van Wijk, Berend. “Beyond the Entrepreneur Society: Foucault, Neoliberalism and the Critical Attitude.” Philosophy & Social Criticism, June 2021,
Michel Foucault’s The Birth of Biopolitics is generally acknowledged as a pioneering study of neoliberalism, presenting it not merely as an economic theory but also as a mode of government. There is much debate, however, on Foucault’s intentions in analysing neoliberalism and the place of the genealogy in his broader critical project. The Birth of Biopolitics itself lacks both an explicit judgement of neoliberalism and an explicit ethical program. In this article, I maintain that Foucault’s genealogical work on neoliberalism is complementary to his notions of agency. From this perspective, Foucault’s genealogy is not a judgement of neoliberalism in terms of right or wrong but rather serves as a breeding ground for ethical conduct. The notion of the critical attitude in particular shows that Foucault’s genealogical work stands in the service of the subject’s autonomy. However, Foucault is reluctant to fill in his ethical program too much because it should gain substance only in local struggles and through the subject’s own considerations.
counter-conduct, critique, governmentality, Michel Foucault, neoliberalism, pastoral power