Michel Foucault has argued that the state has slowly become the primary wielder of the institutions in society whereby discipline is imposed on people. For example, the state runs the military, schools, healthcare, etc. Western societies have embraced panopticism. That is, Western societies have embraced disciplinary structures that rely on the perception of being watched by an other. While an overt form of panopticism would be the police state where it is apparent that the state is keeping tabs on everybody, a covert form is a society in which there is the impression that people are being watched. So, for instance, laws against public smoking result in self-policing: people won’t smoke in public places because it is possible that they are being watched. The result is a well-ordered society that functions efficiently.
Moreover, the explicitly disciplinary institutions (schools, hospitals, etc) control the dissemination of cultural values that people absorb. In order for the society to be well ordered, people must share common values. Schools, then, teach citizenship while hospitals promote safety and healthiness. In the West, the values we have tended to embrace promote freedom for people and for institutions. This creates a problem when an institution is allowed to operate, but does not embrace freedom. So, for instance, speech is constitutionally protected in the United States. This means that Neo Nazi groups are permitted to say hateful things about ethnic minorities. Or, to put the matter in context, any idiot is allowed to create a crass video about Mohammed and put it on YouTube. This freedom of speech at the expense of public respect for sacred figures is not a value shared, say, by Pakistan. In places like Pakistan, the disciplinary structures will help to disseminate the cultural value of respect for religion.
My artifact for this week is a speech by David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
David Cameron connects terrorism in the West to the failure of our disciplinary structures. That is, he argues that the doctrine of “state-multiculturalism” has failed because it has allowed separate cultures to exist within the legal jurisdiction of the state. The result is an environment in which young men of Middle-Eastern decent living in Western democracies are insulated from the disciplinary structures of the democracy and so fail to absorb its values. Instead, they have a greater opportunity to embrace extremist Islam. Cameron argues that this is the fault of classical Liberalism. That is, the cultural values of Classical Liberalism, and its resulting disciplinary structures, so highly prized individual freedom and liberty that it refused to try to culturally integrate new immigrants seeing doing so as an transgression of freedom and liberty.
David Cameron says that Classical Liberalism was misguided in this regard and that we should, instead, embrace a more “muscular Liberalism.” That is, Western democracies should aggressively pursue projects that promote cultural values necessary for the functioning of a robust democracy. Specifically, this should be an enterprise undertaken by the state as the arbiter of the disciplinary structures. Cameron’s examples include the following: teaching the national language, teaching the dominant culture, instating the National Citizen Service, helping local communities better integrate their people, barring the preaching of hate, barring inciters of terrorism and hate from entering the country, judging religious organizations by their commitment to liberal values when deciding where public monies should go, etc.
The purpose of muscular Liberalism, then, is for the greater cohesion of society. That is, Cameron fully falls into Foucault’s construction: he recognizes that nations in the West are having problems with orderliness and security, he recognizes that the problem is because the panoptic structures are failing to enforce the dominant values because the idea of enforcing dominant values is a problem for the West given the history of colonialism and racism, he recognizes that the fix to the problem is redefining the West’s cultural values (from freedom from interference to interference in order to promote freedom), and he recognizes that the disciplinary institutions will have to be the ones to disseminate the redefined cultural values so that society will, once more, be well ordered and efficient.