Mitchell Dean and Daniel Zamora, Today, the self is the battlefield of politics. Blame Michel Foucault, The Guardian, 15 June 2021
The rise of confessional politics has its origins in the left’s post-60s turn away from structures and towards the individual
“We are perhaps living at the end of politics,” Michel Foucault wrote in the late 1970s. With the exhaustion of utopias and radical alternatives to capitalism, what was now at stake, he memorably wrote, was to develop “new types, new kinds of relations to ourselves”. Political advancement is not delivered through “parties, trade unions, bureaucracy and politics any more”, he wrote. Instead, politics has become “an individual, moral concern”.
In this new definition of politics – in which “everything is political” and “the personal is political” – the self was thought to have become the battlefield of contemporary politics. At that time, many intellectuals, including Foucault, announced the “end of the age of revolution”, opening an era where transforming oneself became the most popular conception of social change. With the collapse of collective “grand narratives”, they argued, we had now to look inwards. Beginning in the late 60s, political change would be reframed as a struggle against oneself, against our “inner enemy”. One had to confront the “fascist within”.
Despite what Foucault had hoped for, we have not seen a retreat from confession but an intensification and multiplication of it in the public domain.