Summary and reflection – first weekly writing assignment
– Right to death and the power over life (part 1)
In the first part of Foucault’s “Right to death and power over life ”, he painstakingly maps out the history of power, starting from the emergence of sovereign powers that dictates the life and death of commoners in the early years of monarchy, to the beginning of modernity, in which we will witness a drastic shift of biological control from a single entity, to a democratic whole. This shift signifies a somewhat terrible reality that we might not be aware of, and I will further illustrate the reasons in the following paragraphs.
It was emphasized that before the dusk of sovereign powers, people still possess daily control over their own body. It happens only when the sovereign’s existence was in jeopardy- the lives of the people are thus rightfully expended in the forms of warfare, most often against an external threat. Following the passage of time, those who died on the Scaffold become fewer, while those who died for war become more numerous. The change in the way of killing clearly denotes the transformation of the definition of power – Killing cannot be done unconditionally anymore.
However, as soon as power itself was given a logical explanation: to administrate life, to multiply, ensure and sustain, the act of execution immediately becomes a contradiction to its progressive definition. This realization prompts the change in people’s attitude regarding the right to death and the power over life. The notion “Take life or let live” is therefore replaced with“Foster life or disallow”, which contributes a new kind of phenomenon: wane of rituals related to death.
Death, in this case, is no longer viewed as a necessity. Now death is so “carefully evaded”, it has become unbearable. And because that death has become unbearable, political authorities and institutions have to interfere with the living to minimize death. This indicates that people are losing more and more control over their own bodies, and namely their right to death and power over life. Personally speaking, I find this notion quite disconcerting. We often like to think that we posses the power to make our own decisions, but little did we know that our whole lives has already been meticulously calculated, disciplined, optimized and assorted in order to fulfill the will of political entities. It has appeared that the more educated we are in regards to our human particularities, the more it becomes, as what Foucault elaborated in one of his passages : ” the theme of political operations and economic interventions.”