Matt McManus, Marx vs Foucault: Reflections on History and Power, Aero, August 29, 2019
Karl Marx and Michel Foucault are two of the most cited critical theorists in the world today, simultaneously revered or reviled, depending on who you talk to. Their work has been subjected to countless appraisals and debunkings and has met with everything from overzealous acceptance through well-reasoned critique to parodic and bad faith misinterpretations. One of the more interesting recent developments has been the tendency to conflate their thinking, and to present Foucault as essentially carrying on the Marxist tradition by other means. The most well known exponent of this position is Jordan Peterson. Drawing on books like Stephen Hicks’ Explaining Post-Modernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (critiqued here), in Peterson’s lecture series and 12 Rules for Life, he makes the claim that Marxism was morally bankrupt by the 1960s, once the horrors of the Soviet Union had become widely known and accepted. Rather than abandon the cause, postmodern theorists like Foucault decided to repackage the Marxist framework to sell old wine in new bottles. Where Marx had focused on class oppression, Foucault generalized the oppressor/oppressed binary to claim that power impacted all areas of human life, not just economic and political relations. Therefore what was needed was a total critique of Western civilization and ways of life, which would leave nothing standing, and open the door to a new form of communism or socialism. While Peterson’s account has largely been dismissed as fantastic, even by critics of Foucault and postmodernism like Slavoj Zizek, it has garnered considerable popular support.