Government, Rights and Legitimacy: Foucault and Liberal Political Normativity

Paul Patton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


One way to characterise the difference between analytic and Continental political philosophy concerns the different roles played by normative and descriptive analysis in each case. This article argues that, even though Michel Foucault’s genealogy of liberal and neoliberal governmentality and John Rawls’s political liberalism involve different articulations of normative and descriptive concerns, they are complementary rather than antithetical to one another. The argument is developed in three stages: first, by suggesting that Foucault offers a way to conceive of public reason as a historical phenomenon. Second, it is suggested that both Rawls and Foucault allow us to consider rights as historical and particular rather than a-historical and universal. Third, it is argued that Foucault’s genealogy of modern liberal government illuminates some of the tensions and some of the alternatives within the liberal tradition in relation to the concept of political legitimacy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-239
Number of pages17
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Theory
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2015


  • Foucault
  • governmentality
  • homo juridicus
  • homo oeconomicus
  • legitimacy
  • neoliberalism
  • public reason
  • Rawls
  • rights


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