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“Make a Hard Push for It”: The Benthams, Foucault, and the Panopticons’ Roots in the Paris École Militaire

  • Haroldo A. Guízar
Cover of Volume 37, 2018, pp. 1-230, Lumen

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“… il faut un grand génie pour construire une belle machine, il ne faut qu’un génie médiocre, pour la conserver en mouvement.”

Abbé Castel de Saint-Pierre, “Projet pour perfectionner l’éducation” in Oeuvres diverses, Vol. I (Paris, 1730)

“I was a military hero for a night—patrolling the streets under arms.”[1] Thus wrote Jeremy Bentham to his brother Samuel in the aftermath of the Gordon Riots, describing his stint as a gentleman volunteer in the improvised corps formed by the lawyers of the Inns of Court. Samuel Romilly was another of Bentham’s fellow volunteers who “was up a whole night under arms, and stood as sentinel for several hours” at the Inns’ gates during the riots.[2] The Morning Chronicle praised the “laudable spirit” with which the embodied lawyers took up arms and “kept watch within the walls of their respective societies”; however, when some lawyers-in-arms attempted to confront rioters near Temple an “officer shut the gate on them, explaining that ‘I do not choose to allow my soldiers to be shot.’”[3] From Bentham’s account, it would nonetheless seem that some barristers did manage to emerge from the confines of their walls to assist in the peacekeeping of the City’s devastated streets in the riots’ aftermath, even if William Pitt lamented that “our military ardour has been thrown away.”[4] Within a decade, Bentham took the opportunity to don “the mantle of a military strategist” by designing a fortified perimeter for the panopticon intended to prevent a repeat of the storming of Newgate prison by the Gordon Riot mobs.[5] Later, “in moments of fantasy … Bentham himself harboured military ambitions,” fancying himself the head of a corps “raised from amongst the Panopticon inmates, and … taking charge of their drill and training.”[6] Such reveries, which might otherwise be ascribed to his well-known eccentricity, perhaps take another light in view of his actual embodiment, however brief, as a ‘citizen soldier’ in an antecedent to the military body later dubbed the ‘Devil’s Own’ by George III.[7]

The panopticon scheme itself can be interpreted as partially owing its conception and form to several military models, one such lineage being the various Renaissance ideal cities either imagined or constructed as circular walled strongholds, such as Filarete’s Sforzinda or Palmanova in the Veneto.[8] This article intends to examine a more immediate military model for the panopticon: the Paris École militaire. As such, it aims to provide an overview of the school’s role as a precedent to the various forms different panopticons took, a role which though occasionally noted has never been analysed.[9] The École militaire was a school founded in 1751 to educate the children of provincial nobles for a career in arms, counting Napoleon Bonaparte as its most famous alumnus. It ought to be borne in mind that in the eighteenth century, the École militaire was located in open countryside and was not considered part of Paris proper. Like the basilica of “Saint-Jean-de-Latran, à Rome, il ne manque pour paraître ce qu’elle est, que de se trouver au milieu de la ville,” a development that only came about with the urbanization of the plain of Grenelle on which it stood in the second half of the nineteenth century.[10] Stylistically, it is considered the chef d’oeuvre of its principal architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel and the exemplar par excellence of the neo-classical Louis XV style,[11] although it now stands in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, which rises opposite it on the Champ de Mars; this field was originally created by the school for the students’ military drill and manoeuvres.[12]

Before continuing to the main body of the article, a short outline of its overall structure is given here. The influence of the École militaire on the panopticon was originally mentioned by Jeremy Bentham and subsequently repeated by Michel Foucault.[13] The first section considers Foucault’s role in interpreting Bentham and the panopticon, and it overlaps with the following section, which deals with the evolution of the Bentham brothers’ panopticon schemes in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These sections’ principal argument is that the panopticon was not a failure but rather a project whose principles were adopted in prisons around the world. The discussion then gives a short account of the École militaire’s architectural antecedents before proceeding to the second half of the article, which focuses principally on the experiences of the Bentham brothers during their various trips to France in the 1770s and 80s. This is in order to trace Samuel’s heretofore ignored visit to the École militaire during his sole trip abroad prior to his joining the Russian service. In so doing, various other topics are touched on, including the suitability of the term ‘panopticon’ as a metaphor and a heretofore unperceived crossroads of the High and Military Enlightenments on the outskirts of Paris. After a brief description of the school’s punitive practices, the article closes by considering an explanation suggested by Foucault for the design and implementation of its disciplinary structures, one that goes beyond simply ascribing them to an attempt to create docile bodies.

Since the publication of Surveiller et Punir in 1975 and its 1977 English translation, Foucault’s account of the panopticon has become and remains a key touchpoint on the subject. His methods and conclusions, although the subject of numerous and often strong criticisms,[14] have been admirably examined and explained by Stuart Elden.[15] Among the numerous points Elden makes in Chapter 5 of his 2001 monograph on Foucault’s spatial histories and analyses, one of the most important is that his project’s focus was not merely the prison but the soul, namely the soul as “‘the prison of the body,’” and that Foucault’s intention was to “‘write the history of this prison,’” and “not the prison (Elden’s emphasis).”[16] From this point flow five insights, the first of which is the most relevant here: that “the most viable model for the disciplined society is not the prison, but the army.”[17] This all comes in a section Elden labels ‘Not Through Bentham’s Eyes’; as he explains some pages later, this is because “in looking at the role of Bentham in Discipline and Punish, we need to look at panopticism, rather than the panopticon. The former, although it bears a Benthamite designation, is much older than the 1791 text.”[18] For instance, as Jean Chagniot shows, proposals were being put forth in the ancien régime by officers tasked with upholding public order and security to deploy surveillance to follow “de la façon la plus stricte les déplacements de tous les habitants du royaume.”[19] Elden, though far from questioning the importance of Bentham, emphasizes the point that his panopticon “is the culmination of a variety of technologies of power rather than their beginning.”[20] Bentham for his part freely admitted that he borrowed and did not coin the neologism ‘panopticon’;[21] and it would hardly be an exaggeration to read Foucault as implying that if Bentham hadn’t invented the panopticon, someone else would have. This is perhaps best illustrated by the mid-eighteenth century circular prison design by Jean-François Neufforge as well as his two drawings for manèges and stables from volume two of his Recueil élémentaire d’architecture.[22] The second of these drawings features a central ‘X’ layout that clearly anticipates some later radial plans such as that by William Stark for his early nineteenth-century Glasgow Asylum.[23] Moreover, lest the example of equine architecture be considered a dubious precedent, it should be remembered that Bentham himself conceived of “a Panopticon chicken coop called the Ptenotrophium.”[24]

Jeremy Bentham’s failure to have his panopticon built has led many observers to assume that no actual panopticon was ever erected and to criticize Foucault for exaggerating its influence in the nineteenth century as well as distorting his account of disciplinary society’s development. In note 59 of his last chapter, Elden counters by asserting that “outside Britain, Panopticons were built” (Elden’s emphasis), citing Norman Johnston’s 1973 study of prison architecture to provide several examples.[25] In the United Kingdom, Robert Adam’s 1791 plans for the new Edinburgh Bridewell reflected the direct, if heavily modified, adaptation of Bentham’s panopticon design.[26] Adams, in a letter of 7 June 1791 to Bentham, noted that he had received from Jeremy “the plans Elevations and sections both of your own and the Russian design,” which may imply that he was shown two possible typologies for a panoptic design. Philip Steadman, in his study of Samuel’s panopticons, surmises that his 1787 nearly-realized plan for a panopticon workshop in Krichev, Russia, featured a radial layout.[27] Without a more detailed description of the two plans sent to Adams, or of models built by Samuel, it is difficult to say what the typology of the “Russian design” was;[28] the Edinburgh Bridewell itself was in the end built with a semicircular layout. Twenty years later, an actual radial panopticon was erected by Samuel in Russia. On 12 April 1806, the deputy minister for the navy Admiral P.V. Chichagov invited Samuel, who was then in St. Petersburgh on official British government business, to undertake various other projects including the setting up of a Panopticon School of Arts. Samuel, encouraged by Jeremy, accepted the proposal, resulting in the construction of the Okhta panopticon (1807).[29] This panopticon had a concrete influence in Russia, described by Jeremy in 1812: “[it] has since been not only finished, and employed with success, but copied in several other private as well as Government establishments in that Empire.”[30]

Steadman, in his description of the Okhta panopticon, states that “with its five wings overseen from the central observatory” it clearly prefigures the design of later radial prisons around the world.[31] The fact that these prisons are generally overlooked in accounts of the panopticon’s architecture and influence may be due to the fact that they are not in the infamous circular form. Understanding the panopticon not simply as a circular but a multi-layout design paradigm reveals its influence and implementation in prisons around the world. A 2015 Spanish thesis on the panopticon lists some 200 panoptic prisons in places reaching from Colombia to Japan, some of which are still in active use as correctional facilities. It describes several variants of panoptic typologies: circular, semi-circular, radial, cross, T- and Y-shaped layouts.[32] Although Foucault mentioned some of these variations in floorplan, he did not mention that the radial design had been anticipated not by Jeremy Bentham’s 1791 plan, but rather by Samuel’s Russian plans for his non-penal panopticons.[33] What Foucault did mention is that the seed for the idea of the Inspection-House, as the Benthams originally called the panopticon, was planted in Samuel’s mind following a visit to the Paris École militaire in the 1770s.[34] Here we must indeed examine the topic not through Jeremy’s eyes, but through Samuel’s.

According to Foucault, Jeremy’s panopticon was the architectural figure of the “mechanisms of power” with which authorities sought to exercise an “individual control function according to a double mode: that of binary division … and that of coercive assignment.”[35] Jeremy Bentham’s own purposes for the panopticon carried elements of binary categorization and punitive measures as well: “the influence of this plan [is] not less beneficial to what is called liberty, than to necessary coercion; not less powerful as a controul (sic) upon subordinate power, than as a curb to delinquency; as a shield to innocence, than as a scourge to guilt.” Accordingly, “so should any departure from it (doing one’s duty) be punished with the more inflexible severity.”[36] Although he was here speaking of the advantages of the architecture’s layout with regards to the supervision of his panopticon’s watchmen and wardens, this in fact went to the heart of the mechanisms of surveillance that were the key to the proper functioning of the Inspection-House. In his 21st Panopticon Letter, Jeremy described how the physical method of inspection at the École militaire had impressed his brother:

the bed-chambers … form two ranges on the two sides of a long room; the inhabitants being separated from one another by partitions, but exposed alike to the view of a master at his walks, by a kind of a grated window in each door. This plan of construction struck him, he tells me, a good deal… If he there borrowed his idea, I hope he has not repaid it without interest. You will confess some difference, in point of facility, between a state of incessant walking and a state of rest; and in point of completeness of inspection, between visiting two or three hundred persons one after another, and seeing them at once.[37]

The idea of complete surveillance in a circular structure seems simple, but the practical difficulties of housing the inspector in the center of the panopticon, keeping him hidden from the inmates’ eyes, and achieving one-way vision led to a modified plan in 1791. In this revised plan, a two-level system of supervision is adopted, with the Inspector in the center observing the warders patrolling on annular galleries, from where they observe the inmate’s cells.[38] Nonetheless, as Steadman shows, even this was not much of an improvement. This is proven by contrasting the isovists (fields of vision) that wardens in a circular and a radial layout have. In a circular building, the isovist is quite limited, the inmate in fact having “a better view than the warder,”[39] while in a radial design it is unlimited. The latter layout was most famously adopted at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania and at Pentonville, London, two key models for numerous later prisons. As Steadman puts it, while “continuous inspection of the interiors of cells has been sacrificed,” the adoption of a new “two-level system of oversight” means that the “guards can approach right up to the cell doors without being observed by the inmates” and catch prisoners unawares. Thus the radial prison “achieves Jeremy’s goal of one-way vision.”[40] The advantages of such designs for surveillance are further explicated in a 2007 interview with Roger Outram, a former prison warder and governor, who posits the view that:

old Victorian designs have advantages in terms of maintaining order over modern modular buildings. ‘People are going back to the radial notion. There are a lot of crucial design advantages. You can stand in the centre and see the whole radial at one glance from ground to roof. One man can see everything. The minute you put a corner in you need to put two more members of staff. You get a sense of a prison immediately.…’[41]

Of the two systems of inspection, the radial system of oversight permitting the undetected approach to inmates’ doors was that which more closely echoed the method employed in the École militaire’s dormitories, reportedly visited by Samuel.

The École militaire itself was not a panopticon in either architectural design or system of administration. The architecture of the École militaire is in a sense the conclusion to a sequence of monumental projects which may be traced back to the Renaissance and Filarete’s 1456 design for a hospital in Milan.[42] Although Filarete’s plan for the Ospedale Maggiore was not accomplished as desired, it was realized first in various sixteenth-century Spanish hospitals and then as part of the royal palace and monastery of El Escorial, built 1563–84.[43] El Escorial in turn served as one of the architectural models for the hôtel des Invalides, designed by Libéral Bruand and erected 1670–74. The Invalides and the charitable girls’ school at Saint-Cyr were the immediate institutional and architectural models for the École militaire.[44] It ought to be noted that an edifice that was begun the same year as the École militaire has been described as a potential alternative source for Jeremy’s panopticon. This is the Albergo dei Poveri of Naples, which was begun in 1751 and was destined to house the indigent poor of the city. The Albergo’s design was partly inspired by Filarete’s Ospedale, and Robin Thomas has argued that Jeremy would likely have known the design of this building thanks to a map of Naples that circulated in London.[45] Be that as it may, the majority of the École militaire’s buildings, excepting the majestic “château” that faces the Champ de Mars, are decidedly prosaic in appearance and purpose, described by French architecture theorist Didier Laroque as forming an ensemble of “juxtapositions plus que des compositions.”[46]

The protracted, much delayed construction of the École militaire took some 20 years to complete, from 1751 to 1773, a period that overlaps with various visits by the Bentham family to Paris up to 1775. Jeremy apparently never visited the school during trips in 1764 and 1770 (or 1785 for that matter), although he may have seen the scaffolding-clad façade of the school from the river Seine on his second trip.[47] Rather more surprisingly, no attempt has been made to trace Samuel’s own visit to the École militaire, where the seed for elements of the panopticon was planted. All the secondary literature seems to content itself with referring to Jeremy Bentham’s 1780s correspondence. There, in a letter addressed to his father, Jeremy gives only an inexact recollection of Samuel’s visit: “… he walked over that establishment (about a dozen years ago, was it not?) with you….”[48] Needless to say, a vague notion repeated over a decade after the event cannot be considered the definitive account, and indeed, Roger Morriss, an expert on Samuel’s life, assumes that he never visited Paris prior to departing for Russia in August 1779.[49]

Determining the facts of this matter is evidently of some importance, not only to determine the movements of Samuel and his family in France, but also in order to have a better idea of what he may or may not have encountered, heard, or known during his time there. If he indeed visited the École militaire, he could have seen not only its architecture but also a whole cross-section of daily life there, as the school was open to the public on selected days. The methods of teaching, worship, and discipline may well have made an impression on the then 19-year-old young man. Furthermore, although studies of such aspects of life in the school do exist, no account has ever been given of the school’s disciplinary structures in English,[50] while the few architectural studies on the school mostly overlook the design and arrangements of its domestic buildings and their interiors; in sum, no study exists that gives more than a brief consideration to the direct influence of the school on the Benthams.

Foucault, the first and only notable scholar to discuss the École militaire’s role in the construction of panopticism, confines his discussion of the school in Surveiller et Punir to little less than a half-dozen pages in the section on docile bodies. He did so there without broaching the topic of its influence on the panopticon, and it is tempting to say that such limited discussion is not good enough.[51] Confining one’s notice to explicit references to the École militaire, however, obscures the numerous other potential approaches his work encourages. Among the many such possible comparisons we have an engraving depicting a dormitory of the collège de Navarre by François-Nicolas Martinet circa 1760 numbered as plate 9 in Surveiller et Punir (omitted from Discipline and Punish). It reveals enough of the interior of a dormitory cell-room to show a boy studying in it. On 20 May 1764, the École militaire’s Inspector-Comptroller-General, M. Cotte, and its in-house architect, M. de la Touche, received orders from the Minister of War to inspect the collège de La Flèche, which was attached to the École militaire following the Jesuits’ expulsion from France.[52] On their return to Paris, Cotte drafted a report of his inspection of La Flèche’s buildings noting the fact that the students’ cells and beds were always infested with insects as a consequence of the time they spent studying in them: “le temps que les enfants passaient dans leurs cellules pour travailler contribuait à y entretenir ces insectes parcequ’on n’avait pas assez de temps pour nettoyer les cellules.”[53] At this time, many of the buildings of the École militaire in Paris were still bâtiments postiches or provisoires, and it is all but certain that the example of La Flèche’s buildings and other collèges directly informed Gabriel’s modification of his plan primitif when conceiving the design and layout of the École militaire’s buildings in the final construction phase of 1768–73, shortly before Samuel’s visit.[54]

Such an approach might go a long way to helping nuance the use of the concept of the ‘panopticon’ and ‘panopticism’ in studies of the government or institutions of ancien régime France (or other periods); until now, such approaches have tended to reduce it to an abstract metaphor, without considering the location of its origin in an institution designed to serve the purposes of an absolutist state. This however is not to lessen its validity as a metaphor. It was used that way nearly from its inception. For instance, “When Burke was shown the plan he turned towards its author, saying: ‘Yes, there’s the keeper—the spider in his web!’”; William Wilberforce wrote “… I am delighted by seeing with my mind’s Eye, your Honour like a great Spider seated in ye Center (sic) of yr. Panopticon.”[55] Although Bentham and his contemporaries were probably unaware of the fact, the conceptual image of the spider as an omniscient entity dates back at least to the Renaissance architect and humanist Leon Battista Alberti’s treatise I Libri della Famiglia:[56]

You know the spider and how he constructs his web. All the threads spread out in rays, each of which, however long, has its source, its roots or birthplace … at the center … The most industrious creature himself then sits at that spot and has his residence there. He remains in that place once his work is spun and arranged, but keeps so alert and watchful that if there is a touch on the finest and most distant thread he feels it instantly, instantly appears, and instantly takes care of the situation.…[57]

As several scholars have pointed out, Samuel Bentham’s original 1786–87 plan for a panopticon was meant to have been a workshop to better facilitate his supervision of the Englishmen under him in Krichev, and thus fits in well with the idea of the panopticon as an implement to improve work rate and productivity through centralized surveillance.[58]

With these issues in mind, we can turn our attention to Samuel’s visit to Paris. If Jeremy’s recollection serves right, his letter, written from Russia in 1787, would have placed his brother at the École militaire circa 1775. We know from several letters that in July of 1775 Samuel and his parents travelled to Caen, Normandy on holiday to visit relatives and acquaintances there and to allow Samuel to improve his French. Several letters from Jeremy, who stayed in England, are full of hope for an eventual visit by Samuel to Paris. This is even though Jeremy acknowledges that his father balked at the cost of having Samuel follow him there after departing from Caen.[59] Jeremiah Bentham and his wife arrived in Paris by the end of August, having left Samuel in Normandy.

The first letter sent directly from Jeremy to Samuel is dated 12 September and was addressed to him and his hosts in Caen. In it Jeremy sounds certain that Samuel will shortly be off to Paris, so certain that he asks him to “get if you can some trifling toy at the prison of the Bicêtre in Paris; a sort of Bridewell.”[60] He was determined that Samuel should join his parents there, saying “I hope you will go to Paris, if it be but for a day or two. Make a hard push for it.”[61] Jeremy then addressed a letter to his father at the Place Royale in September, dated the 22nd, and again to Samuel in Normandy on the 25–26th. In this second letter to Caen, he is again utterly sure of Samuel’s imminent destination: “Je suis ravi d’apprendre que vous verrez Paris; et que vous y ferez un si long séjour,” although what the length of his stay might be is not specified.[62] In that same letter he instructed his brother to deliver a letter to a certain M. Godefroi in Paris, and the draft letter is found a few pages later describing Samuel as its bearer: “Il vous instruira à son mieux de tout ce dont vous pourrez souhaiter savoir de moi.”[63] Jeremy sent off two final missives to Samuel in Caen at the beginning of October, and then there is a gap in the correspondence until 14 November, after Samuel’s return to England.

The two final letters, dated 1–3 and 5–6 October, are addressed to Caen, but both were forwarded to the Benthams’ host Mr. Pattle in Paris at the Place Royale (now the Place des Vosges).[64] Another early October letter to their father has Jeremy imploring him to indulge Samuel “a month or … a fortnight longer,” be it in Caen, Paris, or one of a number of French channel towns.[65] From this evidence, it seems clear that Samuel was already in Paris at the beginning of October, before the news of his departure reached Jeremy, and that he spent between a fortnight and a month there. There appears to be no correspondence or record of his time in Paris, but this must be the moment Jeremy referred to twelve years later in his letter from Russia. There is, additionally, one final piece of evidence supporting the view that Samuel visited Paris in the autumn of 1775. Ten years later, while Jeremy was en route to Krichev to visit Samuel, he passed through Paris. On his approach to the city, he stopped by the village of Argenteuil, then a secluded rural hamlet, and stayed at a certain Mr. Pattle’s country house for some days in August 1785. In a footnote, the editor of volume three of Bentham’s correspondence notes that “In 1775 Samuel Bentham had stayed for a short time with a Mr. Pattle at Paris” and refers the reader to Jeremy’s two letters to Samuel of early October 1775.[66]

Argenteuil is also of interest for a somewhat different reason, however. It had a direct connection with some distinguished figures of the French Enlightenment, which Jeremy noted; Pattle’s country house had formerly been the “House of the Marquis du Châtelet and residence of Voltaire,”[67] Voltaire being the lover and collaborator of the remarkable mathematician and philosophe Émilie du Châtelet.[68] Florent-Louis-Marie, duc Du Châtelet-Lomont, Émilie’s son and heir, has been studied by Ken Alder as a figure who straddled the currents of both the High Enlightenment and the “other,” disciplinary or Military Enlightenment depicted by Foucault in his discussion of docile bodies.[69] Raised at the château de Cirey, “the country capital of the High Enlightenment, where ‘Newton was god,’”[70] the duc Du Châtelet was educated according to a bespoke, highly intellectual curriculum fashioned by his mother.[71] Once embarked on his military career, the duc in turn became one of the predecessors to the new “Newton of ‘small bodies,’ small movements, small actions” with a concern for iron discipline and the minutiae of military drill.[72] Thus, Argenteuil, though seemingly nowhere near as evocative as Cirey, stands as an unexpected and ignored crossroads of the diverse currents of both the French and British Enlightenments. It is indeed remarkable that Pattle hosted both Samuel in Paris in 1775, when the seed of the idea for the panopticon was planted, and Jeremy in 1785, while the latter was travelling to Russia where the panopticon concept would finally be born and developed.

To turn again to Samuel, he was fortunate in the timing of his trip to Paris, as the École militaire closed in February 1776 and would not reopen until 1778. Barring the discovery of new documents on Samuel’s few weeks there, his itinerary and movements must remain a matter of conjecture. We know from Jeremy’s 1787 letter that Samuel and his father visited the school’s dormitories and they would also necessarily have seen, at a minimum, Gabriel’s imposing “château” and the dome of the Invalides chapel that overlooks the school. On the completion of the “château,” which housed the administration’s offices and the chapel, the latter was open to the public for its services.[73] Horace Walpole had needed special permission from the bishop of Chartres to visit Saint-Cyr in 1769, where he saw the girls at a chapel service, in class, and supper, while also visiting the dormitories and archives.[74] Samuel however would have visited the École militaire as a member of the public with a ticket on an open day. An article by Laulan dealing with visits to the École militaire focuses exclusively on aristocratic tourists, but a list of places such as the dormitories, classrooms, refectories, kitchens, the infirmary, and the manège that distinguished guests were invariably shown may indicate locales accessible to the public as well.[75] The first distinguished visitor to the school was probably the Spanish ambassador, whose unannounced arrival on 22 September 1754 caused the school’s administration some embarrassment as there was no official on hand to meet him and he was forced to leave his carriage and mix with spectators on foot.[76]

At that early date, students were becoming accustomed to being observed by the public. In July 1754, less than a year after the arrival of the first cohort, it was decided to allow selected visitors to observe students in the dining room at mealtimes on the first Sunday of every month as well as on festive days.[77] From 1760 on their military drill and exercises were carried out in public as the school opened its doors to all curious observers the afternoon of the same days.[78] The comte de Vaublanc, a student at the school 1770–74, described the exercises as the main draw for crowds of spectators, as well as an opportunity for colonels to observe and choose prospective officers for their regiments.[79] The administration’s own rationale for the exercises was threefold: firstly, to satisfy the curiosity of the public, secondly to pique the émulation of the students, and thirdly to showcase the care taken with regards to their education.[80] Internally, the Minister of War insisted in 1764 on closer control of professors’ lessons, to be effected by members of the administration visiting their classrooms during their lectures and observing them in order to evaluate their effectiveness.[81] It is uncertain if the general public, as opposed to selected guests, was allowed to enter the classrooms, but if they were, they would have seen the spatial arrangement of these rooms. Long benches with desks were accommodated the whole length of the walls, while a chair was placed in the middle of the room from which the professor would always be able to see everything that the students did. There, any misbehaviour was punished by attaching a collar to the culprit’s neck and fastening it to a ring at his desk as a punishment for his lack of docility.[82]

Another measure in a similar vein that had previously been adopted was the forced constraint of students who misbehaved in the infirmary to their beds: “ils y seront liés s’ils font difficulté d’y rester pendant le temps qui leur sera prescrit.”[83] Shocking though such scenes may appear, they reinforce the punitive, rebarbative nature of a school that had its own purpose-built prisons and a dungeon; in Vaublanc’s account, the École militaire was a “prison claustrale.”[84] It even went so far as to employ cages, at least until 1764, cages to which the students could originally be tied.[85] At this time, institutions such as the École militaire and the panopticon were perceived to stand at the opposite end of the spectrum of eighteenth-century educational thought to that exemplified by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Émile, as acknowledged by Jeremy himself.[86] Despite such perceived antinomy, it is intriguing to note that a popular 1763 novel which tried to pass itself off as another educational treatise by Rousseau featured a cage in which the protagonist was raised for twelve years to preserve him from any contact with adults and the world.[87] Meanwhile, even as the École militaire gave up some forms of confinement, others were proposed, for instance that the grades or student-officers be “mis en prison dans leur chambre et pendant longtemps” for any fault they committed.[88] In its own pursuit of preventing its students’ contact with corrupting external influences, the École militaire thus deployed a harsh disciplinary, cruel regime which clearly carried echoes of both prisons and the military. Although after 1764 it could rely on first La Fèche and later twelve other collèges to provide the rudiments of education, socialization and discipline to its students, the violent and destructive nature of some students presented a standing challenge to its pedagogical goals and tactics.[89] Such measures exemplify the obverse aspect of an institution which several modern scholars have described as at least partially aligned with the High Enlightenment and the Encyclopédie’s vision for educational reform.[90] Given the numerous parallels between practice and design in the École militaire and later prisons, one may be permitted to ask why such measures were taken in what was after all a primary school. The self-evident reply would be that it aimed to fashion Foucauldian docile bodies for military careers.

However, Foucault himself points to another motivation at play in the architectural design and surveillance practices: the control of students’ sexuality. In a 1975 lecture at the Collège de France, he described how schools in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw the introduction of the rule of discretio maxima: “the architecture of educational establishments … the way in which dormitories are laid out … and even tables and benches are constructed and set out in a classroom, the way in which the entire space of visibility is carefully organized…” was intended so that “while in colleges, seminaries, and schools one speaks of the body of pleasure as little as possible, everything in the arrangement of their sites and things designates its dangers.”[91] Strikingly, the potential problems posed by the youthful male gaze in the public chapel services of the École militaire and the prospect of installing tribunes for female worshipers there led the priests servicing it to issue a warning in 1769: to them, the mooted “tribunes saillantes en dedans pour y placer les dames” would very probably provoke “la dissipation … parmi les élèves dont les yeux seront sans cesse fixés sur ces tribunes.”[92] Later, in a 1977 interview, Foucault summarily stated: “… au xviiie siècle, le problème du sexe était le problème du sexe masculin, et la discipline du sexe était mise en oeuvre dans les collèges de garçons, les écoles militaires…”[93] Foucault’s concern with the soul as “the prison of the body” seems perhaps even clearer and takes on a different aspect when considered in this context, that of pedagogical architecture; it also offers an incentive for further research on the construction of masculinity and sexuality (and other aspects of daily life impinging on those subjects, such as religion, hygiene, diet, and medicine) in ancien régime schools, military or otherwise. Here we may have a further overlooked bridge between Foucault’s work on institutions, society, and discipline, and his histories of sexuality. The vista of unexplored possibilities in and beyond the context of panopticism thus continues to unfold.[94]