17 January 1973

Part of the Michel Foucault book series (MFL)


I WANTED TO EXPLAIN to you the kind of detachment of the criminal from the system of private obligations or disputes in which he was caught up in Medieval practices, and his emergence as a social enemy, as an individual opposed to the whole of society as such. We can symbolize this transformation with a text that was quite important institutionally and politically. It is a discourse delivered to the Constituent Assembly in October 1789, at the time of the reform of penal organization in France, or more precisely, of a modification of the procedure of criminal investigation, in which the rapporteur of the project, Beaumetz,1 describes what, according to him, is the mechanism and justification of criminal procedure in the Ancien Régime. In doing this he merely re-transcribes the practices of penal law in the Ancien Régime into the new vocabulary, which is, schematically, that of Beccaria, and, on the basis of that re-transcription in terms of public enemy, proposes a number of modifications to criminal procedure: “A crime is committed: the whole of society is injured in one of its members; hatred of the crime or private interest leads to a denunciation or motivates a complaint; the public prosecutor is informed by the injured party or roused by the general clamor, the crime is established, clues are gathered; its traces are confirmed. Public order must be avenged.”2


Civil Society Eighteenth Century Criminal Procedure Civil Status Injured Party 
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  1. 1.
    See J. Tulard, J.-F. Fayard, and A. Fierro, Histoire et Dictionnaire de la Révolution française, 1789–1799 (Paris: Robert Laffont, “Bouquins,” 1987) p. 571.Google Scholar
  2. See F. Quesnay, Œuvres économiques complètes et autres textes, ed., Christine Théré, Loïc Charles, and Jean-Claude Perrot (Paris: Institut national d’études démographiques/INED, 2005) 2 volumes.Google Scholar
  3. The reference works on the physiocrats are those of G. Weulersse, Le Mouvement physiocratique en France de 1756 à 1770 (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1910) 2 volumes.Google Scholar
  4. For a more recent analysis, see B. E. Harcourt, The Illusion of Free Markets (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011) pp. 78–102.Google Scholar
  5. 16.
    See [P.-F. Muyart de Vouglans,] Les Loix criminelles de France, dans leur ordre naturel. Dédiées au Roi, par Muyart de Vouglans, Conseiller au Grand-Conseil (Paris: Merigot le Jeune, 1780).Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    A.-R. Lesage, L’Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane, 1715–1735, 12 volumes.Google Scholar
  7. Lesage’s novel recounts the irregular adventures of the young student, then valet and servant, through every stratum of society, and, according to Jules Romains, “Lesage et le roman moderne,” The French Review, 21(2), December 1947, p. 97Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    A. Radcliffe [apocryphal], Les Visions du chateau des Pyrénées, trans., Germain Garnier and Mme. Zimmermann [from] the edition printed in London by G. and J. Robinson, 1803 (Paris: Lecointe et Durey, 1821) 4 volumes; new edition translated by Yves Tessier (Paris: Éditions B.I.E.N., 1946).Google Scholar
  9. H. Torczyner, L’Ami Magritte. Correspondance et souvenirs (Anvers: fonds Mercador, 1992) p. 118.Google Scholar

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© Graham Burchell 2015

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