For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Society must be Defended

by Foucault, Michel (2003)

Key Passage

The great adversary of Boulainvilliers and his successors is nature, or natural man. To put it a different way, the great adversary of this type of analysis (and Boulainvilliers's analyses will become instrumental and tactical in this sense too) is, if you like, natural man or the savage. "Savage" is to be understood in two senses. The savage— noble or otherwise—is the natural man whom the jurists or theorists of right dreamed up, the natural man who existed before society existed, who existed in order to constitute society, and who was theelement around which the social body could be constituted. When they look for the constituent point, Boulainvilhers and his successors are not trying to find this savage who, in some sense, exists before the social body. The other thing they are trying to ward off is the other aspect of the savage, that other natural man or ideal element dreamed up by economists: a man without a past or a history, who is motivated only by self-interest and who exchanges the product of his labor for another product. What the histonco-pohtical discourseof Boulainvilliers and his successors is trying to ward off is both the savage who emerges from his forests to enter into a contract and to found society, and the savage Homo economicus whose life is devoted to exchange and barter. The combination of the savage and exchange is, I think, basic to juridical thought, and not only to eighteenth-century theories of right—we constantly find the savage-exchange couple fromthe eighteenth-century theory of right to the anthropology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In both the juridical thought of the eighteenth century and the anthropology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the savage is essentially a man who exchanges. He is the exchanger: he exchanges rights and he exchanges goods. Insofar as he exchanges rights, he founds society and sovereignty. Insofar as he exchanges goods, he constitutes a social body which is, at the same time, an economic body. (p.194)


Foucault, Foucauldian, Homo Economicus, Exchange, Nature, Society, Sovereignty


Society must be Defended, Foucault Citations



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