Mark G. E. Kelly, Foucault and Neoliberalism Today, Contriver’s Review, March 2015
Late last year, a PhD student in Belgium, Daniel Zamora, published a smallish edited collection of essays in French called “Criticising Foucault” (Critiquer Foucault). An interview he gave in relation to the book was translated into English for the Leftist journal Jacobin and then widely shared on social media. This interview contains some interesting and worthwhile discussion, but the strapline of the English translation (absent in the French original) focuses on an allegation that Michel Foucault had an “affinity” for neoliberalism, and indeed it is this claim of Zamora’s that leads the subsequent interview. The interviewer sets up the claim that Foucault was a neoliberal as something new and shocking, but it has been aired in Foucault scholarship for a decade at least (not least in articles now reprinted in Zamora’s collection). Despite this, search online for “Foucault” and “neoliberalism” and it’s now this interview that pops up first.
It is not so much that I have a specific gripe with Zamora—whose work I have not read, though I have read other work in his collection—but rather that I want to contradict both the likely impression that the allegation of neoliberalism against Foucault is some new scandal, and also that there is substance to that claim. And I won’t do the latter full-frontally, through point-by-point refutation. I will leave that to future scholarly work. I find these allegations almost entirely without merit and, here, I will explore the political motives and effects.
The first time I encountered the accusation that Foucault was a neoliberal was at a conference in London in 2004. The accuser was an American graduate student from Harvard’s history program, Eric Paras, who would go on to publish a reading of Foucault, entitled Foucault 2.0, which cherry-picked the most extreme moments in Foucault’s output and assembled them to make him into a figure of wild contradictions.