Ethical Perspectives 12 (4):521-534 (2005)

Government has come to mean governance. This article investigates this change, which, through an investigation of Foucault’s concept of governmentality, it will show to be a substantial modification of the concept of government.By the late 1970s, Foucault had begun to construct a political philosophy shorn of traditional power structures. He replaced these with the concept of governmentality, of which the “governmental rationality of liberalism” is one form. In this rationality, the government is no longer the final instance, but is rather a process of structuring a field of action.Government ceases to be a specific method of organisation; the concept of governmentality is hence amorphous and is not limited to liberalism. But liberalism instituted a radical change: a hitherto unpracticed permeability between reasons of state and reasons of the market. Liberalism is characterised by frugal government. However, the check against excess in government does not emerge, as it did in other forms, through the rule of law or the balance of power of nations, both external to liberal rationality.Seeing the transactional economic model as the model of good governance, liberalism is frugal by its own nature. Unlimited economic productive power, necessary for the continuance of the liberal state, entails limited government, and anything that would limit economic transactions must limit from outside.Other rationalities, such as moral or judicial rationalities, are thus external to the nature of liberal rationality – they play no role in the only test liberalism uses to validate its actions: economic effect. This new rationality, which emerges in the middle of the 18th century as new concept of government, is the emergence of the political economy
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DOI 10.2143/EP.12.4.2004796
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