24 January 1973

Part of the Michel Foucault book series (MFL)


WE COULD ALSO HAVE cited other signs of this emergence of the criminal as social enemy,† for example, the debate on the death penalty in May 1791 when Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau presented his draft Penal Code.1 The arguments actually started from the principle that everyone considered to be fundamental: crime is an attack on society and the criminal is a social enemy.2 Thus, faced with those who evoked the principle formulated by Rousseau in the Social Contract—since the criminal is the enemy of society, he must be exiled or killed3—Robespierre, in an apparently anti-Rousseauist manner yet from the same theoretical basis, objected that inasmuch as the criminal is an enemy of society, the latter precisely does not have the right to kill him, because once it has seized hold of a criminal the battle is over; society is faced with an enemy prisoner, as it were, and it would be as barbaric for society to kill an enemy it has already vanquished as it would for a warrior to kill his captive or an adult to kill a child: the society that kills the criminal it has judged is like an adult who would kill a child.4 Such a debate allows us to study the theoretical-political effect of this principle of the criminal-social enemy It also provides a reference for the analysis of a theoretical-political discussion. This analysis would, for example, have to take into account what Marx wrote regarding the discussion of the theft of wood,5 and what Blanqui, fifteen years later, wrote on what took place regarding rights over wine.6 Starting from these models, we could maybe see how to analyze political discussions, oppositions, and struggles of discourse within a given political situation.


Death Penalty Eighteenth Century Social Contract Corporal Punishment Social Defense 
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    See M. de Robespierre, “Discours à l’Assemblée nationale,” 30 May 1791, Archives parlementaires 1787–1860, first series, vol. XXVI, p. 622Google Scholar
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    See K. Marx, Karl Marx, Collected Works, Volume 1 (New York: International Publishers, 1975).Google Scholar
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