The Ascendancy of Finance
The Ascendancy of Finance
Economy and Government
The Economic Realm
The distinction between economics and politics is insufficient, then, to define the structures of power in the contemporary financial-economic regime. Indeed, the processes of functional dedifferentiation connected to it refer back to a history of older constellations and procedures. Even during its emergence, the modern craft of government was marked by the interpenetration of both realms; and what might be termed the 'governmentalization' of the state since the late seventeenth century refers to the systematic integration of economic objects and principles into the practice of politics. 1 After the end of the Thirty Years War, a new field of state intervention entered the frame in connection with major social and economic change - including demographic growth, an increase in agricultural production and the monetization and internationalization of the markets. Pertaining to the complex relations between territories, populations and resources, this henceforth received the title of Oeconomy or 'political economy'. Absolutist theories of sovereignty had defined the state as a legal construction, as an autonomous and unitary source of power, and as 'rightly ordered government'; 2 in view of the state's new role, however, a separation took place between legal principles and the maxims of government. All legal formulas, 'all supposed laws of nature that flow from borrowed theorems', now seemed to be mere 'chimeras of the learned'. 3 The concrete, historical existence of state entities henceforth manifested itself alongside legal abstractions, assuming an objectivity evoked less by governments and laws, constitutions and dynasties, than by a range of factors and data, such as the size, character and condition of the population, forms of production and commerce, quantities of mobile and immobile goods, climate, moral constitutions, illnesses and accidents, the circulation of money, and the fertility of the land. 4 The question of government was determined by the manifold relations between people and things, by social interaction as a whole; it ceased to concern merely the rule of force and potestas and came to refer to a potential or a capacity, to a specific form of power, whose early and perhaps most concise definition was provided by Leibniz: 'regionis potentia consistit in terra, rebus, hominibus' ('the strength of a land is constituted by territory, things and people'). 5
The category of the economic is thus connected to an extensive re-organization of governmental knowledge from the end of the seventeenth century. The concept of 'economy' became synonymous with a form of government operating at a specific level of reality in modern societies, one that cannot be understood in terms of laws and legal forms. Symptomatic of it were new varieties of knowledge, ranging from German cameralism to French physiocracy, which inherited older forms of mercantilism and focused on an expanding field of political empiricism. This 'economic' knowledge assumed a privileged position in the self-conception of state entities, distinguishing itself through its reference to a materiality in social life, in which people transacted with one another prior to appearing as legal subjects or moral persons.
One of the early systematic studies in this field, Christoph Heinrich Amthor's Project der Oeconomic in Form einer Wissenschaft ('The project of the economic in the form of a science') of 1716, set out the various dimensions of this new economic form of governmental knowledge. It is characterized, first, by its empirical approach. Measuring itself against the experiential sciences, it is concerned with 'nothing but real things' and strives for an encyclopaedic broadening of its topics - from state finances to trade, from farming to manufacture, from cattle rearing to mining. Second,