To Be Governed Without Fear: Does “Autonomy” Obstruct Our Political Imagination?


Foucault’s call “to invent a way in which power can be exercised without instilling fear” (Foucault Live, p. 130) is surprisingly conventional. For is that not the question political liberalism has answered with the principle of autonomy? One the one hand, the “rule of law” (nomos) protects those being governed from having to fear arbitrary rule of those governing. On the other hand, the idea of self-government (auto) is said to protect the freedom of those being governed, for he who “obeys only himself […] remains as free as before” (Rousseau, On the Social Contract, p. 148). I understand the history of political liberalism as an attempt to articulate the principle of autonomy as a two-part answer to the question how we can govern so that those govern need not fear those governing. Yet political liberalism’s answer fails on its own terms, I argue, leaving us the task to find another rationality for governing without instilling fear.

Brighton, UK