Foucault News

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

Magnus Paulsen Hansen, Foucault’s Flirt? Neoliberalism, the Left and the Welfare State; a Commentary on La dernière leçon de Michel Foucault and Critiquer Foucault, Foucault Studies, No. 20, pp. 291-306, December 2015

Foucault Studies is an open access journal.


You have been read as an idealist, as a nihilist, as a “new philosopher,” an anti-Marxist, a new conservative, and so on… Where do you stand?

I think I have in fact been situated in most of the squares on the political checkerboard, one after another and sometimes simultaneously: as anarchist, leftist, ostentatious or disguised Marxist, nihilist, explicit or secret anti-Marxist, technocrat in the service of Gaullism, neoliberal, and so on. […] None of these descriptions is important by itself; taken together, on the other hand, they mean something. And I must admit that I rather like what they mean.

[I]f all the writers are claimed to have meant to articulate the doctrine with which they are being credited, why is it that they so signally failed to do so, so that the historian is left reconstructing their implied intentions from guesses and vague hints? The only plausible answer is of course fatal to the claim itself: that the author did not (or even could not) have meant after all to enunciate such a doctrine.

As the first quote above indicates, it is not a new task to try to politically position Foucault. However, recently, the wish to make tactical use of this position to promote or denounce a particular political programme seems to have intensified. The debate especially concerns Foucault’s lectures on neoliberalism. Two recent books interpret the lectures as tokens of Foucault becoming “seduced” by neoliberalism. Both books draw upon this ‘insight’ in order to renew the left. However, the conclusions with regards to the role of the left we get from each book are almost diametrically opposite. Whereas Geoffroy de Lagasnerie’s La dernière leçon de Michel Foucault: Sur le néolibéralisme, la théorie et la politique proposes that the left should embrace Foucault’s endorsement of neoliberalism as a necessary step towards reinventing the left; Daniel Zamora’s edited volume Critiquer Foucault : Les années 1980 et la tentation néoliberale sees it as Foucault’s betrayal of the left and defection to the dark side, resulting in a contribution to the left’s current state of decay. We are thus located in the midst of Star Wars: Did Foucault remain the innocent Jedi knight capable of using the force of the enemy to rebel against him or was he finally, as Anakin Skywalker, in that same act, seduced by the almightiness of the empire and the persuasive skills of Emperor Palpatine (who else but Hayek?), finally turning into the incarnation of evil as Darth Vader?

One thought on “Foucault’s Flirt? Neoliberalism, the Left and the Welfare State; a Commentary on La dernière leçon de Michel Foucault and Critiquer Foucault (2015)

  1. larsjdk says:

    Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault were working together on a history of socialism – as I recall Bourdieu stating somewhere.

    Foucault’s work on the neoliberal variants were made before any other on the critical scene was really aware of them (I think – please correct me if I am wrong).

    I have no doubt that Foucault would have been as critical about neoliberalism as a practical political project as was Bourdieu. He would have marched and talked together with Bourdieu on the unions strikes etc.

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