Thomas Lemke, Foucault’s Immanent Contradictions, Verso Blog, 22 February 2019
From Habermas to Honneth, critics have been keen to portray Foucault as a paradox-prone thinker. Thomas Lemke argues that we should embrace the recurring contradictions in Foucault’s thought as symptoms rather than inherent problems.
This is an excerpt from the introduction to Thomas Lemke’s Foucault’s Analysis of Modern Governmentality: A Critique of Political Reason which is currently 30% off on the Verso website
Were not Foucault’s critics right to fault him for the contradictions immanent in his work? Did they not accurately describe the theoretical incoherence of calling for political resistance on the basis of a neutral conception of power? Was it not necessary to dissolve these aporias, contradictions and paradoxes in one direction or another? It seems Foucault had only two possibilities. According to the first line of reasoning, he overcame the problem and affirmed the validity of his neutral conception of power by giving up on critical ambitions: he came to advocate theoretical relativism, no longer seeking to distinguish between better or worse, greater or lesser freedom, or more or less just forms of power. Alternatively, Foucault made his political motives and normative value judgements clear – that is, he gave up on the neutrality he had professed – so that the critical standards of his theoretical engagement became manifest and available for political mobilization. Either-or.