Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Derek Ide The Universal and the Particular: Chomsky, Foucault, and Post-New Left Political Discourse, The Hampton Institute, December 20th, 2014

Postmodern theory was a relatively recent intellectual phenomenon in 1971 when Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault sat down to discuss a wide range of topics, including the nature of justice, power, and intellectual inquiry. At one point Chomsky, who Peter Novick suggests as an example of left-wing empiricism in post-war academia, engages the concrete issue of social activism and invokes the notion of “justice,” to which Foucault asks poignantly: “When, in the United States, you commit an illegal act, do you justify it in terms of justice or of a superior legality, or do you justify it by the necessity of the class struggle, which is at the present time essential for the proletariat in their struggle against the ruling class?” After a brief period he quickly reiterates the question again: “Are you committing this act in virtue of an ideal justice, or because the class struggle makes it useful and necessary?” Chomsky attempts to situate a notion of justice within international law, to which Foucault replies: “I will be a little bit Nietzschean about this… the idea of justice in itself is an idea which in effect has been invented and put to work in different types of societies as an instrument of a certain political and economic power or as a weapon against that power… And in a classless society, I am not sure that we would still use this notion of justice.” In other words, for Foucault justice is only intelligible within a relative framework of class antagonisms. Meanings of justice may differ, but they are only understandable vis-à-vis certain class positions. Chomsky responds: “Well, here I really disagree. I think there is some sort of an absolute basis–if you press me too hard I’ll be in trouble, because I can’t sketch it out-ultimately residing in fundamental human qualities, in terms of which a ‘real’ notion of justice is grounded.”[1]

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One thought on “The Universal and the Particular: Chomsky, Foucault, and Post-New Left Political Discourse (2014)

  1. dmfant says:

    Reblogged this on synthetic zero.

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