The Government of DesireA Genealogy of the Liberal Subject

The Government of DesireA Genealogy of the Liberal Subject

Miguel de Beistegui

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226547374

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


The book is a contribution to the genealogy and critique of ourselves, and of our own present, advocated by Foucault. It does that by focusing on the problem of desire in our western culture. For centuries, it was thought that desire needed to be dominated in order for the good life to flourish. This began to change in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, when desire was no longer seen as something to be governed, or as an object of pastoral and spiritual care, but as an instrument of government. Liberalism, the book argues, coincides with this shift in attitude. Far from amounting to a straightforward liberation of desire, this onto-historical shift amounts to a specific process of subjectivation, one that continues to shape our present. It required the emergence of specific rationalities (political economy, the science of sexuality, the philosophy and psychology of recognition), each of which frames desire in a precise way, and the collaboration of various institutions – the court room, the market, the family, schools, the office, etc. Together, they amount to a formidable operation of normalization - that is, a new way of experiencing, understanding and governing the (desiring) self - and constitute the pillars of what, following Foucault, the book calls liberal governmentality. But a critique of ourselves also asks if and how we could govern ourselves differently, and the sort of subjects we could become. The book concludes by advocating a sovereign, anarchic form of desire as an alternative to liberal governmentality.