Foucault, Michel. 1991. “Governmentality.” In The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, edited by Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller, 87–104. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Check out this (YouTube video, 11 minutes), this (Encyclopedia Britannica entry) and this (learned introduction from the blog, Critical Legal Thinking), in order, before proceeding. Or better not proceed!
Political writing concerning the ‘art’ of government — of the self (by, well, the self), of souls (by the priest), of children (by the father/teacher) and, especially, of the state (by the prince) — develops and flourishes starting from the 16th century. Questions concerning “how to be ruled, how strictly, by whom, to what end, by what methods, etc.” become salient in this period thanks to the double movement of state centralisation due to the fall of feudalism and religious rupture due to the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.
This development may be fruitfully examined against the backdrop of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince which is the starting point and well as the point of departure for the literature on the art of government.
The art of government that Machiavelli’s work presented was centred on the interest of the prince.This prince is external to the principality and the link between the two is merely synthetic. This being so, the link is fragile and constantly under threat. If the prince want to maintain his principality, he has to strengthen this link and is this link — “the prince’s relation with what he own” — that is the object of Machiavelli’s art of government.
It is this notion of the art of government — that of maintaining a principality — that is being questioned by the new political writing. Consider Guillaue de La Perrière’s Miroir Politique.
Firstly, it is recognised that the art of government in not to be associated with the prince alone. There are — as mentioned in the beginning — multiple forms of government which are immanent within the state, for example, the government of the family. The task is to establish linkages between these different forms of government. In fact, the art of government in this literature, is concerned with extending the model of family management ([private] economy) to the state (political economy). This model implies exercising “a form of surveillance and control as attentive as that of the head of a family over his household and goods.”
Secondly, government is defined as “the right disposition of things, arranged so as to lead to a convenient end.” The ‘things’ are neither the subjects nor the territory in which they live. Rather they are men in their relations with material things, with culture and with natural events. Government relates to this complex of men and things of which men and their territory are only variables.
Thirdly, government is directed to ‘a convenient end’. In La Perrière, this end is not “the form of the common good” — for Samuel Pufendorf, ‘public utility’; for Machiavelli, maintenance of the principality — but rather something which is “‘convenient’ for each of the things that are to be governed.” The end then is not a singular and circular one but a purality of specific ends. They are to be attained by disposing — managing, or arranging — things in ways such that the specific ends may be achieved.
Lastly, the wisdom of the ruler or governor, understood as knowledge of the things he manages and his diligence, understood as acting in such a way as if he were in the service of those he is governing, are essential to government.
This abstract notion of the art of government did not remain abstract but first got concretized in the notion of the ‘reason of state’ in the late 16th and early 17th century. The reason of state simply refers to the idea that the state could be governed according to rational principles. But the growth of the art of government was frustrated by 17th century political and economic crises as well as the pre-eminence of the question of sovereignty.
Mercantilism represents the first application of the art of government. It is the “first rationalisation of the exercise of power as a practice of government”. However, as its object was the sovereign’s might, and its instruments — laws, decrees, regulations — those of sovereignty, it remained immobilized by the institution of sovereignty.
On the one hand, then, the art of government was hampered by the rigid, large, and abstract framework of sovereignty. On the other hand, it suffered because of its reliance on the weak model of the family. (How could this model hope to succeed at the level of the state?)
The rigid framework of sovereignty was broken through the rise of the science of government in the ‘economic’ plane which enabled reflection on the art of government outside the juridical framework of sovereignty.
The limiting model of the family was overcome through the emergence of ‘population’ which replaced the family as a model for government and relegated it to the role of a ‘privileged instrument’. The population — the interests of its constituents, understood collectively as well as individually — became the end of government, that is to say, the target of its tactics. The population also constituted the domain whose knowledge it was essential for the ruler to have. In short, the population became the new subject.
The new science called political economy arises out of the perception of new networks of continuous and multiple relations between population, territory and wealth; and this is accompanied by the formation of a type of intervention characteristic of government, namely intervention in the field of economy and population. In other words, the transition which takes place in the 18th century from an art of government to a political science, from a regime dominated by structures of sovereignty to one ruled by techniques of government, turns on the theme of population and hence also on the birth of political economy.
Having said these, neither sovereignty nor discipline became less important as the art of government developed. The former had to be given a juridical foundation and the latter had to be inculcated to manage the population.
Governmentality, to conclude, is the ‘ensemble’ of “institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, the calculations and tactics” which realise government. It is the tendency that has led to the pre-eminence of government (over other forms of power like sovereignty, discipline). It is the process through which the state has become governmentalized.
Maybe what is really important for our modernity — that is, for our present — is not so much the étatisation of society as the ‘governmentalization’ of the state.
 Whether or not this interpretation is correct is not important. What is important is the it was interpreted in this way.
“Let us leave aside the question of whether the interpretation of Machiavelli in these debates was accurate or not.” (p. 89)
 The link between the father and the child in a family, in contrast, is natural and ‘essential’.
 See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Political Economy.
 Consider this metaphor. To govern a ship means to take care of the ship and sailors. But it also means to take care of its cargo, to reckon with storms, to establish relations between the sailors and the cargo and the ship all of which are to be taken care of. Government relates to this complex of men and things.
 Foucault contrasts sovereignty with government as part of this point. The end of sovereignty, understood as the common good, is achieved essentially by obedience to the law, which is given by the sovereign. The purpose of sovereignty then is served by the exercise of sovereignty. The end of government, on the other hand, is a plurality of specific ends which are convenient for each of the things governed and which will be achieved through a mutiplicity of tactics, of which law is but only one. The purpose of government is served by the application of tactics to the things it manages.
 “[F]irst the Thirty Years War with its ruin and devastation; then in the mid-century the peasant and urban rebellions; and finally the financial crisis, the crisis of revenues which affected all Western monarchies at the end of the century.” (p. 97)