1In an article from 2000, the historian Frédéric Monier noted to what extent the history of secrecy in politics remained to be written.  If we are to believe the elements that, in his view, explain this situation, it seems likely that a history of that sort remains to be written today. From the search for the "secrets of power" to the revelation of conspiracies, a study of politics that examines secrecy almost always seems to reveal a taste for secrecy, making use of a writing style that is never far from a first-person narrative. Neither of these tendencies has been compatible with the methodology of the historian since the scientific revolution of the 19th century. 
2This is not the case for philosophy. In fact, a certain kind of philosophy seems rather comfortable with secrecy: it even appears to lay out a privileged route for trying to comprehend political power and its transformations, particularly in the case of contemporary Western politics. Of course, we may immediately think of the notion of reason of state, a fundamental aspect in considerations of the modern state, one whose origins are themselves obscured by misattributions and masquerades that people have been trying to unravel and bring to light since Machiavelli’s time.  We may then immediately insist upon the two ways of understanding the concept of reason of state.  Of course, as it is commonly understood, it refers to the abandonment of common law in defending the public good, as well as to the use of secrecy that goes along with this, which political action requires. But in an anti-Machiavellian tradition instigated by Botero within the context of the Counter-Reformation, reason of state acquires another definition that clashes with the first: it is the sum of knowledge that the state requires in order to increase its power.  This definition introduces the idea that in the modern administrative state, the "secret" could well reside primarily in the imbalance created by the harnessing of a colossal quantity of statistics on population groups.  We may also consider the importance for many authors of the role played by the "crafting" of secrets in the construction of the individual and the modern political subject, whether secrecy is produced through the constituent psychic mechanisms of subjectivity – as in the work of Freud, who had read Schopenhauer and Nietzsche – or whether it is a product of systems and institutions, of dispositifs, as in Foucault’s work. Finally, we may mention the theories of Simmel who, in contrast with Enlightenment thinking, concedes that secrecy possesses a structuring social function, by conceiving of modernity as the passage from a secret of the outside world – an elusive, evasive world – to a constituent secret of the individual’s interiority and of social relations, that must be protected from power itself. 
3All told, the modern form of Western politics does seem to have accorded a key function to secrets, which are seen as something whose control – control of the production of secrets and of their disclosure, control of speech and of silence – constitutes one of the keys to power, indeed of social relations in their entirety, relations that admittedly make it possible to grasp the inherent nature of political issues.
4However, it is not at all self-evident to consider political modernity on the basis of secrets. On the contrary, Simmel’s theories are proof of the polemical nature of the very topic of secrecy, a topic that is often seen as taking a stance concerning the Enlightenment and as a certain way of interpreting political modernity. Without going too far into the various forms of thought that inhabit the Enlightenment, one is often tempted to interpret modernity in their wake as the expression of a generalized demand for openness and accessible rationality that affects law and the political sphere, the construction of the social space, and economic relations. In a more sociological or economic approach, one could willingly associate this quite ideological reading with a process of rationalizing the world that accompanied the development of capitalism, a process that accounts for the disappearance of certain forms of belief in the way it abets that form of rationalization. In this tradition, which goes from Kant to Habermas, but maybe also from positivism to all the theories that rationalize the world, the very movement of progress – or just history – produces the decline of the "secret": whether this concerns the political struggles against all forms of obscurantism and reasons of state, or the description of a sociological process of rationalization, secrecy evaporates and disappears, even from the relevant categories of analysis for describing political modernity.
5Nevertheless, in both cases secrecy still seems to remain at the heart of philosophical considerations of political modernity. Whether it can be seen within the shadow projected by the Enlightenment as that which must constantly recede, or whether its purpose is precisely to foil the Enlightenment’s requirements of openness and rationality, secrecy remains a particularly active category in political philosophy. The first hypothesis of this text is that this heritage deserves consideration today, in societies that could be seen simultaneously as surveillance states and "transparency societies."
6The role of secrecy and its political significance in contemporary societies are actually strikingly difficult to describe. On the one hand, the extraordinary development of new technologies,  the transformations of the social relations and the organizational forms of work and social space suitable for the development of capitalism,  or the new methods for handling conflicts that lead to the blurring of the distinction between warlike and peaceful situations, and between the management of internal order and external warfare,  seem to contribute to making secrecy something both rare and probably somewhat desirable, for the private individual as much as for the political subject. This is especially true given that the disenchanted gaze and the positive form of knowledge that accompanied the development of modernity do seem to have erased the last mists of secrecy that could still be associated with the perception of the world.
7But on the other hand, the complexity of information and communication systems, of legal structures, of the mechanisms of political decision-making and of social relations in a globalized world, coupled with the growing technicization of societies and the paradoxical movement between hyperfragmentation and hyperconnection that they manifest, seem to increase the effects of opacity.  Some radical gestures, such as those carried out by Julian Assange or someone like him for example, do not merely seek to dispel this opacity. Above all, they seem to want to assign it to an identifiable place – the place of secrets – incidentally generating a sufficiently violent repression from states to induce the idea that this is where the modern political secret lives: in intelligence-gathering procedures, surveillance technologies, etc.
8In interpreting these tensions, the analytical usefulness of secrecy as a concept is not obvious. Is secrecy the opposite of transparency? Of surveillance? Is it really useful for describing those previously mentioned effects of opacity? In reality, the appeal of secrecy as a concept probably resides less in its descriptive usefulness than in the conceptual and epistemological history that dwells within it, a history that may allow for light to be shed on the dominant interpretations it has today.
Secrecy, in the Shadows of Enlightenment
9One of the questions that continually comes up in work on secrecy in the contemporary Western world is undoubtedly this: where do the current and seemingly prevalent "diktats" of transparency belong on a historical continuum? More to the point, should they be seen as the culmination of modernity – in particular the Enlightenment – or, on the contrary, a perversion, a corruption of the 18th century’s ideals of openness?
10On a philosophical level, it is certainly quite remarkable to see to what extent the question of secrecy in politics cannot avoid reflections on history and, alongside them, on the history of philosophy. Clearly, this is firstly due to the place that Enlightenment thinking holds in that history, for if the Enlightenment project itself can in fact be expressed in the Kantian idea according to which human emancipation and progress only require "public use of one’s reason in all matters,"  all of Western history is clarified through a series of oppositions between light and obscurity (and obscurantism), between transparency (or openness) and opacity, etc., where the word "secret" itself seems to summarize the very form of politics that the Enlightenment fought against: a politics of secrecy that the "talkative" philosopher had perhaps secretly helped to marginalize still further. 
11In such a reading, the search for transparency is not merely a kind of "motor" of history: it must inevitably contribute to an immense enlargement of the very limits of secrecy. Following the example of what Pierre Nora has said, secrets must actually proliferate at the same rhythm as the efforts deployed to eliminate them: "Modernity will never stop secreting secrets."  But what’s more, since the idea of individual and collective autonomy almost always implicitly remains the standard for the forms of secrets secreted by modernity – for example, for the opacity of complex bureaucratic systems or systems generated through the competition between norms in domestic or international law – it was almost inevitable that the Enlightenment project itself became subject to critical doubt and political suspicions, quite simply because in pushing visibility too far, the autonomy of the self and the collective body would be very quickly caught in the blinding white spotlight of transparency and openness. The contradictions of the Aufklärung’s program – whose goal was to liberate the world from magic, in particular through science, for which "[t]here shall be neither mystery nor any desire to reveal mystery"  – have been to some extent seen through to completion in the analyses by the authors of the Frankfurt School who, contrary to the "history of progress," have not only exposed the totalitarian one-dimensionality of instrumental reason in Western societies, but have furthermore analyzed the "persistent," "recurrent" forms of secrecy in these societies, as mythological forms or figures of caricature.  The fact remains that this pessimistic reading of the history of reason remains within the horizon of the Enlightenment, both through the preservation of the main concept of autonomy as a principle of (collective and individual) emancipation for some authors, but perhaps mostly owing to a particular conception of history where the Enlightenment constitutes a watershed and one of the keys to history’s interpretation. And yet, in my view, it seems possible to highlight a whole current of thought, incidentally quite diverse, in which a particular approach to the "secret" has precisely distanced itself from the philosophical thinking that essentially views secrecy through the prism of the Enlightenment.
Secrecy and Power
12From Machiavelli to Foucault (and maybe also to Derrida) – by way of Nietzsche, Simmel, Freud or Blanchot (although the road is so twisted it probably doesn’t exist) – we may be tempted to identify conceptions or depictions of secrecy that focus firstly on deconstructing a certain conception of power and, because they are connected, of truth. Reflections on secrets in politics, but even more generally on the political significance of secrets, quite often take up strategies of bypassing or subverting the general idea according to which power is a dominating force that is one and transparent to itself by virtue of its external relationship to truth. In keeping with this idea, power must content itself with producing or applying truth, or measuring itself by the yardstick of it. With this conception of power, which can be seen in a whole philosophical tradition (very roughly, we could say from Plato to Kant and Habermas),  the political world can be separated from what one ought to consider as the autonomous realm of truth, and vice versa. In this conception of the political, the law almost always constitutes the neutral, general language of power, the one through which power asserts itself as the pure application of reasons that precede it.
13But the thinking on the reason of state as it developed in the 16th century is precisely indifferent to the law. It is more interested in domination, by shifting political thinking away from law toward more immanent considerations of power, considerations recognizing that the question of secrecy plays a vital role.  Similarly, in the sociology of the "founding fathers" in Germany, the deconstruction of a legal conception of the political sphere, a conception that functions through the assertion of rationality, universality and the transparency of the law, has been tied to the reestablishment of "the legal basis for secrecy" against the "Enlightenment that considers anything hidden or obscure as suspect."  We find the same suspicions again with Foucault concerning a line of thinking that "makes legal concepts the guiding categories for any thinking on the political sphere," in the wake of sovereign conceptions of power for which the law always constitutes power’s language.  Nevertheless, in Foucault’s work, the epistemological and political question has perhaps become even more systematized. Indeed, the concept of "power-knowledge" constitutes the direct negation of the idea that power is possessed by and that it is exercised on – an idea that joins forces with the one according to which power can apply a law, an idea, a truth.  By asserting that power only exists in relations, by relying on discourses and productions of knowledge as much as on mechanisms of depiction and display, Foucault, at the same time and on the same level, induces considerations on the uses of the "secret" as mechanisms for controlled concealment and silence, for counter-knowledge and disclosure, each of which contribute to the crafting of secrets.
14Power-knowledge could therefore just as easily be read as "power-secrecy" – which is in any case quite clear in Discipline and Punish or the first volume of The History of Sexuality. The success of such a conception of power-knowledge – which directly or indirectly makes secrecy a necessarily structuring element of power relations, which in turn become the key to the analysis of the political sphere – has been considerable, extending well beyond the field of philosophy. Nevertheless, we could say that secrecy, from the reason of state to disciplinary power or Foucaultian governmentality, has been considered for a long time now as the key to differential relations of power – this then constitutes, more or less, a sort of (tautological) definition of power. In very general terms, secrecy could then find itself defined as a "structure of communication whose intent is as much to hide what is – and therefore to dissimulate – as to trick an addressee, to make them believe that there is something where there is nothing other than the trick itself, the exclusive simulation enabling the establishment of power over those who are partly or totally excluded from communication."  Here, we will add from the outset that such a structure of communication does not necessarily function through discourse (and silence), but may make use of all kinds of materializations and symbolic theatricality – from the mastery of images to that of architecture, just to give two important examples in this tradition.
15This sort of conception of secrecy (and of power), a fairly general one, has been more readily accepted by the social sciences, for when it is pushed to the limit, it eliminates the epistemological problems posed by the "scientific treatment" of secrecy. For example, in an article devoted to the initiation societies of Gabon, the anthropologist Julien Bonhomme points out the "epistemological and ethical" dilemma that confronts the researcher working on initiatory secrets: "the non-initiate can say nothing, for he knows nothing; the initiate can say nothing, for he is sworn to secrecy."  The problem is not just connected with a given field study in relation to which the researcher should adopt a given attitude. Instead, from the outset, it points to the multiple tensions and occasionally absurd problematics that the study or knowledge of a secret insistently raises: knowing a secret always means sharing or revealing it, and in both cases, this means participating in crafting secrecy, "making" secrecy. Here we run into the inevitable distrust of the historian, and in reality any researcher in the social sciences, toward the taste for secrecy that someone working on secrets must at some point share. The response that Julien Bonhomme gives to the problem that he himself brings up falls within the continuation of that tradition of thought that apprehends secrecy in its relationship with power: according to him, we may interpret the initiatory secret less by taking an interest in the content of secrets ("disclosure of myths, revelation of holy objects, secret rituals, etc.") than by the "unequal distribution of knowledge and initiatory skills that establish relations of subordination between participants."
16Defined as "a certain relational form," secrecy could then be observed independently of the particular content of utterances and acts as that which organizes "a certain kind of relationship between different classes of people (the initiates and the noninitiates, the oldest and the youngest, the men and the women, and even the living and the ancestors)." In this way, secrecy could probably become an all-purpose tool for all the possible analyses of the forms under which power is distributed in any given society, a tool that can be adapted to any period or cultural environment.
17There can be no doubt of the relevance of such an approach, one that understands power on the basis of secrecy – and the differential relations it establishes – in order to try and make sense of our political present. The concept of the transparent society, when it is truly defined, refers to a certain social and material order comprising discourses and practices, techniques and technologies, architectures and standards, and perhaps forms of knowledge as well, forms that not only produce effects of visibility but also, in equal measure, of invisibility and darkness. And the idea that secrecy is "crafted"  and that it always entails differential relations then makes it possible to determine the forms of power at stake in these games of discourse and silence, of visibility and invisibility, of simulation and dissimulation – games that we could call "secret," if we completely abandon the idea that secrecy is an unambiguous, simple phenomenon.
Secrecy and Politics: Epistemological and Philosophical Issues
18Nevertheless, we could say that for the authors previously cited in reconstructing the course of what could be called a philosophical consideration of secrecy, which continually contradicts a "classical" form of thinking on politics and Reason that is transparent to itself, there is precisely neither a theory of secrecy, nor an "epistemology of power." Indeed, the artificially reconstructed tradition does not exist. More correctly, concerning certain conceptions of Reason and politics insofar as they take shape around the idea of openness and – today – transparency, we could say that secrecy seems to have been established as a theme, but especially as an outlook or an angle, on the basis of which the political sphere could be approached differently. In this artificially reconstructed tradition of thought, secrecy is not a "thing" or an objective reality to be revealed. It is not even an already given form of thought belonging to power, that we could set in stone as a relationship between power-knowledge and power-secrecy. Instead, it is firstly the medium for an intellectual displacement and an intellectual suspicion. It is the tool for a withdrawal, often an ironic one, and for a refusal to subscribe to a way of thinking: in this sense, it is the instrument for a political and ethical gesture,  as well as an epistemological one. For what this entrenched persistence of secrecy as a topic in modern philosophy is saying is not so much what the political sphere is in its essence or its positivity, as the persistence or repetition of a gesture that itself consists in treating the secret as a political object in its own right. This gesture first signifies the recognition of that part of the political sphere that is intrinsically fictional, the part of roleplaying and games of interpretation, of the interplay between surfaces and depths. This gesture is then the one that takes shape every time the question is asked: what do philosophers do when they claim to "do" political philosophy? Machiavelli and Naudé do not unveil the truth of the political in its essence: they observe the veils and the masks in politics or, perhaps more accurately, the political significance of veils and masks.
19Nietzsche, Derrida and Foucault do not establish another truth of the political: instead, they question this stubborn will to reveal secrets, to break through surfaces and dig into them in order to attain a withheld, hidden, original truth.  In so doing, they inevitably put their own position on show, and reassess it. The publications dealing with secrecy make a point of producing and making the most of mirror effects, of games with inversions, irony and displacements, of language effects and skillful play, by recreating forms of thought in a continual state of unfolding, unveiling and masking, by expressing the political differently.  But differently from what? Differently from the way it is understood by a tradition of thought that associates politics, power and truth as if they belonged together: one that wants truth, in its essence, to precede the political, since the political derives its power from truth, either by masking it, or by applying it virtuously.
20This is why even if we abandon the content of truth and only interest ourselves in the (political) effects of truth and its possession, considerations of secrecy could reenact the gesture consisting in suspecting that secrecy hasn’t said its last word when we interpret it in terms of power relations, which ultimately constitute the true name of politics. In short, if secrecy really is the key to an approach to the political marked by suspicion, we would be tempted to think that the secret has never, for that very reason, yielded up its meaning – any more than the political has. And right here, secrecy is an inherently philosophical question, which Derrida situates in the "undecidability of the secret"  or what opens itself through "the undecidability – and hence by the secret – by the destinerrance of the origin and the end, of destination and addressee, of the sense and referent of the reference abiding as reference in its very suspension." 
21The intent of this issue on the politics / the policies of secrecy, therefore, is to reflect both on the forms of secrecy that our societies put into practice and on the possible interpretations of these forms, while taking into account the theoretical traditions, the representations of history, and the epistemological choices that influence these readings. What follows is obviously only a partial list of possible directions – the topic is practically inexhaustible.
22Nevertheless, these directions take on two challenges. The first is to start from different fields of study and research (philosophy, law, sociology), providing a multiplicity of angles from which one can first of all simply try to describe the composition of the forms of secrecy in our modern societies. With this multidisciplinary approach, two ideas paradoxically become apparent at once. Firstly, secrecy is by necessity a political issue that cuts across several domains, potentially present in all of them (law, the economy, the political sphere, technical fields, etc.). Secondly, the very term "secrecy" has no consistency or homogeneous signification – it is not even clear that using it to describe certain empirical realities is acceptable. And even if this challenge is not always easy to confront, if we do not merely wish to associate ideas solely through the use of a term whose very meaning is not shared between them, it has nevertheless made it possible to establish relations between fields or even questions that were previously isolated, following the example of reflections on the opacity generated by complexity in law and technology, to give just one example.
23The second challenge for this issue has been the attempt to establish a dialogue between empirical projects on the "forms of secrecy" and its metamorphoses in today’s world on the one hand, and on the other, philosophical reflections that incorporate a historical and societal dimension. This dialogue not only contributes to thinking on the current forms of secrecy in the light of certain theoretical traditions and inherited forms of thought: it also, perhaps especially, enables a look into the still surprisingly subversive nature of the term, or simply its problematic aspect – problematic in the philosophical sense. It is a term whose plurivocal and ironic dimensions are not easily effaced: this also applies to its ludic side.
24Cover image: Martha Rosier, Bathroom Surveillance, or Vanity Eye, from the series Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain, c. 1966-72, Photomontage © Martha Rosler Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
This preface owes a great deal to the invaluable proofreading work carried out by Thomas Berns, Ninon Grange, Nicolas Poirier and Pierre-Antoine Chardel.
Frédéric Monier, "Le Secret en politique, une histoire à écrire," Matériaux pour l’histoire de notre temps 58 (2000): 3-8.
Monier, "Le Secret en politique, une histoire à écrire."
Michel Sennelart. "La Raison d’État antimachiavélienne: Essai de problématisation," in La Raison d’État: politique et rationalité, ed. Christian Lazzeri and Dominique Reynié (Paris: PUF, 1992), 15-42.
See Brigitte Krulic’s introduction to Raison(s) d’État en Europe: Traditions, usages, recompositions, ed. Brigitte Krulic (Bern / New York: Peter Lang, 2010), 5.
Michel Senellart. Machiavélisme et Raison d’État (Paris: PUF, 1989).
See Romain Descendre’s introduction to Giovanni Botero, De la Raison d’État (1589-1598) (Paris: Gallimard, 2014), 57.
The notion of "the tyranny of visibility" is notably present in the work concerning so-called digital societies. See for example Nicole Aubert and Claudine Haroche’s Les Tyrannies de la visibilité: Être visible pour exister? (Paris: ERES, 2011). See also Pierre-Antoine Chardel, "La communication et ses écarts: Réflexions sur les limites de l’idéalisme technologique," Hermès: La Revue 84.2, www.cairn.info, 2019, Web, 1 November 2021, 31-37 ["Communication and its disparities: Reflections on the limits of technological idealism," trans. Adam Lozier, Hermès: La Revue 84.2, www.cairn-int.info, May 2019, Web, 1 November 2021, 31-37].
See for example Denis Kessler. "L’entreprise entre transparence et secret," Pouvoirs 97.2, www.cairn.info, 2001, Web, 1 November 2021, 33-46.
See in particular the work associated with "surveillance studies," which is coordinated by the Surveillance Studies Network (SNN).
See Byung-Chul Han, The Transparency Society, trans. Erik Butler (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2015).
See Immanuel Kant, "An Answer to the Question:’What is Enlightenment?’," in Political Writings, trans. H.B. Nisbet, ed. Hans Siegbert Reiss (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 55
Thomas Berns, "Secrets et implicites d’une cosmopolitique non politique chez Kant," Dissensus: Revue de philosophie politique de l’ULg 1 (December 2008): 36; Berns, La Guerre des philosophes (Paris: PUF, 2019), 207.
Pierre Nora. "Simmel, le mot de passe," Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse 14 (Fall 1976): 308.
Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), 2.
Siegfried Kracauer, Le Roman policier (Paris: Payot, 2001) [The only article available in English from the original German book is "The Hotel Lobby," in The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, ed. and trans. Thomas Y. Levin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), 173-185 – translator’s note]. On these analyses, see in particular Michèle Cohen-Halimi. "Siegfried Kracauer et la’métaphysique du roman policier,’" in Cahiers philosophiques 143, no. 4, www.cairn.info, 2015, Web, 1 November 2021, 51-66.
On this point, see Jean-Pierre Cavaillé’s article, which puts "the ideology of transparency and […] its theoretical version, in particular communicative action" side by side with the ideologies and philosophies "of the celebration of secrecy and mystery." Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, "Simulation et dissimulation chez Louis Marin," Les Dossiers du Grihl, Secret et mensonge: Essais et comptes rendus, journals.openedition.org, 2007, Web, 1 November 2021.
See Romain Descendre’s introduction to Botero in De la Raison d’État, as well as Thomas Berns, "Excès machiavélien et profanation plutôt qu’exception: le coup d’État chez Gabriel Naudé," in De la dictature à l’État d’exception, ed. Marie Goupy and Yann Rivière (Rome: Éditions de l’école Français de Rome), forthcoming.
Philippe Artières and Mathieu Potte-Bonneville, "Droit," in D’Après Foucault: Gestes, luttes, programmes (Paris: Seuil, 2012), 209.
Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir (Paris: Gallimard, 1975), 35ff [Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York : Vintage Books, 1995), 30ff].
Cavaillé, "Simulation et dissimulation chez Louis Marin."
Julien Bonhomme, "’La feuille sur la langue’: Pragmatique du secret initiatique," Cahiers gabonais d’anthropologie 17 (2006): 1938.
See Nicolas Adell’s "Introduction" to Mondes contemporains 5 (2014), an issue titled Faire le secret.
It may be Derrida, in Donner la mort (Paris: Galilée, 1999) [The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago / London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995)], who has gone the furthest in analyzing this gesture of withdrawal, in the breach opened by the attitude of Bartleby ("I would prefer not to") in Melville’s short story. On this question, see also Richard Pedo, "Attendu que la littérature: de Job à Abraham via Bartleby," Le Tour critique 1 (2013).
Which does not exclude the recognition of a "right to secrecy" in Derrida’s writings, as Pierre-Antoine Chardel pointed out to me quite rightly,
Here we may think of the extraordinary interplay of significations and gestures that were put on display with the publication (in a print run of a dozen copies, it is said) of Gabriel Naudé’s Considérations politiques sur les coups d’État.
Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death & Literature in Secret, trans. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 131.
Derrida, The Gift of Death & Literature in Secret, 144.