Triantafyllos Sermetis
          Doctor of Philosophy                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Aristotle University of Thessaloniki




Since the beginning of time, when human began to realize his existence, he entered the world by finding a fission of himself. This rift lies in the fact that self-consciousness is seen as something else, namely as an elusive subject, which bears some characteristics that constitute its unity and follow the entire subject. This contradicts a reality of conflict within the inner world of the self; this perceived reality is the unity of the self, which human feels nostalgic about[1], and his aim is to constantly intensify his effort to identify the Ego with himself. This is the drama of life. As a result, the subject feels exiled from himself, far from the view of the good that constitutes the exalting destination of human. However, in external reality, human, in his inter-subjectivity, tends to be perceived as the whole of the subject. Relating to other subjects, human is accepted or rejected as a whole. In other words, one could liken human to a painting, which depicts a reality using tangible materials, but, at the same time, it carries a meaning which is not easily perceived in the external perceptible reality. The balance of the subject between his physical and metaphysical existence is the one that largely determines the subject himself. The softening of the subject’s two selves and the realization of this fact can cause the feeling of shame, as the tug-of-war of two unidentifiable selves is discovered and brings about a kind of embarrassment. This kind of feeling is caused because when an external mechanism, with authoritarian tendencies, invades the subject's interior creating guilt for an event, then the subject tends to disorganize himself, resulting in objectifying himself, questioning the value of his own existence and totally re-evaluating his judgment as well as reinterpreting his actions based on new criteria. It is, in short, an alteration and perversion of human nature. Beyond the shame that the Ego may feel about himself, the emotion transcending this fact is that the subject feels ashamed on behalf of another subject. Based on these characteristics, he undertakes the pain and the impossibility of splitting another self, revealing the tragedy of existence. This leads to questioning the meaning of life. At this point, in my opinion, the most important element of the concept of shame, regarding the existence of human, is brought forth; this is the self-consciousness of the non-identification of the Ego with itself, resulting in the impossibility of interpreting the external reality. The subject is unable to perceive the truth in its entirety and to define the external reality. Therefore, he internalizes the truth within the limits of his own subjectivity. This kind of subjective truth is the defense mechanism of his life; in this way, he makes his life meaningful. This need constitutes a matter of life and death for existence itself. Any attempt to violate this truth has disastrous effects. Thus, man submits to the constructed forms of truth offered to him, as there is an insatiable need for truth. In this regard, human is asked to transcend himself, in order to define his position as regards the two paths of opened potential; submission to authoritarianism or liberation from every power. To the extent that this does not happen and human does not activate the power of will, then he remains in control of power.

  1. 1.The Power as a Relationship

In modern times, the one who was particularly concerned with the theory of power was Foucault[2]. In his analysis, he pointed out that in the history of philosophy there was no structured theory of power. Until then, all issues related to power remained in the external field, and were examined only on legal basis and according to the analysis of the constituent elements of the state, without an ontological analysis of the actual concept of power. Therefore, Foucault argues that there is an inescapable need that power be viewed with different conceptual criteria. He seeks the foundation of power beyond any socio-economic structure and proposes that political thought be freed from the domination of the legal existence of the concept[3]. From the beginning of the establishment of social organization, political theory, according to Foucault, is connected exclusively with the monarch as an institution. This perception needs to cease to exist and we should not focus on the power related to any kind of government: "We must cut off the king's head", he writes emphatically[4]. Power does not operate in terms of the so-called market, it is not a thing that is purchased and sold, nor, of course, is it inherited. Power relations are not beyond social relations; truth lies in exactly the opposite statement. In all kinds of relationships, there are authoritarian correlations that determine them decisively, resulting in shaping them conclusively. Within this framework, economic relations are formed, as well as any kind of relations in all fields of life. As a result, there is a perpetual conflict within the bounds of power relations[5]. It is, therefore, self-evident that power is not the property of any particular individual or group; nor, of course, is it the prerogative of certain political bodies or institutions. Power permeates all layers of social life, from interpersonal relationships to all state or social relations. Thus, power consists of many different powers and, in particular, power relations. Finally, Foucault emphatically claims that there is a relational conception of power[6]. According to the above, the study of power should be redefined and not follow the traditional perceptions that exist so far. Power stems from intersubjective relations and follows an upward course, which then is diffused into institutions and bodies. The power of the state and institutions cannot be understood without analysing the source of power first. Institutions and the state, as abstract concepts, do not convincingly explain the concept of power. It is important to understand that the subjects set the actions of institutions as well as the action of the state in motion, through a network of power relations, as the attempt of the subjects to impose on weaker forces seems to be the normal course. Therefore, power crosses the basis of the relational perceptions of society, in order to rise to group mechanisms and return to the base in the form of the state and institutions. It is, in short, a two-way dialectical relationship of power, of the society and the institutions, and not a closed circuit of mechanisms[7]. Consequently, no central government can function without power relations at the intersubjective level[8]. The power clearly moves beyond the limitations of the state; however, the state keeps on playing the most important role as regards the regulation of social relations. Undoubtedly, the state does not have the capacity to overshadow all areas of power relations and it can only function within these power relations. Therefore, revolution is actually a different form of human relations, resulting in the differentiation of institutions and the state; these factors sum up and represent a multiple grid of relations of the social base. This means that the notion of a centre of power, from which everything stems and diffuses into a society, cannot be valid[9].

  1. 2.The Reality of Power

At the core of Foucault's in-depth analysis of the issue of power lies his thorough research, proposing that power is not related to denial[10]. If we dwell only on the prevailing perception that power is an oppressive mechanism and nothing else, then it is impossible to correctly interpret what is happening, because we simply examine the legal aspect. Power has another side, the productive one. The reason for its resilience is, in large part, the fact that it produces things, knowledge and noesis. This grid of productivity covers the entire social sphere[11]. If power were only oppressive and nothing else, it could be easily broken up by an uprising. Its resilience is attributed to the fact that it can produce positive results in terms of knowledge, speech and instincts[12].

Foucault focuses on the fact that power relations, under normal circumstances, are not relations of violence. Oppression and violence aim at the restriction of the subject, while, power, on the contrary, aims at the formation of the subject[13]. Power, according to Foucault, is the action of one person or a group of people aiming to create specific active behaviours. It is the action on top of other actions, namely the ability to affect relationships. From the moment that power is practised, its goal is to delineate behaviours and structure them properly, in order to create a network of relationship fields[14]."Power," Foucault argues, "is not so much of a front-line confrontation of two rivals than of a ruling class[15]". He emphasizes, however, that the concept of power should not be associated with the governmental management of the state, as it refers exclusively to the way it is practiced in the conduct of individuals or groups. When power is perceived in this way, its necessary condition is the existence of "free subjects[16]". It should be noted that power could not explain all areas of action. Foucault himself believed that power does not stand for universal power[17]. He argued that power is not omnipotent and, for this reason, power relations, in the basic structure of a society, could be consolidated. If power were omnipotent, such a thing could not happen. This is evidenced by the fact that there are various techniques and tools in order for the power to gain more power[18]. He claims, in an almost paradoxical way, that "precisely because there is no omnipotent power, there are ubiquitous power relations[19]". Foucault argues that resistance is more real and drastic, as far as it is produced where power relations are exercised[20].

The state power formulates its legal system selectively and chooses which behaviours are tolerable and which are not. Moreover, it ostentatiously ignores the law of nature, imposing its will based on selfish criteria[21]. Nietzsche argues that the stronger and more collective a society is, the softer the legal system is, as there is no need for hostile action in a harmonious community, whereas, the weaker a community is at the collective level and more sick at its core, the stricter criminal law it adopts[22]. Technological development based on scientific positivism is an aid to politics that seek to impose a regime of social control and discipline[23]. Therefore, prison, for Foucault, is nothing but a way of enforcing this disciplinary power. The state mechanism of power uses rational knowledge in order to produce the truth that will serve itself. From the moment that restriction, as a means of punishment, was established in human communities, a new era of discipline of the social organization was imposed. This means that the mechanism of power defines not only the criminal act but also other forms of human behaviour[24]. Foucault made a more detailed analysis of punishment, regarding the content of punishment, focusing on why a society punishes and how it punishes. In the criminal field, according to Foucault, punishment failed but it succeeded at the political level, as the political power managed to eradicate the elements that posed a threat to its existence[25].


According to the above analysis concerning Foucault's relational conception of power, the way the concept of power arises in human nature cannot easily be explained, mainly because of the fact that, while the starting point of his analysis is Nietzsche's thought, the concept of power has a migratory effect on the subject, as power is only partially related to the level of structures and institutions. The subject does not clearly exist within the grid and network of these relationships. It seems that the concept of power, for Foucault, does not always have or does not mainly have negative connotations, with the exception of governmental power exercise. In the grid of relationships, Foucault judges power in a positive way and he believes that this is how relationships should be shaped. If, however, the concept of power involves, at the very least, nuggets of domination as well as force of imposition of one subject upon another, one could not claim that this is a positive perception. There is a sense that the concept of power is neutralized when explained and there is no such thing as the intense burden of subjective perspective. When concepts distance themselves from the self, the dynamics of their interpretation is lost and their real content cannot be rendered.


Andriopoulou Th., Poulantza N., - Michel Foucault: "gladiators" or "accomplices", journal Utopia, vol. 72, p. 56.

Foucault M., The History of Sexuality I. The Thirst for Knowledge, Ed. Rappa, Athens 1978.

Foucault M., The Microphysics of Power, Ed. Ypsilon, Athens 1991.

Foucault M., Thoughts on Marxism, Phenomenology and Power, trans. Th. Lagios, Ed. Futura, Athens 2013.

Foucault M., The Eye of Power, trans. T. Mpetzelos, Ed. Vania, Athens 2008.

Foucault M., Surveillance and Punishment, The Birth of Prison, trans. T. Betzelou, Ed. Rappa, Athens 2008.

Foucault M., Power, Knowledge and Ethics, trans. Z. Sarikas, Ed. Ypsilon, Athens 2007.

Nietzsche F., The Genealogy of Ethics, trans. Z. Sarikas, Ed. Panoptikon, Athens 2010.

Nietzsche F., The Will for Power, trans. Z. Sarikas, Ed. Panoptikon, Thessaloniki 2014.


[1]The word “nostalgia” is composed of words nostos+algos (pain). It is about the longing to return to a place that has pleasant memories. This at the same time causes pain. The question that arises is why it causes pain. In my opinion, it causes pain when an event that has been experienced, rather involves the feeling of incompleteness. The incomplete creates feelings of lack or deprivation, promise or some kind of debt as far as the event mentioned above is concerned. Therefore, nostalgia is an emotion, which probably involves strong feelings of guilt, for the place we want to return to. In any case, the concept of nostalgia, in my opinion, is an issue that could be thoroughly considered as a separate topic.

[2]Foucault M., Power, Knowledge and Ethics, trans. Z. Sarikas, Ed. Ypsilon, Athens 2007.

[3]Christou S., "The Issue of Power in Althusser and Foucault", journal Thesis, March-April 2006, vol. 94.

[4]Foucault M., Power, Knowledge and Ethics, p. 24, trans. Z. Sarikas, Ed. Ypsilon, Athens 2007.

[5]At this point Foucault strongly reminds us of Nietzsche's analysis of his work The Will for Power. In this work, it is characteristic that the opposing forces try to dominate each other and the tendency of the force is to gain vital space. See Nietzsche F., The Will for Power, trans. Z. Sarikas, Ed. Panoptikon, Thessaloniki 2014.

[6]Foucault M., The History of Sexuality I. The Thirst for Knowledge, p. 117, Ed. Rappa, Athens 1978. While on p. 115, he mentions the following characteristics:By the term power, I think we should, first of all, define the multitude of power relations that exist within the space they are exercised and are constituent of their organization. The game that transforms them, through incessant struggles and conflicts, strengthens them and reverses them. The support found among themselves leading to the formation of a chain or system, or, conversely, the discrepancies and the contradictions that isolate one from another. Finally, the strategies with which they are activated; the latter’s general plan or their institutional crystallization is implemented in the state mechanisms as well as in the formulation of the law and in the social hegemonies”.

[7]Foucault M., Power, Knowledge and Ethics, p. 120, trans. Z. Sarikas, Ed. Ypsilon, Athens 2007.

[8]See also, p. 123.

[9]See also, p. 25.

[10]He sharpness states that society needs to stop simply describing the effects of power in negative terms: "In reality," Foucault argues, "power produces, produces something real, and produces areas of objects and rituals of truth. Power produces reality."

[11]Foucault M., Power, Knowledge and Ethics, p. 21, trans. Z. Sarikas, Ed. Ypsilon, Athens 2007.

[12]Foucault M., The Eye of Power, p. 77, trans. T. Mpetzelos, Ed. Vania, Athens 2008.

[13]Andriopoulou Th., Poulantza N., - Michel Foucault: "gladiators" or "accomplices", journal Utopia, vol. 72, p. 56.

[14]Foucault M., The Microphysics of Power, p. 93, Ed. Ypsilon, Athens 1991.

[15]See also, p. 92.

[16]See also, p. 94, since the basic premise, for Foucault, of authoritarian relations is the existence of free subjects, the conflicts are impossible to stop. For these reasons, it is considered impossible to have a society without power relations.

[17]Foucault M., The Eye of Power, pp. 207-298, trans. T. Mpetzelos, Ed. Vania, Athens 2008.

[18]Foucault M., Thoughts on Marxism, Phenomenology and Power, trans. Th. Lagios, p. 41, Ed. Futura, Athens 2013.

[19]See also, p. 42.

[20]Foucault M., The Eye of Power, p. 177, trans. T. Mpetzelos, Ed. Vania, Athens 2008.

[21]Foucault M., Surveillance and Punishment, The Birth of Prison, p. 78, trans. T. Mpetzelou, Ed. Rappa, Athens 2008.

[22]Nietzsche F., The Genealogy of Ethics, p. 106, trans. Z. Sarikas, Ed. Panoptikon, Athens 2010.

[23]Foucault M., Surveillance and Punishment, The Birth of Prison, p. 79, trans. T. Mpetzelou, Ed. Rappa, Athens 2008.

[24]See also, p.391.

[25]The issue that Foucault deals with, that is the relationship between power and punishment, escapes the research interests of this article, as, in my opinion, it is of special interest, to which researchers need to focus their attention.