Wednesday, May 31, 2006

New International (v)

(nb. This post following on from here, and spurred on by AK's remarks today on "the ownership society," among other things.)

Foucault, of course, does not finally evade the label of "intellectual." All typical bad press (unless one is well-paid for hackery, of course) notwithstanding, he describes his role, in a rare candid moment, in the essay, "Useless to Revolt?" as follows: must at the same time look closely, a bit beneath history, and what cleaves it and stirs it, and keep watch, a bit behind politics, over what must unconditionally limit it. After all, that is my work; I am not the first or the only one to do it. But that is what I chose. (Le Monde, 1979)

He is also optimistic. More precisely, thus:
There is an optimism that consists in saying, "In any case, it couldn't be better." My optimism would consist rather in saying, "So many things can be changed, being as fragile as they are, tied more to contingencies than to necessities, more to what is arbitrary than to what is rationally established, more to complex but transitory historical contingencies than to inevitable anthropological constants..." You know, to say that we are more recent than we thought is not a way of bring the whole weight of our history down on our shoulders. Rather, it is to make available for the work that we can do on ourselves the largest possible share of what is presented to us as unaccessible. ("So Is It Important to Think?" Libération, 1981)

But what I really wish to draw your attention to, dear patient reader, is this (on the occasion of "the announcement in Geneva of the creation of an International Committee against Piracy"....well whatever that was):
We are just private individuals here, with no other grounds for speaking, or for speaking together, than a certain shared difficulty in enduring what is taking place.
[...] Who appointed us, then? No one. And that is precisely what constitutes our right. It seems to me that we need to bear in mind three principles that, I believe, guide this initiative, and many others that have preceded it: the Île-de-Lumière, Cape Anamour, the Airplane for El Salvador, Terre des Hommes, Amnesty International.
1. There exists an international citizenship that has its rights and its duties, and that obliges one to speak out against every abuse of power, whoever its author, whoever its victims. After all, we are all members of the community of the governed, and thereby obliged to show mutual solidarity.

2. Because they claim to be concerned for the welfare of societies, governments arrogate to themselves the right to pass off as profit or loss the human unhappiness that their decisions provoke or their negligence permits. It is a duty of this international citizenship to always bring the testimony of people's suffering to the eyes and ears of governments, sufferings for which it's untrue that they are not responsible. The suffering of men must never be a silent residue of policy. It grounds an absolute right to stand up and speak to those who hold power.

3. We must reject the division of labor so often proposed to us: individuals can get indignant and talk; governments will reflect and act. It's true that good governments appreciate the holy indignation of the governed, provided it remains lyrical. I think we need to be aware that very often it is those who govern who talk, are capable only of talking, and want only to talk. Experience shows that one can and must refuse the theatrical role of pure and simple indignation that is proposed to us. Amnesty International, Terre des Hommes, and Médecins du monde are initiatives that have created this new right––that of private individuals to effectively intervene in the sphere of international policy and strategy. The will of individuals must make a place for itself in a reality of which governments have attempted to reserve a monopoly for themselves, that monopoly which we need to wrest from them little by little and day by day. ("Confronting Governments: Human Rights," Libération, 1984)

Just imagine, governments! Humoring the advice of its citizens? Hoarding realities? Monopolies on reality? Whatever was he on about.

That was 22 years ago. Thoughts now safely pronounced obsolete. (After all, the world is flat.) Surely, you say, the late Foucault is all just talk, talk, talk!


old said...

appreciate the quotes, of course

Eric said...

Wow, I never knew. It's ironic (or maybe not, perhaps just worth noting) that Foucault sounds just like Chomsky here. It's uncanny. Amazing.

Matt said...

Oh sure, they were much closer than most people realize, especially on such pragmatic matters (much like Derrida and Habermas).

(The "counter-Enlightenment" bin/slogan is mostly an aid to stop thinking, for instance, as this humble blog has pointed out once or twenty times before.)

Though one could argue, I think, that the precise sense of a 'New International' being articulated here, by MF and JD - one that finally transcends the nation-state altogether - is significantly more nuanced than Chomsky's version of optimism...or account of Power, for that matter, which seems to me, still, naive.