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Foucault’s Genealogy of Racism

Kim Su Rasmussen

This paper argues that Foucault’s genealogy of racism deserves appreciation
due to the highly original concept of racism as biopolitical government.
Modern racism, according to Foucault, is not merely an irrational prejudice,
a form of socio-political discrimination, or an ideological motive in a political
doctrine; rather, it is a form of government that is designed to manage a
population. The paper seeks to advance this argument by reconstructing
Foucault’s unfinished project of a genealogy of racism. Initially, the paper
situates the genealogy of racism within the context of Foucault’s work. It
belongs to a period of transition between the mature and the late part of
Foucault’s work, more specifically a period of transition from discipline to
governmentality. The paper proceeds by reading closely key passages from
the 1976 lectures at Collège de France in which Foucault proposes to rethink
racism as a form of biopolitical government. While Foucault’s genealogy of
racism remains an incomplete project, lacking for example any substantial
treatment of European colonialism, the paper proposes to expand the
Foucauldian analysis by linking it to the pan-German discourse between
1890 and 1914. Finally, the paper reflects on some of the implications of
the Foucauldian analysis, in particular attempts to understand and counter
contemporary forms of racism. Foucault’s genealogy of racism, in short,
shows us the constructedness of our racialized world and challenges us to
develop new and more effective strategies to change it.

Key words
biopolitics j Foucault j governmentality j pan-Germanism j racism

ETWEEN 1975 and 1976, Foucault outlined a genealogy of European
racism that he for unknown reasons never finished. His genealogical
approach, or in other words his historical nominalism, provides an
understanding of the historicity of the concepts we employ and, as such, it
rules out any attempt at a transhistorical view of racism. Modern racism,
according to Foucault, was first articulated as a discourse of social war in
the 18th century; it was developed during the second half of the 19th cen-
tury, absorbing important impulses from psychiatry as a means to protect

j Theory, Culture & Society 2011 (SAGE, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, and Singapore),
Vol. 28(5): 34^51
DOI: 10.1177/0263276411410448
Rasmussen ^ Foucault’s Genealogy of Racism 35

society against the abnormal; finally, in the 1930s it was integrated by

modern state apparatuses as a technology of power. Foucault’s account is
rather incomplete, lacking for example any substantial discussion of
European colonialism or the history of the idea of race. Nevertheless, this
paper argues that Foucault’s genealogy of racism deserves appreciation due
to the highly original suggestion that modern racism is a form of biopolitical
government. Instead of the common idea that racism, fundamentally, is a
form of irrational prejudice, social discrimination, or political ideology,
Foucault proposes to rethink racism as a form of biopolitical government
that impinges on individuals in their most basic relationship to themselves
and others.
While ‘governmentality studies’ took off with Burchell, Gordon, and
Miller’s The Foucault Effect (1991), it is probably equally correct to speak
of Deleuze’s Foucault (1986) as the beginning of ‘biopolitics studies’. The
central axis in Foucault’s work, according to his long-time friend and col-
league, is a unique form of ‘vitalism’. This interpretation, itself rather con-
troversial, has strongly in£uenced the contemporary Italian reception of
Foucault where it resurfaces in the form of biopolitics. Agamben’s Homo
Sacer (1998) and Hardt and Negri’s Empire (2000) both employ the notion
of biopolitics to describe the contemporary social order, the ‘biopolitical
structure of modernity’ (Agamben, 1998: 137) and society as ‘the realm of
biopower’ (Hardt and Negri, 2000: 24). Subsequently, much of the research
on biopolitics has focused on the ethico-political implications of modern bio-
technology (see, among others, Rose, 2001; Lemke, 2007a; Cooper, 2008;
Esposito, 2008). Only recently have we seen attempts to link or combine
the two ¢elds by emphasizing contemporary intersections of biopolitics and
governmentality (Lemke, 2007b; Venn, 2009). This paper seeks to contrib-
ute to such e¡orts by arguing that Foucault’s genealogy of racism, in fact,
is situated precisely at the intersection of biopolitics and governmentality.

From Discipline to Governmentality

Foucault’s genealogy of racism belongs to a period of transition between his
mature and his late works, and it is generally associated with the concept
of biopolitics. During the 1970s, Foucault’s thought underwent several
changes that have puzzled many of his readers. In particular, there is a sig-
nificant shift from the themes of disciplinary power and biopower to the
broader issue of governmentality. In the lectures at Colle'ge de France
between 1975 and 1979, Foucault gradually expands and reworks the notion
of disciplinary power. Initially, he places the concept of biopower at the
centre of these efforts, but he subsequently replaces it with the notion of
governmentality. One of the dramatic plots in the three lecture series ‘Il
faut de¤fendre la socie¤te¤’ (1976), Se¤curite¤, Territoire, Population (1978), and
Naissance de la biopolitique (1979), insofar as they form a more or less
coherent cycle, is the story of the appearance and disappearance of biopower
36 Theory, Culture & Society 28(5)

in Foucault’s work. The projected genealogy of racism belongs to this period

of transition from discipline over biopolitics to governmentality.
In Le pouvoir psychiatrique (1974) and later in Surveiller et punir
(1975), Foucault describes the emergence of a ‘disciplinary society’ in which
a particular form of disciplinary power regulates the human body
(Foucault, 2003b: 68; 1975: 217). Disciplinary power, according to Foucault,
is not an attribute of a given subject or a given state apparatus; rather, it is
a strategic set of correlations that produce social functions as well as individ-
ual and collective subjects (Foucault, 1975: 31^3). The analysis of disciplin-
ary power and its manifestations in the school, the military, and the prison
implies a far-reaching reconsideration of traditional concepts of power (see,
among others, Taylor, 1995a, 1995b; Patton, 1995). If the subject is an
e¡ect of power and no longer the site of repression, if e¡ective power is dif-
fused and no longer concentrated in the state, then we need to rethink the
basic co-ordinates of individual and collective emancipation.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, Foucault attempts to work out a theoreti-
cal distinction between disciplinary power and biopower. The theoretical dis-
tinction between discipline and biopower can be said to emerge from a
number of particular biographical events. In early 1971, shortly after his
appointment to the Colle'ge de France, Foucault became heavily involved in
the Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons (GIP). Later that same year
Foucault initiated the so-called Djellali Committee, which organized a
number of demonstrations against racial violence and advocated for
improved conditions for Algerian and other immigrant groups (Mauriac,
1976; Macey, 1993). These ‘experiments in thought’, to use Deleuze’s formula-
tion, would later resurface in Foucault’s work in terms of disciplinary
power and biopower.
Foucault first employs the term ‘biopolitics’ in October 1974 during a
conference paper delivered in Rio de Janeiro on ‘The Birth of Social
Medicine’ (Marchetti, 1997; Bertani, 2003). In this paper, the notion of bio-
politics establishes a link between a speci¢c institution such as medicine
and a broader socio-political framework such as capitalism. ‘For capitalist
society, it was biopolitics, the biological, the somatic, the corporeal, that
mattered more than anything. The body is a biopolitical reality; medicine
is a biopolitical strategy’ (Foucault, 2001: 210; 2000: 137). The concept of
biopolitics, as he would later remark, allows him to move ‘outside’ an institu-
tion-centred perspective and establish a link between medical institutions
and the broader socio-political framework (Foucault, 2007: 120).
Foucault recycles the notion of biopolitics in ‘Il faut de¤fendre la soci-
e¤te¤’, more specifically the last lecture on 17 March 1976, in order to account
for specific aspects of western racism (Balibar, 1989). Furthermore, biopoli-
tics is one of the key concepts in the last chapter of La volonte¤ de savoir in
which he emphasizes a ‘normalizing society’ (Foucault, 1990: 144) that
involves ‘an anatomo-politics of the human body’ and ‘a biopolitics of the
population’ (Foucault, 1990: 139). Racism, according to Foucault, emerges
Rasmussen ^ Foucault’s Genealogy of Racism 37

at the intersection of disciplinary technologies that target the body and bio-
political technologies that target the population.
Instead of pursuing the project of a history of sexuality in six volumes,
as outlined on the back cover of La volonte¤ de savoir, Foucault started to
rework his entire theoretical framework (Macey, 1993: 353^5). After 1976,
as several commentators have noted, Foucault went through a crisis of
sorts, and it was not until 1984 that he published his next books (Deleuze,
1990: 142^3; Eribon, 1991: 273^8; Miller, 1993: 287^99). The second and
the third volume of Histoire de la sexualite¤ diverge substantially from the
‘primitive project’ announced in 1976 (Foucault, 1984: 13), and the substan-
tial reworking of the initial project leads ^ for reasons that remain unclear
^ to the disappearance of biopolitics and racism.
The lectures from 1978 and 1979, despite Foucault’s explicit intentions
to deal with biopolitics, are essentially detours from which he never returns
(Burchell, 1993; Senellart, 2007; Gane, 2008). The introduction of ‘govern-
mentality’on 1 February 1978 (Foucault, 2007: 108) is the beginning of a the-
oretical ‘displacement’ (Foucault, 1984: 12) that entails a reorganization of
the basic co-ordinates of Foucault’s history of the present; from various tech-
nologies of power ^ sovereignty, discipline, biopower ^ Foucault ends with
di¡erent con¢gurations of parrhesia in the government of self and others.
In the summary of the 1979 lectures, Foucault describes the study of
governmentality as a necessary framework for analysing biopolitics:

The theme was to have been ‘biopolitics,’ by which I mean the attempt,
starting from the eighteenth century, to rationalize the problems posed to
governmental practice by phenomena characteristic of a set of living beings
forming a population: health, hygiene, birthrate, life expectancy, race . . . .It
seemed to me that these problems were inseparable from the framework of
political rationality within which they appeared and took on their intensity.
(Foucault, 2008: 317)

The genealogy of biopolitics, then, is reframed by a ‘history of governmental-

ity’ (Foucault, 2007: 108^9) and the study of the ‘general apparatus (dispo-
sitif) of governmentality’ (Foucault, 2008: 70). This shift of emphasis from
biopolitics to governmentality, as we shall see, is crucial for an understand-
ing of Foucault’s genealogy of racism.
It could be argued, perhaps, that biopolitics does not completely disap-
pear from Foucault’s research agenda. Some of the biopolitical motives ^
population, race, life ^ briefly reappear in the later lectures. In
L’Herme¤neutique du sujet, biopolitics makes a short-lived comeback in the
guise of bios (Foucault, 2005: 447, 486). Similarly, in Le Gouvernement de
soi et des autres, we hear a distant echo of previous motives when Foucault
comments at length on Euripides’ Ion (Foucault, 2010: 72, 76, 103, and
151). In 1983, when receiving a question about a genealogy of biopower,
Foucault responds: ‘I have no time for that now, but it could be done. In
fact, I have to do it’ (Foucault, 1983: 232). Such cameo appearances, however,
38 Theory, Culture & Society 28(5)

do not alter the general impression that biopolitics is one of the main con-
cepts that has been reworked or even discarded between La volonte¤ de
savoir and the subsequent volumes of Histoire de la sexualite¤.
Foucault, to put it schematically, employs the notion of biopolitics in
three distinct configurations. First, biopolitics establishes a conceptual and
analytical link between social medicine as a specific knowledge formation
and the emergence of capitalist society in late 18th- and early 19th-century
Europe. Second, Foucault employs the notion of biopolitics to describe the
politicization of the life of a population. The notion of biopolitics is evoked
in conjunction with racism and sexuality as a technology of power distinct
from both sovereignty and discipline. Finally, the study of governmentality,
in particular neo-liberal governmentality, circumscribes and reframes the
analysis of biopolitics.

Racism as Biopolitical Government

Foucault briefly comments on the notion of racism at the end of Les anor-
maux, the 1975 lectures at the Colle'ge de France. These comments emerge
from a lengthy analysis of psychiatry as a conglomerate of knowledge and
power. One of Foucault’s main points is that psychiatry, at a given historical
junction, stopped primarily having a therapeutic function and, instead,
served to maintain and protect society from contact with the abnormal
(Foucault, 1999: 298^9). Towards the end of the 19th century, Foucault con-
tinues, psychiatry as a generalized protection of society against the abnormal
becomes the model of a particular form of ‘internal racism’ (Foucault,
1999: 299). The notion of internal racism refers to eugenics as well as a
more general pattern of imagination according to which the population
must be defended against various forms of degeneration (Foucault, 1999:
In order to clarify Foucault’s claim about internal racism and its
origin, it might be useful to distinguish between hetero-referential and
auto-referential forms of racism (Taguieff, 1987). While hetero-referential
forms of racism target the other (them), for example in the form of xenopho-
bia or negative stereotypes, auto-referential forms of racism target the self
(us), for example in the form of ethnocentrism. Hetero-referential racism
typically negates the value of the other and follows a logic of domination,
whereas auto-referential racism a⁄rms the superior value of the self and fol-
lows a logic of exclusion. The result, in both cases, is the establishment of
a strati¢ed social order based on ‘processes of racialization’ (Small, 1994).
Internal racism, as Foucault describes it, is an auto-referential form of
racism that is concerned with the composition, the reproduction, and the
development of the population by isolating and excluding the abnormal.
The brief remarks at the end of Les anormaux are carried over to the
lectures of the following year, where the notion of ‘internal racism’ is
expanded into ‘an internal war that defends society against threats born of
and in its own body’ (Foucault, 2003a: 216). This discourse of an internal
Rasmussen ^ Foucault’s Genealogy of Racism 39

social war is characterized by the notion that there is always an ongoing war
beneath a situation of peace. According to Foucault, it has three important
historical manifestations.
The first manifestation of the war discourse appears in the 18th cen-
tury. It is articulated as a discourse of race war (guerre des races), which is
particularly centred on the notion of the Franks invading the territory of
the Gauls. This discourse finds an important articulation with Henri de
Boulainvillier (1658^1722), where the Franco-Gallic conflict is interpreted
as a historical backdrop to the contemporary conflict between the French
aristocracy descended from the Franks and le Tiers e¤tat descended from
the Gauls (Girardin, 1998; Marks, 2000; Elden, 2002; Macey, 2009). These
comments on Boulainvillier, in which he appears to be a forerunner of
Arthur de Gobineau (1816^1882), is in line with Hannah Arendt’s interpre-
tation of Boulainvillier as an example of race-thinking before racism
(Arendt, 1968: 162^4; Foucault, 1997: 112^16).
The discourse of war finds another manifestation towards the end of
the 19th century. It is particularly associated with three phenomena: biolog-
ical race thinking in a strict sense, colonial racism at the end of the 19th
century, and various forms of ethnic nationalism. All of the three, according
to Foucault, postulate a fundamental conflict between society and its outside
(le dehors). The outside, however, is not outside the border of the state, but
rather posed or constructed as an outside within society. In short, the
second manifestation of the war discourse is an elaboration of the notion of
internal racism from the lectures Les anormaux.
The third manifestation of the war discourse appears in the 20th cen-
tury and particularly in the form of Nazism and Stalinism (Foucault, 1997:
71^3). The de¢ning feature of the third manifestation is a state racism oper-
ating at a macro-level and combining a notion of war with the sovereign
power over life and death (Burleigh and Wippermann, 1999; Kelly, 2004).
We might read and discuss these comments, of course, as straightforward
referential statements about a historical reality; however, I suggest we take
into account the intertextuality of these passages. Foucault does not explic-
itly mention Arendt in these lectures, but he implicitly alludes to her treat-
ment of totalitarianism. Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism, in fact,
constitutes an important subtext throughout Foucault’s 1976 lectures (see
also Braun, 2007).
In the final lecture from 17 March 1976, Foucault introduces the
notion of biopolitics in conjunction with racism. The conceptual and analyt-
ical framework, which he previously described as a discourse of social war,
is now reworked in terms of biopolitics and biopower. Foucault, we might
add, does not distinguish systematically between biopolitics and biopower.
Distinct from both sovereign power and disciplinary power, biopower tar-
gets the life of a population (Foucault, 1997: 215^16). But how exactly is
racism linked to biopower? How is racism linked to a form of power that tar-
gets the life of an entire population? What are the historical forms that
have determined the articulation of biopower through racism and vice
40 Theory, Culture & Society 28(5)

versa? A close reading of this lecture shows that Foucault links racism and
biopower in two quite di¡erent ways:

[R]acism justifies the death-function in the economy of biopower by appeal-

ing to the principle that the death of others makes one biologically stronger
insofar as one is a member of a race or a population, insofar as one is an ele-
ment in a unitary living plurality. (Foucault, 1997: 230; 2003a: 258)

In general, biopower seeks to affirm the life of the population,

whereas racism ^ or more specifically what Foucault previously termed
internal racism ^ operates a ‘biological caesura within a population’ between
worthy and unworthy life (Foucault, 2003a: 255). Racism, in this sense, is
stipulated by the antagonisms of war and operates within the limits of bio-
power. This form of racism, we might say, is strictly biopolitical and operates
within the boundaries of biopower. However, this is not the only determina-
tion of racism and biopolitics.

The specificity of modern racism, or what gives it its specificity, is not

bound up with mentalities, ideologies, or the lies of power. It is bound up
with the technique of power, with the technology of power. ...The juxtaposi-
tion of ^ or the way biopower functions through ^ the old sovereign power
of life and death implies the workings, the introduction and activation, of
racism. And it is, I think, here that we find the actual roots of racism.
(Foucault, 1997: 230; 2003a: 258)

In this passage, Foucault describes racism as a juxtaposition of sover-

eign power and biopower. Racism, in this sense, operates between different
kinds of power. In this perspective, racism is seen as a technology in a
modern state that wishes to maintain its sovereign power within a general
context of biopower. This form of racism, in fact, is a form of governmental-
ity avant la lettre.
Racism, according to Foucault, is not primarily prejudice, discrimina-
tion, or ideology (Foucault, 2003a: 258). Racism, on the one hand, operates
within the boundaries of biopower insofar as it articulates a caesura between
worthy and unworthy life; on the other hand, racism operates between di¡er-
ent forms of power as a form of governmentality. In other words, Foucault
theorizes racism as biopolitical government, as a £exible technology of
power that entails a new and novel form of government.
Foucault, it seems, introduces the notion of biopolitics as part of a crit-
ical exchange with Arendt’s account of racism in The Origins of
Totalitarianism. Although Foucault does not mention her by name, possibly
due to his well-known wish to avoid polemics, his reflections on racism, in
particular the comments on Boulainvillier and modern totalitarianism,
clearly show his indebtedness to and dialogue with Arendt. Racism, accord-
ing to Arendt, is primarily an ideology: ‘Racism is the belief that there is a
motion inherent in the very idea of race, just as deism is the belief that a
Rasmussen ^ Foucault’s Genealogy of Racism 41

motion is inherent in the very notion of God’ (Arendt, 1968: 469). W|th the
introduction of biopolitics, Foucault ^ in a very precise manner ^ sidesteps
such a de¢nition, without rendering it invalid, by emphasizing instead the
£exibility of racism as a biopolitical mechanism that aims at the ‘puri¢ca-
tion’ of the population and as a governmental technology that juxtaposes
and combines various regimes of power.
One of the main differences between Arendt and Foucault is their
focus. For Arendt, the main focus is a historico-political analysis of
Nazism. She meticulously analyses Nazism by tracing its prehistory and its
similarities with contemporary ideologies such as Stalinism. For Foucault,
in contrast, the main focus is the emergence at the end of the 19th century
of the ‘population’ as an object of political intervention. His interest in
Boulainvillier and modern totalitarianism, in contrast, is relatively periph-
eral. As it is, Foucault borrows select components from Arendt’s analysis
in order to pursue his own, quite different project.
In order to better appreciate this, we need to understand a peculiar
feature of Foucault’s genealogical analysis. He does not explain a historical
event in terms of a diachronic chain of causes and effects, nor does he
describe it in terms of a synchronic ‘thick description’. Foucault attempts to
grasp a phenomenon in its state of becoming. Foucault, as it is, analyses a
phenomenon by reconstructing it as the middle of a transformative process
that has a previous and a subsequent manifestation. Deleuze understands
this aspect of Foucault better than anybody when he distinguishes between
‘history’ and ‘becoming’. Foucault’s genealogy attempts to grasp a phenome-
non in its state of becoming.
In order to analyse ‘internal racism’ as the middle of a transformation,
as a phenomenon in a state of becoming, Foucault situates it within a
broader historical and conceptual framework, which he initially describes
as a discourse of social war. The elements he borrows from Arendt merely
serve to illustrate the ‘before’ (race war) and ‘after’ (state racism). In the
last lecture, however, Foucault redefines the analytical framework in terms
of biopolitics. The 1976 lectures, as well as the last chapter of La volonte¤ de
savoir, shows us that Foucault employed the notion of biopolitics in order
to analyse a particular set of changes at the end of the 19th century.

Missing Links: The Pan-German League

The focal point of Foucault’s genealogy of racism is the emergence at the end
of the 19th century of a particular form of biopolitical government. The proj-
ect, however, remains incomplete and raises more questions than it answers
(Stingelin, 2003). Foucault’s analysis of racism, for example, fails to ade-
quately take into account the role of European colonialism (Stoler, 1995;
Venn, 2009). While the critical dialogue with Arendt, which forms an
important subtext throughout the 1976 lectures, might explain ^ at least to
some extent ^ the incompleteness of his trajectory, it remains a mystery
how Foucault would link the di¡erent manifestations of the war discourse
42 Theory, Culture & Society 28(5)

to each other. For example, he never provides a convincing account of the

links between ‘internal racism’ in the late 19th century and ‘state racism’ in
the mid-20th century. Arendt, in contrast, identi¢es the Pan-German
League as a possible link (Arendt, 1968: 222^66). Foucault’s notion of
racism, as it is, allows us to reinterpret select components of the pan-
German discourse, while the detailed texture of the pan-German discourse
enables us to ¢ll in some of the missing links in Foucault’s genealogy of
Most commentators agree that the Pan-German League is one of the
immediate forerunners of Nazism (Kruck, 1954; Arendt, 1968; Chickering,
1984). Between Bismarck’s retirement in 1890 and Hitler’s ascendency in
1933, the Pan-German League established one of the loudest and most viru-
lent discourses on the extreme right. The ambition of the Pan-German
League was to support all members of the German Volk by establishing a
pan-German state. The uni¢cation of Germany in 1871, according to the o⁄-
cial historian of the Pan-German League, was seen as a preliminary step
towards a v˛lkisch state that would include all the German people of
Europe (Bonhard, 1920: 128).
The population, or the Volk, was the central concern for members of
the Pan-German League (Hartung, 1996; Harvey, 2004). The German popu-
lation was spread over large parts of Central and Eastern Europe and did
not correspond with the existing German state. The pan-Germans, therefore,
needed an alternative de¢nition of the Volk. Religion, rather than unifying
the German people, divided the Protestant north from the Catholic south.
Language, with all its dialects and complicated genealogies, threatened to
splinter into multiple Germanic languages and, as a consequence, was far
too vague and fuzzy. Race, seemingly rooted in biological fact, became the
predominant de¢nition of the population of the future pan-German state.
In this sense, the Pan-German League provides a perfect example of
Foucault’s analytical distinction between territorial sovereignty and various
forms of power that target a dispersed population.
Between 1890 and 1914, the racist discourse in the Pan-German
League follows two distinct trajectories. A discourse on ‘cultural history’
attempts to link cultural production with race. Several ranking members of
the Pan-German League were ideologically close to figures such as Arthur
Gobineau (1816^82) and Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855^1927).
Heinrich Class (1868^1953), who took over the leadership of the Pan-
German League in 1908, was a self-proclaimed anti-Semite, admirer of
Ludwig Woltmann’s social Darwinism, and functioned as the private attor-
ney of Houston Stewart Chamberlain (Mosse, 1994: xviii; Field, 1981: 380^
95). Furthermore, the Pan-German League were collective members of the
Gobineau Society, established by Ludwig Schemann, member of the
Wagnerian circle and translator of Arthur Gobineau’s Essai sur l’ine¤galite¤
des races humaines (Bonhard, 1920: 184^5). All cultural production, accord-
ing to this discourse, is due to the presence of ‘German blood’.
Rasmussen ^ Foucault’s Genealogy of Racism 43

Another discourse on ‘social politics’ interprets social and political phe-

nomena through the lens of race. Several members of the Pan-German
League participated actively in the promotion of social hygiene and eugenics
in the vicinity of Ludwig Woltmann (1871^1907) and his social Darwinian
journal Politisch-Anthropologische Revue (Bonhard, 1920: 185; Misch,
1975: 233^63; Hammer, 1979: 55^102). Furthermore, there is a web of ideo-
logical links to ¢gures such as Francis Galton (1822^1911) and Georges
Vacher de Lapouge (1854^1936) (see Hecht, 2000). A straightforward read-
ing of these trajectories will notice the common theme of biological deter-
minism. However, it is probably more accurate, as Foucault has suggested,
to read the two trajectories in the pan-German discourse as ways to intro-
duce ^ by means of cultural history or social politics ^ a caesura between
worthy and unworthy life.
Another way to dissect the pan-German discourse is to distinguish
between the different objects of racialized discourse. First, we find a dis-
course targeting non-European people ^ in particular Africans and Asians
^ associated with the ambition to defend and expand German imperialism
overseas. The pan-German colonial policy, according to one of its leading
ideologues, is not motivated by simple profit; rather, the colonial empire is
a means to strengthen the v˛lkische nation (Samassa, 1909: 414). Paul
Samassa (1868^1941), editor of Alldeutsche Bltter, read Schemann’s
German translation of Gobineau’s Essai sur l’ine¤galite¤ des races humaines
in 1902, and subsequently he argued for the application of Gobineau’s
ideas to colonial policy (Chickering, 1984: 241). Second, instead of pursuing
an overseas empire like England and France, the pan-Germans argued for
the establishment of a continental empire by expanding into Eastern
Europe. Associated with this ambition to expand the Lebensraum of the
German people, we ¢nd an anti-Slavic discourse that describes the situation
in Eastern Europe as a bitter Rassenkampf or ‘racial struggle’
(Anonymous, 1909: 58; see also Sch˛dl, 1978; Wippermann, 1996;
Szele¤nyi, 2007). While the previous discourses target non-Germans outside
the state, the anti-Semitic discourse in the Pan-German League targets the
‘racially foreign’ people within the borders of the existing state in order to
cleanse the population. F|nally, we ¢nd a discourse of extreme ethnocen-
trism according to which the Germans, as opposed to everybody else, are
portrayed as superhuman and the source of all values. For example
Chamberlain, a devout disciple of Wagner and a cult ¢gure for the Nazis,
maintains that German blood is the ultimate source of all culture. If we
restrict the analysis to any of these four discourses, it might lead to a
simple dichotomy; however, if analysed together, the racial discourse in the
Pan-German League evokes a racially strati¢ed social order with several
intermediate layers between the top and bottom.
There is a rather clear development in the pan-German discourse.
From 1893 until 1908, under the leadership of Ernst Hasse (1846^1908),
there was a strong emphasis on overseas colonialism and continental expan-
sion. In contrast, anti-Semitism was rather subdued, not because it was
44 Theory, Culture & Society 28(5)

absent, but because the question of whether anti-Semitism should be an

official part of the political programme divided the leading members
(Chickering, 1984: 233). Hasse, it seems, suppressed the issue for the sake
of unity. After 1908, when Heinrich Class (1868^1953) became the new
leader, anti-Semitism gradually moved to the centre of the pan-German pre-
occupations. In 1912, related to discussions of Class’ Wenn Ich der Kaiser
wr’ (1912), there was an eruption of anti-Semitism in the pan-German dis-
course (Bergmann, 1996). After the F|rst World War, when the discourse
becomes even more radical, anti-Semitism overshadows all other aspects
and becomes the primary obsession of the pan-German writers. The develop-
ment culminates in the so-called ‘Bamberger Declaration’ (31 August
1919), which includes eugenics and anti-Semitism in the o⁄cial political pro-
gramme of the organization (Class, 1919: 309). These developments in the
pan-German discourse partly re£ect the changes of political climate from
German projection of power to the bitter resentment of German defeat.
One of the recurring arguments for an expansion of German colonial-
ism was the neo-Malthusian claim that ‘the German people need to acquire
new lands for its surplus population’ (Class, 1904: 252). Such a politicization
of the population was fused with eugenicist and social Darwinist arguments.
The combined e¡ect of neo-Malthusianism and social Darwinism, according
to Weikart, was to undermine ‘the prevailing view of the sanctity of life in
favor of a view in which some humans are more valuable and have a greater
right to life than others’ (Weikart, 2002: 328).
In addition to the distinction between hetero-referential and auto-
referential forms of racism, we might distinguish between ‘genetic’ and ‘uto-
pian’ forms of auto-referential racism in the Pan-German League. The
genetic discourse is focused on the origins of the Aryan race and includes
debates on monogenesis and polygenesis. These terms can be traced to a
tradition of religious skepticism that questions the religious dogma of
divine origins (Popkin, 1978). At the end of the 18th century, exactly paral-
lel with the broad epistemological transformations described in Les mots
et les choses, these religious debates are reworked in secular terms. This is
when the idea of ‘race’ is ¢rst introduced. These debates resurface a century
later in the Pan-German League, for example in an article entitled
‘Oceania as the Origin of the White Race’, published in both Alldeutsche
Bltter and Politisch-Anthropologische Revue. The author, a well-known
anti-Semite and Aryan nationalist (Weindling, 1989: 252^3), speculates
that the ‘white race’ originated somewhere in the Paci¢c; after wandering
for centuries, nay millennia, and having crossed gigantic oceans in ‘dragon
boats’, the ‘white race’ ¢nally settled in northern Europe (Hentschel, 1909).
The article seeks to combine monogenesis with the view that nature,
in fact, operates a sort of ‘natural eugenics’ by eliminating weaker races.
This example, we might add en passant, partly challenges Arendt’s posi-
tion insofar as she identi¢es racism exclusively with polygenesis (Arendt,
1968: 234).
Rasmussen ^ Foucault’s Genealogy of Racism 45

The utopian tendency seeks to promote racial hygiene as a means to

protect and revitalize the German population:

What is racial hygiene? Hereby we understand the theory of healthy organic

conditions for the expression and development of the race ... in short, the
organic conditions for the expression of the race are the natural foundations
for all social and spiritual actions. (Anonymous, 1902: 66^7)

A straightforward reading might emphasize the biological determina-

tion of social practice and, as a counter-strategy, defend a variation of social
constructivism. A Foucauldian reading would emphasize instead that biol-
ogy ^ or, to be more precise, life ^ becomes a contested object of political

Our people’s position of power in both Europe and the world is closely
related to the fact that the fertility rate is falling, especially seen in the
light of the rapid reproduction of the Slavs and the colored races. ...The fall-
ing fertility rate appears in this light ... as a crime against our people and
our country. (Fellmeth, 1913: 220^1)

The author argues for an implementation of eugenic measures in order

to counter the ‘quantitative’ aspects of the falling birthrate with a ‘qualitative’
improvement of the population and its racial characteristics. The interests
of the collective do not merely take precedence over individual interests,
but ^ in a more radical sense ^ the individual only has value in relation to
the racialized collective.
The ‘genetic’ and the ‘utopian’ forms of auto-referential racism can be
seen as continuations, respectively, of Gobineau and Chamberlain. While
Gobineau emphasizes an original race that inevitably degenerates due to
miscegenation, Chamberlain emphasizes instead the ambition to establish
a racial utopia. ‘Even if it was proven that there has never existed an Aryan
race in the past, it is our will that one shall exist in the future’
(Chamberlain, 1907: 317). Chamberlain’s idea of a racial utopia, which
underpins much of the racist discourse in the Pan-German League, logically
implies positive and negative eugenics, prohibition of interracial marriages,
and ^ ultimately ^ ethnic cleansing. While the goal is to establish a pan-
German state in order to protect and revitalize the population, the all-perva-
sive racist element legitimizes the death-function in such a biopolitical
regime. However, this does not imply any assumptions about a simple
cause-and-effect relationship that leads from intention to action.
Whereas standard interpretations of the Pan-German League have
focused on the nationalist ideology or the class composition of the member-
ship, Foucault’s notion of biopolitical governmentality emphasizes the politi-
cal rationality that mobilizes and connects such terms as population,
normality, and race. On the other hand, the detailed texture of the pan-
German discourse allows us to reconstruct some of the missing empirical
46 Theory, Culture & Society 28(5)

links in Foucault’s genealogy of racism and develop his analysis by introduc-

ing specific conceptual distinctions.

Resistance to Biopolitical Governmentality

A broad consensus was established after the Second World War that dis-
credited discourses associated with Nazi racism. Eugenics, for example,
and biological determinism in general were among the discredited dis-
courses. It was perhaps Jean-Paul Sartre, more than anyone, who came to
embody the popular anti-racist stance of post-war Europe. His diagnosis of
racism as a ‘snobism of the poor’ still holds some validity. While the broad
consensus was permanently unstable and in many respects inconsistent, in
particular when it came to questions of decolonization, the final blow to
the old anti-racist consensus was dealt in the 1980s when a new adversary
appeared in the form of neo-racism (Barker, 1981; Taguieff, 1987; Gilroy,
1987; Balibar, 1991; Hardt and Negri, 2000).
The neo-racist discourse has learned and incorporated many lessons
from the anti-Nazi consensus. Most importantly, the neo-racist discourse
replaces the notion of ‘race’ with that of ‘culture’, thereby evading the
brunt of anti-racist critique. This means, for example, that the run-of-the-
mill social constructivist argument against biological determinism has
become utterly pointless vis-a' -vis the neo-racist discourse. In many parts
of Western Europe, this neo-racist discourse has become a new ‘mass ideol-
ogy’ since the end of the Cold War (Hobsbawm, 1992: 8).
Contemporary discourses of anti-immigration and Islamophobia, per-
fectly illustrated by the infamous ‘cartoon war’ (Klausen, 2009), indicate a
return of previous forms of racism (Fassin, 2001; Amin, 2010). However, it
is not simply a return of biological determinism and anti-Semitism, nor is
it a historical displacement of the dichotomy between colonizers and colo-
nized. Both Nazism and apartheid have become discredited, and the neo-
racist discourse is careful to avoid any association with these paradigms of
racism. Rather, contemporary neo-racist discourses bear remarkable sem-
blance to the anti-Slavic and auto-referential elements in the pan-German
discourse. If fascism and colonialism have produced the dominant para-
digms of modern racism, contemporary neo-racism and its forerunners in
the Pan-German League might be said to constitute a third and minor
Foucault’s genealogy of racism provides a new understanding of racism
as biopolitical governmentality, which might help us analyse and conceptual-
ize the contemporary forms of neo-racism. In particular, the notion of bio-
political governmentality establishes a theoretical framework that invites us
to link neo-racism with the rise of neo-liberalism (Venn and Terranova,
2009). Neo-racism is a set of governmental strategies that perform an essen-
tial ‘supplementary’ function within a neo-liberal order. If neo-liberalism
governs indirectly by in£uencing the economic environment of the popula-
tion (Harvey, 2005; Brown, 2006), neo-racism provides a means by which a
Rasmussen ^ Foucault’s Genealogy of Racism 47

neo-liberal government can target directly speci¢c sections of the popula-

tion. In this sense, neo-racism enables a neo-liberal government to intervene
directly in a number of issues where the market is deemed to be
Foucault’s genealogy of racism inevitably begs the question of resis-
tance. In fact, one of the most important implications of Foucault’s analysis
of racism is to problematize the effectiveness of existing anti-racist strate-
gies such as popular education, economic redistribution, or the granting of
particular rights to ethnic minorities. These anti-racist strategies are
designed to counter such phenomena as prejudice, discrimination, and
structural biases. However, if racism is a form of government designed to
manage a population, then it is highly unlikely that such anti-racist strate-
gies will be effective. By recasting the problem of racism in terms of biopo-
litics and government, Foucault challenges us to develop new and more
effective anti-racist strategies.
In the lecture series Le gouvernement de soi et des autres (1983) and
Le courage de la ve¤rite¤ (1984), Foucault revisits ancient Greece in search
for models of resistance that do not rely on the generic model of emancipa-
tion. Instead of various forms of emancipation from prejudice, discrimina-
tion, or ideology, he proposes parrhesia or truth speaking as a form of
resistance. Pericles, Socrates, and Diogenes, each representing a particular
form of parrhesia, provide us with different models of resistance to contem-
porary forms of biopolitical governmentality (Hardt, 2010). Speaking truth
to power, in particular forms of power that interpellate the individual as
subject in order to govern, is central to any form of critical thinking.
However, the idea that a particular form of speech might constitute an e¡ec-
tive form of resistance to contemporary modes of biopolitical governmental-
ity is perhaps optimistic at best.

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Kim Su Rasmussen has a PhD in the History of Ideas (2003) from the
University of Aarhus, Denmark. He is an Assistant Professor, Department
for Self-Designed Interdisciplinary Studies, Chonnam National University,
Korea. [email:]