Policing the Demos: Foucault, Hegel and Police Power in Waller v. City of New York

Winter 2014 / Summer 2015


This paper traces the contradictions of liberal ‘police’ power from Hegel’s analysis of modern polizei to a Foucauldian analysis of the 2011 judicial ruling on the police eviction of Occupy Wall Street protestors from Zucotti Plaza in New York. In the first section, I develop insights from Hegel and Foucault’s analysis of the contradictions of liberal police, whereby power in liberal government incorporates an ‘internal principle of limitation’ that distinguishes it from the unlimited internal objectives of the European police state, while finding itself constantly violating its own internal normative principles. In the second section, I situate liberal police within Foucault’s history of police and the development of a political economy of the poor. In the third section, I challenge Foucault’s own portrayal of liberal police as ‘self-limiting’ in the 1978-79 lectures, through a detailed examination of ‘police’ in the life and thought of Benjamin Franklin. In the final section, I draw upon this historical background of police to analyse the police power jurisprudence laid out in the 2011 Waller v. City of New York ruling on the police eviction of protestors from Zucotti Plaza. Here, I argue that the ruling allows us to see how the discourse of ‘police power’ claims to uphold a (neo)liberal economic-juridical order, while at the same time functioning as a mechanism of repression and security against the ‘dangerous’ (democratic) element within the polity.

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84/85 Societies of Control