Boring Book Critique on Foucault's "The History of Sexuality"

Michael Foucault puts forward a descriptive theory on the nature of power and sexuality’s relation to it in his book The History of Sexuality.  He does not try to prescribe any suggestions, but rather assumes man’s immovability and resigns himself to the ambitious leaders.  Relativity is the game and post-modernism is its name.  Foucault claims that our traditional ideas of where power comes from are mistaken.  These traditional ideas include hierarchy and the top-down relationship of delegated authority.  Instead, he asserts that our government’s best way to “lean forward” in the world is to control the people’s sexuality.  A government either represses its people or encourages its people, but either way control must be maintained.  Not only is it for the internal affair of keeping your citizens in check, but it is used for external affairs as well.  Control of the sexuality of your people has a benefit of a larger future military.  With a larger future military, a nation can campaign or at least defend its borders more efficiently.  In short, he opposes Mao Ze Dong’s “power comes from the barrel of a gun” quote, Foucault says that power comes from culture and its sexuality.  As a side note he contradicts the notion of the sexual revolution of the sixties when he says, “ . . . if power is seen as having only an external hold on desire, or, if it is constitutive of desire itself, to the affirmation: you are always – already trapped” (83).  Leaving post-modernism behind, both academically and culturally at present, there is a wide open door to critique this theory and Foucault’s argument.  Normally, when a thesis proposal lacks an argument against the opposition, it gains a point of demerit.  Not so with Foucault, since he pleads ignorance by the end of the book.  The real mistakes lie in over application and (like Weber) his failure to falsify his own points.  Foucault was not compelled, even in his post-modernistic thoughts of doubt, to disprove his own ideas.
Foucault believed that “power comes from below” and that there is no “all encompassing opposition between rulers” (94).  By this he meant that power is not a characteristic that one man possesses by himself to compel those below into submission.  Rather, power is something accepted by one man on the condition that there is a willingness to enforce it.  This is a bottom-up power relation and not a top-down power relation.  This is one example where he does not disprove anybodies ideas.  Undoubtedly, there are people that disagree with this claim and desire that Foucault at least make the attempt to find an example of a top-down power relation.  Traditionally, humankind asserts that power comes from the top; God creates the world and he delegates power to the governing authorities to “execute his wrath on the wrong doers”.  All that Foucault said was, “We must at the same time conceive of sex without the law, and power without the king” (91) and then later that power was “not an institution” (93). Whatever he believed personally about God he should have started the conversation there rather than in media res.  It is a bold move to suggest a descriptive philosophy without invoking God in a culture that is only barely separating itself from deities.
Foucault argued saying our culture, obsessed with sex, is evidence that sexuality is a fuel for power in the world.  This idea is mocked using the reductio ad absurdum.  Yes, the culture is obsessed with sex, but also obsessed with many other things.  The internet plays a huge role in society, along with media references, politics, money, pets, family values and humanitarian aid.  In other words, our attention directs towards all things both serious and frivolous.  One could make the same argument that Foucault does except replacing sexuality with memes or the economy like Marx already had done.  He over applies an argument which leads to proof for all, meaning proof for none.  What Foucault correlates and connects is invalid.  Eventually, he did validly argue that ending oppression would not open up sexuality.  He reveals that there has not been a direct repression of sex.  Foucault says, “power is tolerable only on condition that it masks a substantial part of itself.  Its success is proportioned to its ability to hide its own mechanisms” (86).  In this quote he means if a citizenry knew every last detail as to what the government was legislating and enforcing then very soon, there would be a revolution.  When human nature postures individuality one can be very disturbed if they see how many areas of life that the governing authorities control.  Man has always been obsessed with sex and the only distinctions were the level of prudence regarding it, which Foucault might suggest, the government attempts to dictate.  At one point in history we were very open in conversation about sex and then it got awkward in the middle ages.  But afterwards, it opened up again.  But, it must be pointed out that just because one does not want to talk about sex that they do not think about it constantly.
Foucault was a post-modernist.  This means that whatever he says, he says with reservations.  It is all relative and we cannot really know objective truth because our flawed perceptions inevitably get in the way.  This does not stop him from making assertions.  One deals with a man that develops a whole philosophy of how human civilization and empires work and then tells us that he is not sure about it.  But he spoke with such assurance through out the whole book.  Whatever his claims were, true or false, he acted as though it were clear and simply rational with all the data gathered.  Why ought anybody listen to him even if he cannot be sure of himself?  All that this leads us to, and the bulk of post-modernism does, is a pointless endeavor to discover that we are all ignorant.  Understandably, to plead ignorance gives points towards humility.  The world of academics demands that one argue a thesis with certainty, but Foucault does not want to be executed with his ideas if they are proven incorrect.  Perhaps he is not culpable for this mistake, but it fails in present society.
So, Foucault fantastically observes human nature.  Like Weber, he does a good job of describing small isolated incidents.  His follies were many and can be summed up in his failure to disprove any argument and his over application and his contentment of post-modernism’s contradiction with his argumentative voice. Largely, this is an over-rated book and should be ignored for its inability to properly discuss such serious topics.

No comments: