Foucault News

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

zamora-engDaniel Zamora and Michael C. Behrent (eds), Foucault and Neoliberalism, Polity Press, 2016

Michel Foucault’s death in 1984 coincided with the fading away of the hopes for social transformation that characterized the postwar period. In the decades following his death, neoliberalism has triumphed and attacks on social rights have become increasingly bold. If Foucault was not a direct witness of these years, his work on neoliberalism is nonetheless prescient: the question of liberalism occupies an important place in his last works. Since his death, Foucault’s conceptual apparatus has acquired a central, even dominant position for a substantial segment of the world’s intellectual left.

However, as the contributions to this volume demonstrate, Foucault’s attitude towards neoliberalism was at least equivocal. Far from leading an intellectual struggle against free market orthodoxy, Foucault seems in many ways to endorse it. How is one to understand his radical critique of the welfare state, understood as an instrument of biopower? Or his support for the pandering anti-Marxism of the so-called new philosophers ? Is it possible that Foucault was seduced by neoliberalism?

This question is not merely of biographical interest: it forces us to confront more generally the mutations of the left since May 1968, the disillusionment of the years that followed and the profound transformations in the French intellectual field over the past thirty years. To understand the 1980s and the neoliberal triumph is to explore the most ambiguous corners of the intellectual left through one of its most important figures.

2 thoughts on “Foucault and Neoliberalism (2016)

  1. A Very Short Rant against the book ‘Foucault and Neoliberalism’

    Some eminent academics have suddenly re-discovered that Foucault was not very keen on the legacy of Marx and Marxism. Foucault’s opposition to the old guard of the left is no less than an outright ‘betrayal’. Moreover, sin of all sins, they find that Foucault had an ‘ambiguous relationship’ to neoliberalism’, more, he was ‘impressed’ and ‘intrigued’ by it, indeed ‘flirted’ with it until thoroughly ‘seduced’, succumbing to its ‘charms’. There is at the very least a ‘thinly veiled sympathy’ and ‘minimal criticism’ of neoliberalism.

    Do these critics present any substantial evidence apart from the pervasive and insidious is-ought transformation of Foucault’s text, contextual innuendo , damnation by association with the ‘new philosophers’ and Foucault’s apparently well-known ‘thirst for recognition’: a deep desire to be a media personality and to go with the flow for ‘strategic reasons’? His fundamental crime it seems is that he ‘took it seriously’. For instance, Foucault actually has the audacity to state that the neoliberalism of the Chicago variety is “much less bureaucratic” and much less “disciplinary” than other regimes of power. Therefore, in these critics’ utterly dualistic world, Foucault must have wanted to ‘encourage’ neoliberalism further. In his response to the idea of a ‘negative tax’ – a sort of universal tax credit to replace welfare- his opponents acknowledge ‘it is difficult to determine his views on the matter’ but that is not enough. Surely, his critics suggest, Foucault’s followers would expect to hear him ‘denouncing’ all forms of neoliberalism as ‘a sinister form of power’? Surely, they plead, we should be comforted by knowing exactly where he stands and remains…….?


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