Department of Development and Planning, Aalborg University
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Bent Flyvbjerg

Professor, Research Director, Dr. Techn., Dr. Scient., and Ph.D.

Notice: On April 1, 2009, Bent Flyvbjerg moved to University of Oxford. Flyvbjerg's Aalborg website is up to date until the time of his move. After this date, please see his site at Oxford:



Classics on Rationality and Power

The literature on rationality and power is very large. The following are but a few selected classics from the tradition running from Thucydides to Machiavelli to Nietzsche and Michel Foucault. This is the tradition that most effectively has explored the interrelationships between rationality and power, knowledge and power, and truth and power.

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1979. Nietzsche laid the foundations for how to employ the study of power in understanding rationality, knowledge, and truth. Foucault, who, unlike Nietzsche, had the skills and temper of a historian, put Nietzsche's ideas to deep empirical use in case studies of rationality-power relations in government and administration, most notably as regards imprisonment, insanity, and sexuality. Discipline and Punish is a paradigm case of rationality-power studies.

Michel Foucault, Power, vol. 3 of Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, edited by James D. Faubion, translated by Robert Hurley and others. New York: Free Press, 2000. The book contains Foucault's essential texts on the relationships between power/rationality, power/knowledge, and power/truth.

Walter Kaufmann, ed., Basic Writings of Nietzsche. New York: Modern Library, 2000. No one has laid a better foundation than Nietzsche for studying the relationship between rationality, knowledge, and truth on the one hand and power on the other. This book contains the key texts.

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, translated with an introduction by George Bull. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984. This book is the classic on Realpolitik and, although less recognized, also on Realrationalität (real rationality).

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals. New York: Vintage Books, 1969. Shows how power shapes rationality and morality.

Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1954. Thucydides is the first practitioner of the writing of real history, which is a prerequisite for understanding real power (Realpolitik) and real rationality. Machiavelli's concept verita effettuale (effective truth) and Nietzsche's wirkliche Historie (real history) can be traced directly to Thucydides. Both concepts are central to understanding rationality and power.

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