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althusser & foucault Arrow vol 4 no 2 contents
About borderlands Volume 4 Number 2, 2005


"It cannot be a Real Person, a Concrete Individual":
Althusser and Foucault on Machiavelli's Political Technique

Adam Holden & Stuart Elden
Durham University


1. In this article we want to discuss the relationship between Foucault and Althusser on the particular issue of their readings of Machiavelli. The relation in general has been examined in some depth, in terms of a biographical encounter, their shared concerns, and Foucault's critique of certain aspects of Althusser's work. Biographically there is much to be said, in terms of the teacher-student relationship when Foucault studied under Althusser at the École Normale Superieure, how Althusser was crucial in Foucault joining the French Communist Party (PCF), and their subsequent relations (Elliott 1987, Moulier Boutang 1992, Eribon 1993, Macey 1993). Althusser noted that Foucault "was a pupil of mine, and 'something' from my writings has passed into his, including certain of my formulations. But... under his pen and in his thought even the meanings he gives to formulations he has borrowed from me are transformed into another, quite different meaning than my own" (Althusser 1969: 257). Foucault put it in a similar way: "Having been his student and owing him much, I perhaps have a tendency to claim under his influence that which he might deny, although of course I cannot speak on his behalf. But I would say to everyone: open Althusser's books" (Foucault 1994: I, 587).

2. Influence but not indebtedness: this has rightly been the way of evaluating the Foucault/Althusser relation. It has led to discussions of the way in which Foucault critiqued the focus on the state as an object of analysis (Neocleous 1996, Mitchell 1999), and took his distance from the Althusserian notion of Repressive and Ideological State Apparatuses (Barrett 1991). On the one hand then, aside from the direct references, Althusser figures as a kind of absent presence in Foucault's works. When references to repression, the state and Marxism are encountered in Foucault's work as often as not Althusser is lurking somewhere in the background (see Montag 1995). As Foucault suggests in the manuscript of his 1973-74 course Le pouvoir psychiatrique:

We should not use the notion of state apparatus, because it is much too large, much too abstract to indicate these immediate, miniscule, capillary, powers, which are exercised over bodies, the behaviour, gestures, and times of individuals. The state apparatus does not take account of this microphysic of power (Foucault 2003a: 17 n. *).

On the other hand, their common anti-humanism, and their works' relation to Bachelard and Canguilhem in terms of questions of history and epistemology, have been discussed at length (Soper 1986, Lecourt 1975, Balibar 1978,   Gutting 1994). In addition Judith Butler has analysed their positions regarding psychoanalysis and power (Butler 1997; see also Le Blanc 2004). Other specifics have been outlined, such as the reading Althusser gave to Foucault's history of madness (Montag 2005), but some important broader questions have been relatively unexplored, perhaps especially including the influence of Foucault on Althusser, and in terms of their readings of and relation to the Western tradition of political thought. While some valuable work has been done on this latter topic for Althusser himself (see Montag 1996, Montag 1999, Montag 2003, Negri 1997, Terray 1996), and for Foucault (see, for example, Connolly 1988, Pasquino 1993, Hindess 1996, Lemke 1997) this has not been done in any sustained way in terms of their relation.

3. Here then we want to concentrate on one aspect of this, namely the question of their understandings and uses of Machiavelli. The paper first analyses the way in which Foucault reads Machiavelli as part of his discussion of the tradition; and then looks at the much more sustained reading found in Althusser's work. It uses that reading to offer points of comparison and convergence in their analyses, which leads to a discussion of the notion of the aleatory in their works, which interestingly emerges in both cases around the time of their engagement with Machiavelli.

Machiavelli in Foucault

4. Machiavelli occupies a peculiar place in Foucault's work. While there are very few references to him, those that are there - with one exception in lectures rather than more formal writing - are telling. Until very recently it was difficult to get a clear sense of the importance of Machiavelli - or, at least, a certain reading of Machiavelli - to Foucault's work. The principal discussions are found in Society Must Be Defended from 1976 and the Securité, Territoire, Population lecture course from two years later, from which the famous 'Governmentality' lecture was drawn.

5. In the 1976 lectures published as Society Must Be Defended, Foucault is eager to put Machiavelli and Hobbes to one side, as writers who might appear to be theorists of the war in civil society, but are not in the terms he is concerned with elucidating (2003b: 18). These are "false paternities", as he suggests that they have nothing to do with "the power/war relationship or about power/relations of force", suggesting that the "historical-political discourse" he discusses in this course "is not, and cannot be, that of the Prince's politics or, obviously, that of absolute power" (2003b: 59). Instead, in this course figures marginalized from the canon of political thought are read in some detail - Boulainviller and Sièyes for instance. This discourse, Foucault contends, sees "the Prince as an illusion, an instrument, or, at best, an enemy... [it] cuts off the king's head, or at least does without a sovereign and denounces him" (2003b: 59).

6. In the first volume of the History of Sexuality, published in late 1976, and completed a few months after the end of this course, Foucault offers a hint of how Machiavelli himself might offer a partial escape from the law and sovereign model of politics, in that he "thought the power of the Prince in terms of relations of force". But Foucault swiftly adds that we need to "go one stage further, to go beyond the persona of the Prince, and decode mechanisms of power on the basis of a strategy immanent to relations of force" (Foucault 1976: 128). Machiavelli here is disassociated from Hobbes, for while in Hobbes the mechanisms of power are essentially tied to the Leviathan, in Machiavelli they can be understood apart from the Prince.

7. This is developed in the course itself in more detail, and it is here that we find why Foucault will return to Machiavelli. For Machiavelli, Foucault contends, "the relationship of force was essentially described as a political technique that had to be put in the hands of the sovereign" (2003b: 164). Although Foucault is concerned with the way this relationship moves from the sovereign to political classes or the nation, it is telling that he uses the phrase "political technique". Indeed, he suggests that it is Boulainviller who is able to recuperate, in a historical sense, "the whole kind of analysis we find in Machiavelli". Foucault contends that while Machiavelli uses historical examples, for him "history simply records relations of force and the calculations to which they gave rise". But for Boulainviller history is politics, "historical narratives and political calculations have exactly the same object" (2003b: 169). So, while for Machiavelli the "political technique" is concentrated in one place, one person, in other writers and practitioners it is much broader - "a group, a nation, a minority, a class" - and enables the constitution "of a historico-political field, and to make history function within the political struggle" (2003b: 164). This then is the key theme of this course - much broader than the concentration on war or race - the use of history as political tool, a theme that was developed more in a study conducted under Foucault's supervision than in his own work (see Kriegel 1978).

8. Although the analysis of Machiavelli here is rather superficial, it does alert us to the theme of 'political technique', which is precisely what he will return to in the next course he delivered, after a year's sabbatical. The 1978 course on Sécurité, Territoire, Population (2004a) is important for a number of reasons, principally because now, along with the next year's course Naissance de la biopolitique (2004b), we can resituate Foucault's 'Governmentality' lecture (1991). Delivered on February 1, 1978, and published shortly after in Italian and English translations, this has spawned an entire industry of commentary and application (e.g., Burchell, Gordon and Miller 1991, Barry, Osborne and Rose 1996, Dean 1999). These two courses however enable us to see how the concerns developed historically and thematically.

9. Foucault begins Sécurité, Territoire, Population with three lectures, each on a particular example of the operation of political rule, namely town planning, food shortages, and vaccination campaigns against epidemics. These three examples of "the road, grain, contagion" (2004a: 65) are illustrative of three subsidiary themes - the spaces of security, the aleatory and normalisation - and one overarching one, the emergence of the question of population (2004a: 13). Foucault's concern in this course is the birth of what he calls a new political technique, which is concerned with the "government of populations" rather than simply the rule of the "sum of individuals inhabiting a territory" (2004a: 72).

10. In the fourth lecture of the course, on 'governmentality' itself, Foucault provides a summary overview of the concerns he will then pursue in detail in the rest of this course and the subsequent one. In these lectures Foucault explains how the birth of what he calls governmentality is tied to administrative practices, the development of statistics and political economy, and the apparatuses of security he looked in the administration of food and disease. Foucault finds three historical models for governmentality - the Christian pastoral; the diplomatic-military techniques of early modern Europe that can be seen to be perfected following the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648; and the emergence of the notion of police.

11. These issues will not be treated here, although it should be noted that their discussion in these newly published lectures is much richer than that in previously available works of Foucault's, and provides the opportunity for a sustained rethinking of his work in this area. Instead we want to concentrate on the way in which he returns to Machiavelli in this context, precisely in the analysis of governmentality, making use of the new materials. Indeed, on March 8, 1978, some five weeks after the 'Governmentality' lecture, Foucault recognises that his earlier reading of Machiavelli needs some nuance, and in a certain sense is false (2004a: 248). What is interesting about the reading outlined by Foucault is that Machiavelli is not important so much as a figure in the context of his own time, Renaissance Italy, but first in the context of his position as the object of critique, and then in his rediscovery in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This is in relation to his position as a theorist of the art of government.

12. Foucault argues that Machiavelli was received positively both at the time of the original publication of The Prince (1513) and its immediate aftermath, and in the rediscovery in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The context for the rediscovery is, Foucault contends, framed by Napoleon and the French and American revolutions; the relationship between power and strategy, especially around the Congress of Vienna in 1815; the problem of "relations of force and the calculation of these relations as a principle of intelligibility and rationalisation in international relations"; and around Italian and German unification, or "territorial unity" (Foucault 2004a: 93, Foucault 1991: 88). But between these dates Machiavelli's position was much less important in a positive sense, although he is crucial as a figure to be challenged. Although almost all of the readings of his work from this time are critical, and aim to dispute various aspects of that privileged text The Prince, something of Machiavelli's work continues. That something is precisely this question of political technique.

13. For Foucault, Machiavelli trades on a Middle Ages-sixteenth century model, where "sovereignty is not exercised on things, but above all on a territory and consequently on the subjects who inhabit it" (2004a: 99, 1991: 93). This requires a separation of the object and target of power. The object is the territory, and its preservation; the target is the population who must be controlled in order to preserve the territory. As he puts it in a 1979 lecture, Machiavelli's problematic is that of knowing how "a province or a territory acquired through inheritance or by conquest can be held against its internal or external rivals" (Foucault 1990: 76). By way of contrast Foucault provides a reading of Guillaume de La Perrière's Miroir politique from 1555 and suggests that "you will notice that the definition of government in no way refers to territory. One governs things" (Foucault 2004a: 99, 1991: 93). This is a complex of men and things, of which the qualities of territory might be important, but not territory in itself (2004a: 99, 1991: 93). Machiavelli is thus key for two reasons: both as an exemplar of the single sovereign figure that Foucault wishes to move beyond; and because of his concentration on territory as the object of government. Foucault wishes to disrupt the first as part of his move to the analysis of depersonalised power, and to examine the way the second is displaced as government took on a different object: population. Machiavelli is thus emblematic both of the concentration on the sovereign and the state (Foucault 1990: 76), rather than, as we might put it, governance and the governed. Indeed, as Foucault will argue in the 1977-78 course, there is no art of government in Machiavelli (2004a: 248).

14. Indeed, it is precisely this question of the "art of government" that Foucault thinks characterises the debates from the middle of the sixteenth century until the end of the eighteenth century. Machiavelli could be criticised for a number of reasons from this perspective, such as the concentration on the art of the state; or for being "an imperfect approximation or caricature" of the "rational and legitimate" art they were trying to propose (Foucault 1991: 89). For Foucault it is not important if this is an accurate view of Machiavelli: "the essential thing is that they attempted to articulate a kind of rationality which was intrinsic to the art of government, without subordinating it to the problematic of the prince and of his relationship to the principality of which he is lord and master" (Foucault 1991: 89).

15. Foucault argues that Machiavelli's problematic is "the surety of the territory or the surety of the sovereign who reigns over the territory" (Foucault 2004a: 67). It is this relation of the sovereign-territory that is, he contends, challenged. The principality is not "the ensemble constituted by the subjects and the territory". Instead it is "the prince's relation with what he owns, with the territory he has inherited or acquired, and with his subjects". What is at stake is the relation, "this fragile link" which is the object of the "art of governing or being prince espoused by Machiavelli" (2004a: 95, 1991: 90). In this understanding, the question is how to keep the principality, a savoir faire. But retention is not the same as the art of governing, and therein, contends Foucault, lies the break. Whereas the issue for Machiavelli is the state and its preservation, or, more exactly, "the relation between the Prince and that over which he exercises domination... the principality as the relation of power of the Prince to his territory and population" (2004a: 248), "the problem posed by reason of state is that of the very existence and nature of the state itself" (1990: 76). Equally Foucault suggests that the issue of circulation - of people, goods, air and water, among other things - demonstrates the superseding of the spatial mode of territory. In a key formulation for his argument in this course, it is "no longer the surety of the Prince and of his territory, but the security of the population and, as a consequence, of those that govern it" (2004a: 67). What we find here is a shift then, both in the subject and object of political rule (in part because the target becomes the object) but also, crucially in their order. In the first it is the Prince and the territory he rules; in the second the population and then, only as a consequence, those that govern. In addition the archaic concept of 'surety' [sûreté] is replaced with the modern problem of security.

16. For the writers of the period Foucault wants to investigate, three terms are problems: Machiavelli; politics; state (2004a: 248). He recognises that Machiavelli is central to the writers on the art of government, in that their work was orientated, in a particular way, around his writings.

Outside of God, outside of his laws, outside of the great models given by nature, that is finally by God, outside the principle of sovereignty, there is nothing, there is only the whim [caprice] of the Prince, there is only Machiavelli. It is at this moment that Machiavelli plays the role of a counter-example, of critique, of an example of the reduction of the art of government to nothing other than the preservation [salut], not of the State, but of the principality. Governmentality does not exist. This is what is meant by the adversaries of reason of State when they say: 'you are only Machiavellians. You have not discovered this art of government' (2004a: 249).

While some will say of Machiavelli that "he is fit to be thrown to the dogs" (2004a: 250), some of the advocates of reason of state recognised that there might be something worth retrieving, especially out of his Discourses on Livy if not The Prince. In those terms, Machiavelli can be useful, in that "he effectively tries to map, outside of any natural model or theological foundation, what the internal necessities, intrinsic to the city, are in terms of the essential relations between those who govern and those who are governed" (2004a: 250).

17. It is clear Foucault wants to think those relations, and about this notion of political technique, but in the light of his critique of the subject and within his anti-humanist conception of political strategy. What is found in his reading is that Machiavelli is important in a largely negative way. Those later theoreticians of state power and government who critiqued and appropriated Machiavelli were contesting the focus of his attention and the object to which it was applied. Foucault's reading of Machiavelli is open to question, not least on the suggestion of the importance of territory to his problematic. If indeed territory is essential to Machiavelli, it is only in a very loose sense of the term, as akin to terrain or domain, rather than the more specific sense that emerges only later in Western political thought and practice. But just as Foucault himself had noted in terms of the readings of the anti-Machiavellians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this is not the point. Rather it is that Machiavelli was for them, as he is for us, someone who cannot be dismissed easily. He must be encountered and engaged. Indeed, Foucault claims that "though he is not the one that defined the art of governing, it is through what he wrote that one must search for what the art of governing is". Foucault suggests that this is not unique: "Our Machiavelli for us, from this point of view, is of course Marx: This does not happen to him, but speaks through him" (Foucault 2004a: 249).

Althusser on Machiavelli

18. It is at this point, where we consider what Machiavelli could mean to us, that a comparison with Althusser is illuminating. Until recently, it could be said that "the name of Machiavelli is rarely cited in Althusser", and yet as Emmanuel Terray, a former student, goes on to note, "all who were taught orally by Althusser know it: this impression is misleading" (Terray 1996: 257-258). As Terray (1996) notes, references can be found in his book on Montesquieu, in an essay defending theoretical antihumanism, and in the 1977 lecture "Machiavelli's Solitude". There are several other references of less obvious importance (see Elliott 1999: xix-xx n. 4 for some of these). But it is now clear that Machiavelli held a privileged place in the later Althusser's attempts to rethink his theoretical practice. This was both in terms of thinking through the crisis of Marxism, and, in terms of his perception of his earlier failures, developing the project of a materialism of the encounter, what he calls an aleatory materialism. What is also revealing in Althusser's neo-Gramscian reading of Machiavelli is his mapping of the transformation and relation of political subject, political technique and the object of politics. Althusser in contrast to Foucault's historical reading undertakes an 'untimely' reading of Machiavelli where his concern is with exploring the conditions of possibility for a broader dissemination of political technique, toward a future. What he and Foucault share, however, is a sense that Machiavelli addresses politics in a way that cannot be circumvented, but must be gone through.

19. Terray gives the clearest account of Machiavelli's place in the work of Althusser. He identifies two roads down which Althusser might have encountered Machiavelli: the preparations for an historical study (of politics and philosophy in eighteenth century France) and his reading of Gramsci. The first road was never fully travelled, though Althusser did encounter Machiavelli as an inspiration through his study of Montesquieu (Althusser 1972: 9-109). In particular, Machiavelli is a negative presence in this work, constitutively excluded from the evolution of the political thought of the social contract from Hobbes to Locke and Rousseau (Terray 1996: 259). The second road is more substantial but the destination is less sure. Prior to the publication of his posthumous works Althusser was often characterised as the arch-structuralist, developing a thoroughgoing theoretical anti-humanism wholly at odds with the Hegelian-Marxism of Gramsci's powerful fragments. In his initial attempts to revive Marxist thought, Althusser does acknowledge a debt to Gramsci, at one point suggesting that he is the only thinker after Marx and Engels to really elaborate the "specific effectivity of the superstructures" (1969: 113-14 and 14 n. 29; see also 105 n. 23, Althusser and Balibar 1970: 126). Althusser does not, of course, accept Gramsci's historicism (see Althusser 1971: 67, Althusser 2003: 139), but as we shall see he is certainly gripped by the key problematic of Gramsci's reading of Machiavelli: "the question of Italian unity... the political problem of the Italian nation's constitution by means of a national state" (Althusser 1999: 11; see also Fontana 1993, Fontana 2002). While Foucault too had recognised that "Machiavelli had been one of those who tried to define the conditions under which Italian territorial unity could be restored" (Foucault 2004a: 93, Foucault 1991: 88), this emerges from his historical study of the reception of texts, which has similarities to Althusser's study of Montesquieu. Distinct from this, and in a way that could never be claimed of Foucault, Althusser's substantial reading of Machiavelli is, in important ways, a neo-Gramscian one.

20. Machiavelli and Us (1999) is the key text to come directly from this 'encounter'; and is arguably the pinnacle of his substantial and remarkable posthumous oeuvre. Althusser gave lectures on Machiavelli in 1962, 1972 and 1977. The 1962 text was probably lost by the time he wrote the first extant version in 1971-72. The final version bears the title Machiavelli and Us, and includes a new introduction, plus numerous handmade revisions to a copy of the first text. The changes and comments were made from the mid-70s onwards, with some coming from his so-called "aleatory" phase. This final period of Althusser's work, which we will discuss in a later part of this essay, was one in which he wrote a series of largely unpublished essays and notes. These included a manuscript entitled "Machiavel philosophe" (13 pages), which though undated likely comes from the same time as "Du matérialisme aléatoire" (19 pages, July 11; see Althusser 1994: 551-2, and, for that text, Althusser 2005). There is also a 95 page text on Gramsci's reading of Machiavelli entitled 'Que faire? (see 1994: 536 n. b). Of the published materials, there is also a separate text, "Machiavelli's Solitude", written as a lecture in 1977 which mostly replicates the ideas of the two versions of Machiavelli and Us, albeit in some particularly powerful formulations. "Machiavelli's Solitude" (Althusser 1999: 115-130) has already received significant comment (Matheron 1998) but the most substantial text, and the one we will privilege here, is Machiavelli and Us.

21. While Althusser's reading of Machiavelli is therefore both more extensive, and invested with greater weight, than Foucault's, it does, however, make sense to emphasise one key element of Machiavelli and Us as a basis for our comparison. Unlike Foucault, Althusser's reading explicitly links a reading of The Prince to a discussion of The Discourses. Where Foucault takes The Prince as a starting point and emphasises the ascendant influence of anti-Machiavelli texts, Althusser joins others (as diverse as Gramsci 1971 and Berlin 1998) in emphasising the unity of Machiavelli's "monarchist" moment (The Prince) and his "republican" moment (The Discourses) (see Fontana 1993 for discussion). (In fact Gramsci mirrors this view characterising The Prince as a treatise on the exceptional moment of force and dictatorial founding, and The Discourses as a study of normal times and the consensual reproduction of a state of hegemony [see Kalyvas 2000: 355]).   But crucially Althusser wants to think the relation between these moments which is the question of how the state endures. Althusser's argument is thus concerned with a development of what Gramsci identified as the Machiavellian theoretical dispositif, namely the formulation of "the political problem of the constitution (to be accomplished) of Italian unity" (Althusser 1999: 10). That is, the creation and preservation of the national state (Althusser 1999: 121).

22. Vatter situates Althusser's return to Machiavelli in light of his critique of the Marxist critique of the political (that is the failure of a Marxist theory of the state) and "the question of constituent power" (Vatter 2004: §22): "In Machiavelli's text Althusser finds an account of the self-constitution of the political out of the abyssal 'basis' of an irreconcilable social antagonism" (Vatter 2004: §19). The originality of Althusser's reading is to build on Gramsci's problem of the new Prince (as a figure of constituent power) through a reading of the republic as the moment of the duration of the state (i.e. in The Discourses). There is a double moment here. While the new Prince is important as the form of the beginning of the state, the republican form is concerned with how it endures. Vatter correctly reads this as Althusser's further development of the problem of reproduction, in terms of the "reproduction of reproduction" (Vatter 2004: §12).

23. Althusser thus both renews and extends Gramsci's reading of The Prince. This link to Gramsci is not trivial. We would emphasise Althusser's neo-Gramscian rather than post-Gramscian leanings, in part because his relation to Hegelian-Marxism is more complex than is often acknowledged, but also against those who wish simply to claim the late Althusser for a post-Marxist account of the political (see Vatter 2004; and for a critique, Montag 2004). The key here is that Althusser would seem to hold with Gramsci's insistence on the "decisive nucleus of economic activity" (Gramsci 1971: 161; see Mather 2003).   There are four elements to this extension of Gramsci - the person of the Prince; the Marxist nature of the reading; the utopianism of Machiavelli; and the question of populism. Although these need some careful analysis, it is worth making some points up front. The first is the key to understanding the transformation of political subject, technique and object. With regard to the second, despite Gramsci's residual Hegelianism (see Bellamy 2001), Althusser's reading is explicitly Marxian; committed a fortiori to a fully materialist conception of politics and to work thorough his attempt to marry Marxist politics with modernist philosophy (Montag 2003). Third, he strengthens Gramsci's notion that The Prince is a "revolutionary utopian manifesto" by reflecting on the role of (theoretical) texts and philosophy as part of revolutionary struggle. Fourth, he extends Gramsci's concern with The Prince to consider the role of populism and the people in the successful constitution of a collective will, a topic not touched on in Foucault's writings on Machiavelli, but clearly of concern around this time, as can be seen in his writings on the Iranian revolution, collected and analysed by Afary and Anderson (2005). This brings us neatly to the essentially republican nature of Althusser's reading, which is of central interest to the comparison with Foucault. Concentrating on the question of the Prince, the following analysis develops these points.

24. In "The Modern Prince" from the Notebooks, Gramsci famously argued that "the modern prince, the myth-prince, cannot be a real person, a concrete individual" (Gramsci 1971: 125; see Kalyvas 2000). For Gramsci the collective, organic form taken by the modern Prince is embodied in the political party "which has the aim of founding a new type of State' " (1971: 147). For Althusser, in Machiavelli and Us, drawing not merely on The Prince, but also the Discourses, the answer to the problematic of the Prince should be sought in the analysis of the republic. As Vatter argues: "For Althusser, the republic contains the moment of duration of the state; it is charged with reproducing constituent power, whereas the new prince contains the moment of beginning of the state" (Vatter 2004: §19). It is the transformation from the initial fragile bond of the foundation of society to something else, that which endures, which concerns Althusser. For Foucault, this would seem a valuable insight, for in his analysis the workings of neo-liberal governance cannot be reduced to the actions of individuals, be they the sovereign or the atomised subject, but rather involve depersonalised aspects of power.

25. Althusser only occasionally reflects on this in explicitly Gramscian terms, that is with reference to the concept of "hegemony", but on a careful reading the whole direction of the text, including his attempt to build links to his own notions of Ideological and Repressive State Apparatuses, is founded on this problematic. If this latter project is perhaps hamstrung by the functionalism of his initial concepts (Lock 1996, Montag 2003), then it is also clear that Althusser's concern with the 'reproduction of reproduction' via Machiavelli takes us into an area analogous to Foucault's work. To put this in more abstract terms, what Althusser reads through Machiavelli-Gramsci is the problem of the state and political subjectivity in terms of a beginning that endures. Although he makes only occasional reference to the modern Prince and the revolutionary party, this is the hope and wager behind his reflections.

26. While Machiavelli thus refers to the New Prince and the New Principality, Gramsci deals with the Modern Prince in terms of the revolutionary party (Gramsci 1971: 129). While Machiavelli is original in treating politics as sui generis, Gramsci is clear that his cratology must be updated for modern times and Althusser implies the same, suggesting that "in Machiavelli's time, the individuality of the ruler was the requisite historical form for the constitution of a state capable of achieving national unity. The form and the objectives have since changed" (Althusser 1999: 19). What is powerful about Althusser's reading is that he seems to strip Machiavelli-Gramsci of all context and content as if searching for the bare moment of political creativity. The author of political rule is transformed into a process, a technique in itself. Machiavelli is not - as he is for Foucault - a cipher for a particular historical moment when political subjectivity began to change in relation to certain techniques. Rather, he illuminates the very possibility of creating a new state that lasts.

27. If the subject of political rule is thus transformed, so too is its object. In a recent discussion of the new politics of globalisation Stephen Gill (2000) has discussed emergent forms of political agency in terms of "the postmodern Prince". Through a reading of the 1999 events in Seattle, he neatly defines the postmodern Prince as a plural and differentiated "set of potentials" (Gill 2000: 137). He explicitly sets this in the tradition of Machiavelli-Gramsci, but it reveals a good deal about Althusser's reading as well. Both Gill and Kalyvas (2000) read into the Prince the problematic of modern political leadership and hence the foundation of a collective will. In Machiavelli the dramatic myth takes the form of the condottiere: these are militia who represent the collective will. For Gramsci's Modern Prince, the myth is that of the "democratic modern mass political party" (Gill 2000: 137), the communist party. The crucial question then is: what is the object in Althusser's reading?

28. Althusser develops this analysis by assuming, with Machiavelli, that "the conjoint process of becoming-the-Prince and becoming-the-state is underway" (1999, 81). The key issue, then, is how this succeeds and endures. It is here that Althusser goes further than the Gramscian position. To do this he emphasises The Discourses and the question of the 'how' of the states enduring. No doubt for Althusser this is bound up with his engagement with the future of the PCF, the legacy of Stalinism and the orthodoxy of 'the dictatorship of the proletariat'. But Machiavelli and Us is at best only implicitly an analysis of that conjuncture. As Matheron notes (1998), Althusser's concrete analysis is very limited and weak. Unlike Gill, Althusser does not speculate on what new forms of political agency might arise in a postmodern era. Indeed one of the striking features of the essay is its untimely and unwonted character. Like Machiavelli and Gramsci before, Althusser writes through an experience of defeat. By this we mean a threefold experience of political, theoretical and personal defeat: the outcome of 1968; his own failure to provide a philosophy for Marxist practice and avert its crisis (Althusser 1979); and, of course, his own notorious crime in 1980 (Althusser 1993, see Elliott 1998a and Montag 2003). While he renews his long-term attempt to make Marxism contemporary by "articulating modernist philosophy and Communist politics" (Elliott 1996: 338), his aleatory phase recognises the sheer contingency of revolutionary rupture (Moulier Boutang 2005).

29. Althusser suggests that "if Machiavelli speaks to Gramsci, it is not in the past tense, but in the present tense: better still, in the future tense" (1999: 10). It is the unity of coercion and popular consent that Althusser finds in Machiavelli and through Gramsci. While Althusser tends to focus on the ideological element (1999: 101), the proper name for his theme is hegemony as moral, political and intellectual leadership, or 'direction' [direzione]. The object here is the popular state. Both these are ideas that Foucault had systematically refused. And yet, it seems reasonable to assert that Foucault and Althusser (or at least studies that flow from their texts) share the same problematic, that is "the mode and manner of the 'reproduction of social practices'... by what mode and manner does the particularistic logic of the disciplinary society become inimical with rationality itself" (Mather 2003: 485).

30. An important theme here is the distinctive combination of political science and dramatic myth that informs Althusser, Gramsci and Machiavelli. Althusser's myth-Prince is not clearly drawn, indeed he seems to fall back on that of Gramsci's party. Although Machiavelli focuses on an individual person, the Prince, he is clear that the New Prince must always involve more than this: not least, new political knowledge and the support and active consent of the people. As Fontana puts it, "the new prince embodies a new form of rule whose characteristic signature is the populo... Prince and people presuppose each other, for both emerge from... a [political] knowledge that addresses the very subject - the people - that gives such knowledge meaning and that is defined and formed by it" (1993: 147). The agent of this knowledge is Machiavelli's text, Gramsci's text, Althusser's text. But what Foucault sees is that The Prince failed or at least that the anti-Machiavellian texts had more force. This is where we should see Althusser's reading as properly utopian. Like Machiavelli and Gramsci he invests a great deal in the emergence of the New Prince: Althusser locates the singularity and force of Machiavelli (for us and for him) in his theoretical dispositif which "establishes particular relations between the discourse and its 'object', between the discourse and its 'subject'" (1999: 14). What is at stake here is the examination of a political problem in political terms; that is in terms of "political practice" (1999: 17).

31. Although a detailed discussion the relation of hope and utopianism is beyond the scope of this essay, Althusser's approach is properly utopian in two senses. In spite of an air of melancholy solitude, we would contend that Althusser's reading of The Prince is utopian in register. His concern with imagining the conditions of a "beginning that endures" is both futural and hopeful. First, as we note Althusser identifies - and identifies with - the utopianism of Machiavelli's and Gramsci's political thought (Althusser 1999: 13 and 17). Althusser attempts to situate his reading in a lineage of purposive thinking that links the promise - the yet to come - of these texts. Second, Althusser's utopianism is properly materialist, taking his leave from a phrase of Machiavelli's "dietro alla verità effetuale della cosa", he suggests that "it seems to me better to represent things as they are in actual truth, rather than as they are imagined" (1999: 7 and 103). While the link between Althusser's late thinking and this issue of a non-idealist utopianism are far from clear, we would suggest that his move to an aleatory materialism is bound up with identifying the very possibility for creating a new state that lasts.

32. Althusser discusses the relation of the Prince and the people at length in two passages (1999: 24-7, 127-30). Through a reading of the Dedicatory Letter of The Prince he emphasises the fundamental insight that Machiavelli addresses the New Prince - and hence knowledge of rule - "from the viewpoint of the people" (1999: 25). But equally he recognises that in Machiavelli's conjuncture there is "an irreducible duality between the place of the political viewpoint [the people] and the place of the political force and practice [the New Prince]" (1999: 26). As we will discuss further (see §§39-40) this is a moment in the prehistory of the modern bourgeois state, the scene from which original political accumulation will spring forth. In seeking to understand this not-yet, Althusser hopes to develop from ancient political practice, a concern with the possibility of future change. Althusser therefore regards the people as both subject and object of the new Prince. In fact Althusser explores what Foucault has merely hinted at. He sees that Machiavelli thinks the conditions for this shift, for a constitutive political moment. Through Machiavelli Althusser can begin to explore the "essential relations between those who govern and those who are governed" (Foucault 2004a: 250). In terms of Machiavelli it is the coincidence of fortuna - chance or the contingency of circumstance - and virtù - skill, prowess or technique - that shows how such a change in political subjectification becomes possible.

33. Gramsci's modern Prince must also be understood as a "specific political form" (1999: 13) which must accomplish a particular historical task. In this sense, Althusser's neo-Gramscian reading of Machiavelli is aimed towards the future and to the question of "proletarian revolution and the institution of socialism" (1999: 13). Here the avant-garde figure of the (modern) Prince is understood as an instance of political technique, as a new form of rule that concerns the bond or relation between Prince and people. That is "a radically new political base" (1999: 102) where "the means to this end is no longer a superior individual, but the popular masses equipped with a party" (1999: 13).

34. It is clear then, that Althusser persists with Gramsci's basic problematic, where the new Prince is transformed into a new relation with the people as a collective political will. In his reading of Gramsci and Machiavelli, Fontana argues that "the people as a determinate political entity are both the subject and the object of Machiavelli's principe nuovo" (Fontana 1993: 147). For Althusser, the crucial question is how this formation takes place, and what role political knowledge plays in forging the people as an agent of change.

35. In Machiavelli how this is achieved is an important matter, but still relates the constitutive power to the person of the Prince. The new political base is never simply founded on a relationship of force, but becomes and endures through the Prince's political virtù. For Althusser, therefore, the question of political leadership - as a technique - is of central importance. Above and beyond some general conception of hegemony as the unity of coercion and consent, Machiavelli offers Althusser a way to reflect on the being and becoming of political leadership:

The Prince is not some ordinary, private individual... he is a political individual, wholly defined by his political function, by the necessary existence of the state in the guise of an individual, the individual existence of the state... The Prince belongs to a different realm of existence (Althusser 1999: 92).

36. In order to understand this 'double personality' Althusser follows Gramsci's famous discussion of Chapter 18 from The Prince, drawing out a remarkable characterisation of the relation of law and force in the education and practice of Princes. Althusser concludes that the pivotal characteristic of the new Prince is that he be the master of fraud: "to be the master of guile and deception - not only in acts of war, traps, feints, and so on, but in the government of men generally" (1999: 95). The key to Machiavelli, according to Althusser is that there are not two, but three ways of governing men: by laws, by force and by fraud. Althusser's reading places great emphasis on the specific quality of fraud as a mode of government that is based on and in laws or force (i.e. it does not exist without them). It is:

Government to the second degree, a manner of governing the other two forms of government: force and laws... Fraud thus opens up a space, beyond force and laws, for diverting their existence - a space in which force and law are substituted for, feigned, deformed, and circumvented. Mastery of fraud in the Prince is the distance that allows him to play at will on the existence of force and laws, to exploit and, in the strongest sense of the word, feign them (1999: 95-96, original emphasis).

Here we see how Althusser's reading resonates strongly with an insistence on the importance of ideological practice as constitutive of the political. As Vatter summaries: "Althusser... discovers that the foundations of the durable state is exclusively ideological" (Vatter 2004: §32). What is crucial here is the status of the new (or modern) Prince in relation to the emergence of political rule: "the system of authority (the constituted power) fashions for itself a founder "constituent power", and not conversely" (Vatter 2004: §32).   For Althusser, then, a radical critique of the state must begin with its ideological apparatus.

37. This neo-Gramscian reading of the articulation among three elements - political knowledge, the people as a collective will and the new Prince - is the heart of Althusser's reading:

Machiavelli not only formulates, but thinks, his problem politically - that is to say, as a contradiction in reality that cannot be removed by thought, but only by reality. It can be removed only by the sudden [aleatory] appearance... of the concrete forms of the political encounter whose general conditions are alone defined (Althusser 1999: 80).

The knowledge in Machiavelli's text and the subject to which it is addressed is thus paralleled in Gramsci's focus on the relation between the democratic philosopher (organic intellectual) and the popular masses (see Fontana 1993: 160). Equally what Gramsci calls "hegemony" can be found in Althusser's desire to unify philosophy and politics through a concrete subject. But why then did Althusser return to Machiavelli with such dedication rather than simply to Gramsci? The final answer is perhaps a personal one, rooted in Althusser's own solitude: Machiavelli "is, without doubt, much more than Marx, the author who has most fascinated me" (Althusser 1997: 14). This fascination is, towards the end of his productive life, inherently bound up with a radically rethinking of his entire approach to historical materialism.

The Aleatory

38. The final draft of Machiavelli and Us is strewn with handwritten additions (mostly from 1986) emphasising the event, the void, and the aleatory (see Matheron 1998). As the growing body of scholarship on the later Althusser's "aleatory materialism" is beginning to show, this late work is of considerable importance (Montag 1996, Montag 2003, Negri 1996, Negri 1997, Beaulieu 2003, Vatter 2000, Vatter 2003, Vatter 2004, Suchting 2004). Indeed, as Suchting notes, "it is plausible to conjecture that Althusser's aleatory materialism and his studies of Machiavelli developed hand in hand ... [T]here is scope for a rich study here" (Suchting 1996: 24 n. 48). There is no space here to sketch where this might lead, but certainly Althusser's repeated encounter with Machiavelli provides an important and challenging source for thinking through the question of constituent power and aleatory materialism. The extent to which this thought is coherent - let alone capable of enduring - is open to debate (Matheron 1998).

39. That said, there is a good deal of continuity in terms of the form of Althusser's problem. At the centre of his thinking is the relation between a Marxist theory of the state and politics and a materialist philosophy that might inform political strategy. Here Machiavelli is a vital supplement to Marx because the latter does not provide an account of "the self-constitution of the political ex nihilo, out of the abyssal "basis" of an irreconcilable social antagonism" (Vatter 2003: §2). In "Machiavelli's Solitude", for example, Althusser directly compares Marx's analysis of originary accumulation with Machiavelli's excavation of something akin to originary political accumulation (Marx 1954: 667; see Althusser 1999: 124-5). In his 1977 lecture, Althusser characterises the relationship of Machiavelli's thought and the Marxist tradition as "one of coincidence and repetition, rather than one of direct descent" (1999: 116). Extending Althusser somewhat we might see his reading of Machiavelli as attempting to break out of the "vicious circle" (Marx 1954: 667) of natural law and state by supposing a primitive political accumulation - that is before Hobbes-Locke-Rousseau. But in this case it is Machiavelli and his reflections on classical political practice. And that "in actual history it is notorious that conquest, enslavement, robbery murder, briefly force, play the great part" (Marx 1954: 668). In short, it counters a bourgeois myth with actual history. As Althusser argues, "Machiavelli is perhaps one of the few witnesses to what I shall call primitive political accumulation, one of the few theoreticians of the beginnings of the national state" (1999: 125). This is not the (mythical) origins (in theories of law and nature) of modern politics, but rather the effective reality of things. But it is through Gramsci's reading, which is almost unique among the Marxists, that Althusser really takes flight. He begins with Gramsci's rethinking of the new Prince in terms of the problem of constituent power.

40. Althusser affirms with Gramsci that Machiavelli is a theoretician of the national state (and so of absolute monarchy as transitional state between feudalism and capitalism). And in particular he asks the question of the foundation of the national state in "radical, political terms" (1999: 119): that is, "only a New Prince in a New Principality". The Prince must start from nothing and be alone in order to secure the foundations:

This is the first moment of the state, one that is necessarily the work of a single man who rises from private individual to prince; it is thus, if you wish, the monarchist or dictatorial moment. But this condition is not a sufficient one. For a state thus formed is monstrously fragile ... Thus, once founded, it is essential that this state be able to last (Althusser 1999: 120).

41. This means the Prince must move out of solitude to become many, to win the people. This is Machiavelli's republican moment. Taking these two moments together, Althusser defines Machiavelli as "a theoretician of the political preconditions of the constitution of a national state, the theoretician of the foundation of a new state under a new prince, the theoretician of the durability of this state; the theoretician of the strengthening and expansion of this state" (1999: 121). This is the heart of Machiavelli's originality, his peculiar utopianism, and his solitude in founding a text of political analysis: "he does not think the accomplished fact of monarchies or their mechanisms, but rather thinks the fact to be accomplished" (1999, 121). As we have previously noted, how this comes to be accomplished, will depend not merely on the Prince's technique, his virtù, but also on fortuna which can be understood as the radical contingency of necessity (Elliott 1998b). In Montag's felicitous phrasing, aleatory materialism can be defined as "a materialism according to which necessity emerges from the concatenation of chance encounters, and which thus rejects every notion of teleology" (Montag 2003: 12; for a different, but comparable, account of 'contingent necessity' in a neo-Gramscian tradition, see Jessop 1990: 12-13).

42. The notion of the aleatory thus functions as another bridge between Foucault and Althusser. While the aleatory only makes a minor appearance in Foucault's text, it is notable that it is there precisely as a problem that necessitates a change in political technique. The mechanisms of what he calls governmentality arise as a means of addressing the contingent, the chancy, the event. And this is not in terms of providing a solution in advance, but of providing the means by which such can be governed, the conduct of conduct. Foucault's examples of the operation of political rule (found in the road, grain and contagion) indicate the birth of a new political technique at the moment in the shift from the rule over the sum of individuals inhabiting a territory to the government of populations. Althusser's Machiavelli does not explicitly consider the "government of populations", but via Gramsci he does emphasise the singularity of the unity of the national state. This is neither the Hegelian idea of the 'state' nor simply the people (as the masses). Rather Althusser's Machiavelli is concerned with thinking the conditions of the emergence of "the New Prince and the New Principality" (1999: 55, emphasis added). The emphasis is on securing the duration of the state through a government of the state (that is a qualitatively different type of rule). Althusser notes that Machiavelli is remarkable for thinking something that has not yet happened.

43. Foucault's discussion of 'governmentality' raises the issue of Machiavelli as a theorist of the art of government, particularly in terms of the critique of Machiavelli (by reason of state thinkers) and his rediscovery in the context of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is interesting that Foucault does not read Gramsci's account of the modern Prince because - at least in Althusser's hands - this provides an anti-humanist account broadly compatible with Foucault's. Instead Foucault argues that what endures is Machiavelli's conception of political technique. Here Machiavelli comes to stand for a model of rule rooted in the Middle Ages and coming to a close in the sixteenth century, with the shift to governmentality. As Mitchell Dean argues,

This literature views the prince as external to and in a position of transcendence in relation to his principality. The principality is thus an acquisition by the prince, whether through conquest, treaty or inheritance. The corollary of this is that the bond between prince and principality is tenuous. The conclusion is that the exercise of power is about reinforcing this bond. In practice this means two things: to identify the internal and external dangers of the prince's rule and, second, 'to develop the art of manipulating relations of force that allow the prince to ensure the protection of his principality, understood as the link that binds him to his territory and his subjects'" (Dean 1999: 85; citing Foucault 1991: 90, emphasis added).

44. While Foucault sees Machiavelli as the exemplar of the political system such concerns require to be overthrown; in Althusser's analysis Machiavelli is himself a theoretician of revolution. This follows from the way Althusser reads him, alongside Marx, as "thinking the violence of the birth throes of the state... of bourgeois societies" (Althusser 1999: 125). This is also a utopian moment, where "the new state could begin anywhere", and forces a consideration of "the aleatory character of the formation of national states" (Althusser 1999: 125-126). The key then, is to return to a moment of nascent modernity while the state is still emerging. This is related to the broader issue of Althusser's radical materialism, with his repeated breaks away from 'diamat' thinking in an attempt to find a philosophy adequate to Marxism.

45. We have therefore hinted at how the notion of the aleatory is an important potential comparative issue for Foucault and Althusser. Yet again though this is a different issue than one of straight-forward borrowing: Althusser thought and wrote on this subject later than Foucault's lectures, but he would not have heard them; and Althusser's writings from this period have only recently become available (see, for example, 2005).


46. What places Althusser closer to Foucault's concerns than to orthodox Marxism is the concern with the reproduction of reproduction: with how the state endures. But perhaps ultimately what this comparison throws light on is the remarkable and persisting difference between Althusser and Foucault's debt to Marxist political theory (to the problem of ideology and the terrain of the state). In conclusion, then, Foucault and Althusser effect very different readings of The Prince in order to seek a way of rethinking the task of the Prince (as both a practice and subject of political rule). Foucault's reading is an historical one, tracing how the figure of the Prince disappears, but the techniques that he utilises remain. For Althusser, there is a fuller encounter with Machiavelli through the legacy of Gramsci and his own rethinking of ideology and state apparatus. The Prince is more than simply a figure for the hopes of the modern communist party, because he takes things further by insisting on the importance of the theorisation of the bond between people and Prince. The subject and object of political rule become fused through the technique at stake. In the end both the purpose and character of their interpretations differ considerably.

47. Overall, despite significant differences, it is through the late Althusser's reading of Machiavelli that we can see the influence of Foucault's challenge and Althusser's ongoing (if increasingly solitary) attempts to surmount the limits of Marx from within (see Althusser 1994: 369-537, forthcoming in Althusser 2006). The debt of Althusser to Foucault is rarely discussed but is, arguably, to be found in his enlargement of the political and his rethinking of the crisis of Marxism in terms of political technique. As is well known, Althusser shares with Foucault an anti-humanist conception of political strategy and a critique of the subject. What is distinctive is that Althusser's reading of the Prince emerges through Gramsci and in particular the emphasis on the unity of coercion and consent in the national state. Gramsci also allows Althusser to present Machiavelli as a thinker for the future (and not just the past or present). This is in part through an emphasis on the republic and the modern Prince, and in part through a very particular space given to the people as constituent power. Machiavelli is portrayed as a good materialist and one whom materialists should read (Althusser 1994: 412, 553, 557, 596).

48. Strangely then, for all the marked differences of emphasis and interpretation, Althusser's reading of Machiavelli provides an insight into the absent presence of Foucault in his work. Of course, Althusser renews and reinforces those terms - ideology and state apparatus - that Foucault found so problematic. But Althusser's concern with how a change in political rule might take shape, namely how a relation of duration between people and Prince as a form of political subjectification might emerge, has much that speaks to Foucault.

Adam Holden is Instructor in the Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, U.K.

Stuart Elden is Reader in the Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, U.K. He is also (together with Clare O'Farrell, Alan Rosenberg, and Sylvain Meyet) an editor of Foucault Studies.


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