Foucault’s account of the rise of liberalism and neo-liberalism operates under the assumption that universals do not exist. Therefore, Foucault rejects terms like sovereign, sovereignty, the people, subject, the state and civil society in his exploration of the rationalization of governmental practice.
His account begins with the emergence of raison d’Etat which shifts the concerns of the state away from the salvation of its subjects. With the emergence of raison d’Etat, the state is no longer the father of its subjects. Instead, the state exists for itself. The sole purpose of the state is to establish itself as permanent, so that it can become rich, so that it can resist any and all challenges to its continued existence (p. 4). To do so required the development of mercantilism to grow the state’s wealth and compete with foreign powers and the police to regulate the state’s internal policy and finally the development of a permanent army to protect its borders. In an attempt to place limits on the unlimited power of the police state, the concept of natural rights emerged.
The next major development was the concept of political economy in a similar attempt to limit government. Political economy discourse did away with raison d’Etat’s in exchange for an economic discourse that linked the state with the markets. This discourse prompted questions about how to limit the power of public authorities. Two answers emerged during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
One, represented by the French Revolution, theorized individual rights in the abstract which applied to all circumstances. The other, Liberalism, identified the specific circumstances in which the government should intervene to protect individual rights. The government isn’t invested in protecting freedom for freedom’s sake but does so because it is dependent on the existence of certain freedoms. However, producing freedom costs security including an increase in discipline and control measures.