The police state as a symptom: German classical philosophy and modern biopolitics (Hegel vs Fichte)

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The article considers a little-known topic in the history of the social thought, which has regained relevance under the pandemic - the discussion between the outstanding philosophers of the German idealism on the conceptual interpretation of police as an earlymodern form of biopolitical control. In the introductory part, the author argues that the critique of the science and practice of policing by the classics of the German idealism is paradigmatic for the present-day study of the new/old functions and powers of the sanitary-police state concerning the modern civil society’s self-reflection. In the first part, the author describes the tension between the Enlightenment philosophy and the ‘science of policing’ developed by the Cameralists of the 17th-18th centuries, and emphasizes the significant intellectual contribution of the Enlightenment thinkers, primarily Kant’s legal doctrine, to the radical innovations in the political semantics at the turn of the 18th-19th centuries. Such innovations became the philosophical basis for the rule of law which questioned the discourse of the absolutist state control over its subjects’ welfare by means of police. In the second part, the article presents a brief reconstruction of Fichte’s attempts to combine the old Cameralist ideas with the new modern principles of individual freedoms at the end of the 18th-century era of the science of police - after Kant’s explicit criticism of the state care unauthorized from below. The third part of the article focuses on Hegel’s critique: in the history of the political thought he was often considered an apologist of the authoritarian Prussian state, but questioned the very possibility of the police-scientific idea of the total biopolitical control over social and economic activities of free modern-type individuals. The author reconstructs Hegel’s argumentation of the absurdity of the total sanitary-police regulation as suggested by Fichte, and insists on the relevance of these thinkers, concepts and thematic fields for reconsidering the failure of the Early-Modern biopolitical utopia under the current intersections of lockdowns and sovereignty.

About the authors

O. V. Kildyushov

National Research University Higher School of Economics

Author for correspondence.

научный сотрудник Центра фундаментальной социологии

Myasnitskaya St., 20, Moscow, 101000, Russia


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