Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Law/Power Equation (Part 1)

'Truth', French philosopher Michel Foucault, suggests is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements.'Truth', he adds, is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it. Foucault calls it a 'regime' of truth.

Laws are statements in the context of power. I say "statement" in the logical sense, where validity, and not the metaphysical truth, is the goal. But I also say laws are statements in the context of power, because in real life legal statements can send people to or save them from jail. Foucault's proposition can be reduced to a simple equation: power = law, law = power. Power sustains law. Law sustains power. We can call this the Law/Power Equation.

In the context of a democracy, power is held by the people and is exercised during elections. The people are supposed to have aspirations and by exercising their power through elections, they are supposed to pursue these aspirations. Thus, power is but a means to an end, which end ultimately is the sum of all the aspirations of the people. In the context of the French Revolution, these aspirations are lIberty, equality and fraternity. Democracy therefor subverts the law/power equation. Law and power are not pursued for their own sake but for the sake of a metaphysical vision of man.

But the democratic subversion of the Law/Power Equation is not an automatic phenomenon. People do not naturally aspire for liberty, equality and fraternity from birth. These are learned aspirations and are handed down from generation to generation. It has happened, as a matter of fact, that instead of a regeneration of aspirations, what happens is a degeneration, and the aspirations of a people are forgotten or even corrupted.

Unfortunately, the systems and institutions that keep the Law/Power Equation subverted by the ends of democracy are often enduring, sometimes more enduring than the forgotten, corrupted, and degenerated aspirations of a people. When this happens, law and power become means and ends in themselves and are subverted by other degenerate aspirations. It is therefore important that measures are put in place to ensure that every generation experiences a repetition of circumstances that brought about the birth of a people's aspirations. A repetition of the experience should help the people remember the urgency and importance of subverting the Law/Power Equation.

How is this experience of repetition possible? That should be the ends and task of of a democratic education.

(To be continued)

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