Rejecting both Enlightenment glorification and Foucaultian unmasking.
Michel Foucault famously begins his Discipline and Punish (1975) with a harrowing account of the public drawing and quartering of one Damiens, convicted of attempted regicide, in Paris in 1757. No distressing detail of his dismemberment is spared. The point? We moderns don’t do that today. The moral? Certainly not a celebration of another triumph of modernity and Enlightenment. Foucault claims, instead, that we have moved to other, less dramatic and visible, but more insidious and effective ways of “disciplining” populations.
In this short but rich work, interweaving philosophical sophistication, sociological analysis, and historical erudition, Hans Joas, professor of social thought at the University of Chicago, rejects both Enlightenment glorification and Foucaultian unmasking. Joas is neither triumphalist nor deprecatory about this transformation, or about other modern moral advances—among them, the delegitimization of torture, the abolition of slavery, post-Nazi dignitarian constitutionalism, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and, most centrally and broadly, the now ubiquitous discourse of human rights.