The Police and Critical Theory

in Theoria
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‘No government can protect the rights of citizens without rigorous police, but the difference between a free regime and a tyrannical one is that, in the former, the police are employed against that minority opposed to the general good as well as against the abuse and negligence of the authorities; whereas, in the latter the State police are employed against the down-trodden who are thus delivered into the hands of injustice and impunity’.

This declaration was not a reaction to the Marikana massacre (16 August 2012), when a British mining company operating in South Africa had a special unit of the post-Apartheid South African Police Service murderously repress a mine workers strike, by means of mass shooting; many of those killed were later found to have been shot in the back as they ran away from the volley of bullets. It was made about two hundred and twenty years before, in April 1794, when revolutionary France was experiencing its most tragic moments. In the context of the Terror, and facing the necessity to discipline it, its author, Saint-Just (1767–1794), redeployed some of the most classical concepts in the History of Political Thought – freedom versus tyranny, general good versus particular interest, elite accountability versus impunity of power – in order to provide the ideological principles framing the organisation, within the web of the revolutionary police, of a special office in charge of the surveillance of the Executive and of public authorities.

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory