on 27 August 2004
This book is Foucault at his best. He traces various themes regarding power, defence, life/death, the military, legislation, the state, etc., as they developed and changed in various European contexts in the late-modern period. Foucault manages to combine "history of thought" (for instance, an excellent chapter on Hobbes) with social history and history of everyday life (for instance, in his analysis of the theme of class/race war in the English Revolution). Central to his analysis is the idea that the division of society into groups or "races" defines a particular constellation of power in this period, which gradually gives way to regimes of bio-power and transmutes into modern discourses such as socialism and racism. Crucially, this text links Foucault's early work on the disciplines to his later works on biopower and self-care.
I would recommend this book both to existing Foucault readers and enthusiasts, and to those new to Foucault - especially if they already have interests in areas such as theorising everyday life, political theory, history of thought, social history, the French and English revolutions and ideas of the body, bio-power etc., but also because this book is as good as any as a way into the massive and intensely rewarding corpus of Foucault's work.
on 2 January 2011
I came across this book studying Political Security and absolutely cherish it. It introduced me to new concepts of post structuralism and a new method for reading history. The first lectures on a new analysis of power and war are fascinating and the analysis of different types of sovereignty are well worth a read.
It is the lectures of Foucault at the College de France and therefore the text does have some edits where record tapes (of which the book has been constructed, along with his lecture notes) have not picked up what has Foucault meant or said.
I've lent it out to a few friends who have since bought their own copies. Even if you may come to not be able to stand the sight of Foucault; this is a very persuasive argument in favour of new ways of analysing power and war. This book may also encourage you to start reading other French thinkers like Deleuze or Derrida , it certainly made me want to read more Foucault! (There are more books on different topics in the lecture series).
Not an easy book to read and certainly not to be read once or all in one go; but well worth a look if you're interested in Politics, History, Security studies and War.
Only some words of warning: this book and others (by Foucault) may make you become a semi-religious born again Foucauldian.
on 31 December 2014
This collection of lectures is essential reading for anyone wishing to get to grips with Foucauldian thought. As far as I'm concerned, it is the most intellectually exciting of all of Foucault's lectures at the Collège de France. He introduces and develops a number of concepts that reappear in The History of Sexuality Vol. 1, such as biopower and sovereign power. Most interesting, however, is the development of the concept introduced in his Abnormal lecture series -- the so-called 'racism against the abnormal', where society is internally divided through the separation of the 'abnormal' from the 'normal'. In Society Must Be Defended, Foucault conducts a genealogy of the concept of race and explores the transformation of the concept of racism in the 20th century through the emergence of the murderous regimes in Nazi German and Soviet Russia.
There is a lot of rich, intellectual material here, and it is a shame that some of the themes explored here do not reappear in his later works. For that reason, I think Society Must be Defended is essential reading for anyone interested in Foucault's work in general, or for anyone wishing to grapple with Foucault's analytics of power. The material here greatly compliments the History of Sexuality Vol. 1, so I would recommend reading them together.