Foucault and “brainwashing by the state”.

Foucault’s work builds upon the ideas of Louis Althusser (a French structural Marxist), who observed that states govern using force and an “ideological state apparatus,” or the institutions (education, law, and politics) by which the state promoted its version of the “truth”. Foucault also thought that power did not simply involve physical or economic coercion, but is exercised through discourse and knowledge, so that power relations pervaded in all the institutions of society. Institutions, bureaucracies, and individuals can all use claims of knowledge and the truth to dominate. In modern society, it takes the form of a command of the language of science, which is employed by powerful corporations, institutions, and the state to control those who don’t understand this language. When the state undertakes a policy that is could threaten the well-being of some segment of its population, it uses the language of science to justify that policy and to overcome the resistance of the citizen(s). Additionally, asylums, hospitals, prisons, and other total institutions control and coerce their residents through their “expert” ability to diagnose, “treat,” and “rehabilitate” those under their control, as well as to punish those who resist that bureaucratic control. [1] Who determines what the truth is? According to Moberg, it is white males who have typically controlled this power in Western Civilization by using the language of science to disempower minorities and women. Basically, it is power, wealth, and a privileged status, rather than “evidence,” that determines what is “true.” [2]

I can “hear” you asking though, “Ok, so what does that mean exactly?” So let me give you an example by using something that permeates United States politics right now and has done so since roughly 1973. That’s right, Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court’s ruling making abortion legal in the U.S. Are you aware that when the first Europeans came over to the “new country” abortion was legal here? It was also legal when the Constitution was written and ratified in the 1770’s (it took awhile). It was also legal during the Civil war. Abortion became illegal in the United states around 1880. Now ask yourself why? The short and simple answer is NOT because it is murder and goes against God’s “laws” like most pro-lifers today will answer, but because of white males, more to the point; powerful white males in charge.

The long answer is, by 1880 most states had already banned it except for incases where the mother’s life was in danger. It was a back-lash to the growing suffrage movement and the use of birth control. in an effort to keep women in a traditional child rearing role. It was also a way to control midwives who performed these abortions by the white male medical profession who felt threatened by them. Lastly, it was seen as a preventative to being “outnumbered” by the immigrants coming in from Eastern and Southern Europe during this time. The declining birth rate among women of Western and Northern European descent was seen as “race suicide” and was not taken kindly by the U.S. government or the eugenics movement of the time. so they wanted white U.S. born women to continue to reproduce. Kind of flies in the face of today’s argument that it is un-Christian and/or murder right? However, during the 90 some odd years between the time abortion became illegal and it becoming legal, this is what the government convinced people to think.[3]

Would you be surprised to know that in the 1960’s the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, run by concerned pastors and rabbis, tried to help women in need find a safe place to receive an abortion? Does that sound like it goes against God’s word?[4]

Thanks to the women’s movement during the 1960’s 14 states reformed their abortion laws and 4 states repealed their restrictive laws between 1967 and 1973.[5]

The pro-life movement doesn’t tell you that though, my guess is most of them might not even know about any of that. I know I didn’t, but even with knowing this, I have to say, I’m still not sure I’m for abortion but that’s ok, I don’t have to be. Every woman has the right to make an informed decision about what she feels is right and the Constitution of the U.S. does not allow for laws to be passed that affect only a portion of the population, allegedly. But I suppose my “brainwashing” is going to kick in and say what about the dad’s rights? Oh, well, progress takes time, right?

Abortion/Pro-Choice | Biodork             abortion | Emerald               Ireland Sees Largest-Ever Pro-Life Rally, 60,000 Protest ...

[1][2] (Moberg, 2013 316-317)

[3][4][5] (History of Abortion in the U.S. 2016, website)

Moberg, Mark. 2013. Engaging Anthropological Theory. New York: Routledge.

Obos Abortion Contributors. “History of Abortion in the U.S.” (accessed May 6, 2018).


4 thoughts on “Foucault and “brainwashing by the state”.

  1. I love this analysis! When we were looking at Foucault in class I was very intrigued by his argument about just what power is. I never thought to apply it to Roe vs. Wade and the prolife/prochoice movements. You did a really good job with the historical research on abortion too. Too often because people say that it’s always been “this way” people just believe it and don’t do any research! It baffles me. If college has taught me anything its how to research and construct a good argument and to open my mind to other ideas. I believe that this analysis is a good way at showing that though some might not personally agree with abortion the history of banning the procedure is fraught with control and that limiting a woman’s rights over her own body is purely a method of control in the state, not a method of preventing the termination of fetuses.

    1. Thank you Rory, to be fair, I would not even have known to research this if Dr. Bruce hadn’t mentioned abortion in one of his classes several semesters ago. This led me to research it more and find out that abortion was legal in the U.S. way longer than it was illegal.

  2. I really like looking at this subject through this way. I didn’t know about any of this until reading your post. It should also be noted that there is an increasing argument that abortions are thought of as oppressing the black communities. The argument is that the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, actually started it to keep black populations down. So now are we seeing how abortion and anti-abortion arguments are rooted in oppressive grounds? While most of the knowledge we have says no, it has still become a prominent argument for going back to anti-abortion times.

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