White guilt can serve as a disciplinary technique imposed on one group by another. The externality of the imposition makes it different than most of the cases of discipline discussed by Foucault. This involves something more like a direct, if underhanded, act of aggression/power meant to destabilize one’s opponent than the rational development of a population. In Security, Foucault introduces four apparatuses/dispositifs of security: spaces, treatment of the uncertain, normalization (which he says is different than disciplinary normalization), and the emergence of the notion and reality of ‘population’. The last is closest to my interest: the emergence of the notion and reality… – and how this served / is serving to discipline/sap people.
… As Foucault notes, Discipline is exercised on the bodies of individuals; but only exists insofar as there is a multiplicity and an end or a result to be obtained (school, penal and military), of fixing points of implementation. Individuals are not worked on as individuals but are understood as individuals within some whole that is being worked on. So, sovereignty, discipline, and security can only be concerned with multiplicities.
Privilege-guilt is not exercised on the bodies of individuals, but rather on their souls. If whites or males are privileged because they constitute the power structure, a different group might overthrow their power in direct conflict, or they might, in a more indirect or underhanded fashion, attempt to sap the traditional power through a sort of collective poisoning of the soul. Viewed from this perspective, White Privilege is understood as one chapter in a cyclical, epic story that goes something like this: One group of people comes to a land and conquers it, establishes a new civilization on top of the old. The new rulers are not the same group or race as the conquered people. A system is set up whereby the conquerors rule over a subject people. Often the weaker people accept the rule of the conquerors because it is no more odious than that of those who ruled them before – their misrule indeed being one of the reasons why they were conquered. A priesthood is established to assure the people that their submission is divinely sanctioned – with the religion being a hybrid. So long as violence is successfully enacted to preserve the power of the conquerors, they remain occupied and retain the noble, martial spirit that led to their initial success. Eventually, however, they are either defeated or things settle in such a way that the noble, martial spirit becomes less important in the administration of power. It is during this time that the priesthood begin to assume a different, more important role. For years they have held the responsibility of educating the people, reading the will of the gods, and interpreting the holy texts. Over time they “come to realize” that god does not favor those with aristocratic qualities but rather those with priestly qualities. This is taught to the people (including the children of the aristocrats). The effect is either a crisis of identity that weakens the people and opens them up to outside threats or an internal revolution led by the priests in the name of the people. This latter option is rare because the priests have disciplined themselves in way that are not suited to direct conflict. So they usually either foment strife from within, leading a zealous member of the lesser nobility to fight on their behalf, or less frequently, inviting in an outside power.
This narrative is not my creation, as many who read this will well know. But for those who have not done so already, the account can be read in different forms in Nietzsche and Spengler. The point is that the current attempt to make people feel guilty for their privilege is not a new game. Readers of history recognize the ancient tactic for what it is: an attempt by the priests (academics) to use the skills they possess (indoctrination, moralizing, etc.) to overthrow or at least weaken the more noble classes and profit from the power siphoned off. But because the priests aren’t going to fight anyone directly, the subterfuge works most effectively when the priests/educators can poison the soul of the members of the privileged class by making them forget the discipline, bold actions, and sacrifices of their ancestors. This, in turn, works best when the ruling class has, due to education and lack of need, abandoned the values that made them a conquering people.