand that their religion and their government is all about the art of governing lives.
Religion is a system created so that at a fundamental level a believer and the community of believers may learn the best way to govern their lives so that they can attain salvation. The same way can be said about local government whether it is ruled by a King or ruled by a feudal lord it does not matter.
Foucault did not offer his own understanding of critique and instead he used what was available to him which is centuries of discussions and documentation regarding the tension that exists between the ruler and the governed. He constantly referred to the movement popularly known as the Aufklarung a period in history wherein people began to question the status quo.
Foucault took closer look at Aufklarung specifically the work of Kant and he said that philosophers in this era developed a framework for the application of critique as a tool to build society and he said that it must be:
“both partner and adversary to the arts of governing, as an act of defiance, as challenge, as a way of limiting these arts of governing and sizing them up, transforming them, of finding a way of escape from them or, in any case, a way to displace them, with a basic distrust, but also by the same token as a line of development of the arts of governing” (Foucault, p.45).
He then went on to clarify it even further and he said that critique is “the art of not being governed as much” (Foucault, p.45). There are two sides to critiquing a system of government.
Foucault acknowledged that his definition was strongly influenced by Kant’s ideas about authority, submission and the governance of men. According to Foucault, Kant’s contribution to the study of how to critique the government and religious establishments is made evident in his assertion that
- humanity is maintained in an authoritative way;
- humanity has this incapacity to use its own understanding;
- there is a pronounced lack of courage (Foucault, p.48).
Foucault pinpointed the main purpose of the critique but what he was really interested in is on how to create one.
Foucault said that philosophers like Kant used the historical-philosophical approach. This means that it is not enough to study history and to understand the chronology of events. People must know how to interpret the body of knowledge given to them and not rely on the interpretation given to them.
This is why it is not enough to be a historian to develop a system of critique one must also learn to become a philosopher. Foucault said that this is the only way to prevent the creation of an oppressive government and tyrants will not be given the chance to develop a “procedure of coercion” (Foucalult, p. 59). This looks good on paper but even Foucault himself struggled when it comes to applying this principle in the real world.
At first Foucault sound convincing but then afterward he was drowned in his own rhetoric for he created a hole too deep for even his genius to escape from. He agreed with Kant that humanity must critique the way rulers and governments try to govern them and that there should be less of governance and more of freedom.
But Foucault just like the other philosophers who came before had to solve one tricky problem – they had to offer an alternative. They say that the Scriptures must not be used to coerce, they said that laws must not be used to oppress. But how then can society be governed using less rules and increasing freedom and yet at the same time the creation of a progressive and peaceful society?
Foucault stood on the foundation built by Kant and other like-minded intellectuals yet at the end Foucault realized he was standing on shaky ground.
The freedom that revolutionaries and thinkers were clamoring for since before the time of the Reformation and the Renaissance was the freedom that can both build and destroy. By rebelling against authority freedom fighters soon find themselves transform into the very person that they hate.
Foucault said that the ability to critique is the ability to resist oppressive rule while at the same time the ability to contribute in the development and positive transformation of society. This is an acceptable premise but the problem is how to do it? What is the framework that philosophers and even leaders must use to arrive at an effective means to issue critique?
It was suggested that humanity should use the historical-philosophical approach. But it did not take long for Foucault to realize that this system is bankrupt.
It promises so much but can only deliver very little. The very method that was supposed to create freedom was also the same system that can create rules and regulations that comes out not from truth but from the capriciousness and personal agenda of the ruler and the revolutionary.
Foucault, Michael. What is Critique?. In The Politics of Truth.