Why can't humans rule themselves?

The new man

Things have calmed down around the New Man as a figure of longing and redemption. It has not completely disappeared, only the collective singular "Der Neue Mensch" has been shelved. Today, however, the focus of the discourse is not so much on the goal and end point of a radical self-transformation, but rather on optimization as a process. Self-optimization currently means less the radical transformation into a new person or a perfect person, but a continuous process of change in different areas of life. Life turns out to be more of an "eternal construction site", because new goals are constantly being targeted and "improvements" are constantly being made in the way of life in order to adapt to (changed) environmental conditions - new opportunities, new obstacles, new challenges. If one understands "perfecting perfection" by optimization, the term seems rather inappropriate. According to Duden, however, "optimum" does not refer to a conceivable ideal state, but rather the best possible, a "highest achievable level under the given conditions, with regard to a goal". Optimization therefore describes the form of the search and compromise-building process, the content of which is determined by the respective goals. Despite individualization and pluralization, these goals are embedded in cultural value systems, norms, and ideal images. How these are spelled out, however, is left to the individual, because today there is no universal standard - neither for health, beauty, nor for happiness, well-being or professional success. For most people, the optimization of the self takes place step by step and is not characterized by technical, chemical or genetic optimization, but by small modifications of everyday life leading to a happier, fitter or healthier life.

But neither this incremental alignment nor the self-orientation mean that the social and political have disappeared from the dream of self-change. Based on the analyzes of the philosopher Michel Foucault on the governmentality of the present, the following article shows that self-optimization is a "point of contact" where the wishes and interests of the individual meet with political goals in the broader sense.

Governmentality of the Present

Current self-optimization relates to different ends and uses different means. With Foucault one can describe practices of self-optimization as "technologies of the self", ie as those "forms in which the individual acts on himself", [1] shapes himself and gives himself a form.

If you look at the practices of human activity with Foucault, the perspective widens and aims at the historically specific connection between knowledge, power and technologies of the self, which - according to Foucault's work - are so intertwined that they cannot be analyzed independently of one another and can be discussed. In his later work, Foucault demonstrated this connection with the development of the modern state and thus modern governmentality. With the made-up word "governmentality" he describes those power and knowledge complexes in which the forms of political government fall back on forms of self-management. He refers to older conceptual fields of government in which at the same time the "activity of 'leading' others (by virtue of more or less strict coercive mechanisms) and the way of behaving in a more or less open field of possibilities" [2] become. The decisive point of this concept lies in the focus on the entanglement of the "leading of others" and the "leading of the self". Government in this sense means the "leadership of leadership" and aims to locate, establish and expand the contact points in which self-leadership and external leadership can (can) be combined.

To govern then means to exercise power in a certain way; Foucault therefore sees government technologies as a specific, distinct power relationship that is located between the power relationships as "strategic games between freedoms" and "states of rule". In order for power (and not domination) to develop, the individual must have a "whole field of possible answers, reactions, effects, inventions" [3] to which they can react. Government tries to influence this field of possibilities and "to structure the field of possible actions of the others". [4] Government techniques can incite, distract, facilitate, aggravate, expand, limit, also compel and prevent, but they always relate to the way in which an individual questions himself and shapes his own leadership. In doing so, they refer not only to the political in the narrower sense, but also to the management of any type of "company" - school, administration, company or association.

The "governmentality of the present" [5] ties in with the governmental rationality of liberalism, its emphasis on freedom for the market and the individual as well as its positive relation to the life of the individual and the population, their security, health and provision for old age and poverty To use powers. The decisive shift in neoliberalism concerns the relationship between state and market, which affects the knowledge and power formations as well as the technologies of the self. While in liberalism the market was seen as something external to the state that had to be monitored and at the same time served as a limitation of the state, from the mid-1970s the form of the market became the organizational principle of state and society. Education, health and social policy or partnership and child-rearing are now also seen as market events. Even more: Neoliberal governmental rationality produces and relates to a knowledge of people who figures them as entrepreneurs, who manage themselves by constantly choosing between different options and deciding for their own good and so "for themselves their own capital, their own Producer, his own source of income is ". [6] This does not mean that every individual is an economic person and that every behavior is economic. But the conception of humans as Homo oeconomicus functions as a problematic formula for human behavior and thus serves as the starting point for political and economic behavior control. As Homo oeconomicus, "the individual becomes governmentalizable". [7]

The figuration of the human being as an "entrepreneurial self" [8] is currently dominant, but it is not the only human model. Closely related to it, but not identical to it, is also the model of Homo psychologicus, who is ascribed the desire to experience oneself as authentic and unique, to realize oneself, to grow and develop. Countless varieties of psychological knowledge between psychoanalysis and kitchen psychology and their respective solutions produce and circulate this knowledge, which in turn makes people governable. [9]

The central hub at which the logic of entrepreneurship connects with the logic of self-realization is the body. On the one hand, it is an essential component of human capital - it is important to maintain and develop one's strength and health. He is figured as a product on his own responsibility. And on the other hand, it is considered an expression of the "true self". Every work of entrepreneurial body optimization always serves the realization of the self at the same time. The body becomes a display on which the work on oneself becomes visible as an expression of one's own self - one's will, one's discipline, one's ideals, one's "character".

The current art of leadership relates, among other things, to this knowledge of the human being as Homo oeconomicus, who manages himself and his psyche and body - cares for them, gives them rights and gets the best out of them. More accentuated than in liberalism, this gives rise to an art of leadership that is indirect; it is ruling at a distance that addresses people as "entrepreneurs of themselves". Current government technologies create incentive structures, activation and empowerment programs and thus only provide scope, framework conditions and horizons of opportunity so that individuals can develop entrepreneurial action on this and that side of the economic and at the same time realize themselves. They start with the freedom and personal responsibility of the individual, their ability and motivation potential as well as their desire for personal responsibility, self-fulfillment, health and well-being. Coercion, which could provoke resistance and become unproductive, has been reduced as much as possible. [10] In this way, people are made responsible for their way of life in a double sense of the word: They are empowered to actually exhaust their options for action, and they are made morally responsible to themselves as well as to "society" for their own health, safety, risk minimization, To ensure poverty avoidance as well as productivity and work ability. [11]

Government technologies, so the basic premise of current government rationality, are "sustainably" effective if and only if they are combined with the way in which the individuals shape their self-management, i.e. if self-government and government technologies are coupled. However, this only works because technologies of the self Not represent exclusively government technologies. They are "known and wanted practices" to transform oneself and to modify oneself in one's special being. [12] Technologies of the self are operations that the individual carries out "on his own or with the help of others" [13]. They are embedded in power and knowledge formations as well as social and material relationships and are fundamentally dependent on the "schemata" that the individual "finds in his culture, which his culture, his society, his social group suggests, suggests and imposes on him." . [14] Like all technologies, technologies of the self are also dependent on specific discourses, materialities, media and their routine ways of using them. In addition, most of these techniques and artifacts rely on specific spatial arrangements. Technologies of the self therefore take place in a pre-structured framework, but only when there is freedom and the possibility of self-realization indeed Once guaranteed, technologies of the self can become contact points for government technologies.

In the following, some objectives of self-technologies are presented that are currently particularly prominent, and a closer look at the discourses that make them appear plausible. It shows that even if the respective self-technologies pursue different goals, they all optimize self-management, that is, they seek to make the best of the given conditions in a permanent movement of compromise-building.