From jurisdiction to veridiction

In The Birth of Biopolitics, Foucault describes a transition from a form of government oriented toward justice—however justice is defined by the sovereign—to one based on the “truth” of the market. This is a shift from jurisdiction to veridiction—the condition in which a statement is true according to the worldview of a particular subject, rather than objectively true. Foucault states that “the regime of veridiction . . . is not a law of truth, but the set of rules enabling one to establish which statements in a given discourse can described as true or false” (p. 35). The principles of veridiction are different in different fields of research and different social systems–e.g., religion and science. Earlier in the text, Foucault states,

[What] is discovered at this moment, at once in governmental practice and in reflection on this governmental practice, is that inasmuch as prices are determined in accordance with the natural mechanisms of the market they constitute a standard of truth which enables us to discern which governmental practices are correct and which are erroneous. In other words, it is the natural mechanism of the market and the formation of a natural price that enables us to falsify and verify governmental practice when, on the basis of these elements, we examine what government does, the measures it takes, and the rules it imposes. In this sense, inasmuch as it enables production, need, supply, demand, value, and price, etcetera, to be linked together through exchange, the market constitutes a site of veridiction, I mean a site of verification-falsification for governmental practice. Consequently, the market determines that good government is no longer simply government that functions according to justice. The market determines that a good government is no longer quite simply one that is just. The market now means that to be good government, government has to function according to truth. In this history and formation of a new art of government, political economy does not therefore owe its privileged role to the fact that it will dictate a good type of conduct to government. Political economy was important, even in its theoretical formulation, inasmuch as (and only inasmuch as, but this is clearly a great deal) it pointed out to government where it had to go to find the principle of truth of its own governmental practice. In simple and barbaric terms, let’s say that from being a site of jurisdiction, which it remained up to the start of the eighteenth century, the market . . . is becoming what I will call a site of veridiction. The market must tell the truth (dire le vrai); it must tell the truth in relation to governmental practice. Henceforth, and merely secondarily, it is its role of veridiction that will command, dictate, and prescribe the jurisdictional mechanisms, or absence of such mechanisms, on which [the market] must be articulated.

Foucault. The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 32

Foucault is describing the economization or marketization of society. Marketization has been defined as

the expansion of market coordination into non-market coordinated social domains as well as its intensification in already market-dominated settings. 

Ebner, A. (2015). Marketization: Theoretical Reflections Building on the Perspectives of Polanyi and Habermas. Review of Political Economy27(3), 369–389.

Plato, in The Republic, presents a model of just government. In his model, there are no limits on governmental power. In the premodern world, governments, like empires, could become larger and larger and more and more powerful. As Foucault puts it, “governmentality in the regime of pure raison d’Etat, or at least its tendency, was interminable, without an end. In a sense, governmentality was unlimited” (p. 36). But when society becomes functionally differentiated, the power of government is limited. This, according to Foucault, is what characterizes neoliberalism.

There was once a jurisdictional market, which was a market based on justice. In this system, society might have a moral obligation to take care of the poor, and essential goods might be offered for a lower price or just given to the poor. But in the veridictional market, there is no moral obligation to take care of anyone. The modern market economy is amoral.

From a systems-theoretical view, we can observe that each social system determines its own truth, what counts as meaningful, or its own principle of veridiction. Politics cannot determine the “natural price” of a commodity. The political system cannot control the economy or religion or any other social system. In the time from Copernicus to Galileo (15th-17th centuries), the Catholic Church was essentially a government (a theocracy) and it tried to control science, as well as education and the rest. It failed, of course. Science no longer has to be consistent with a religious system. There no overarching harmony or agreement.

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