Foucault News

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

Pierre Dardot, Haud Guéguen, Christian Laval et Pierre Sauvêtre: Macron and Civil War in France, Diakritik, 1 mai 2023
English translation by Colin Gordon (PDF)
French original in Diakritik

We say a lot of bad things about Macron and the recent forced passage through France’s parliament of the pensions reform law. He is said to be egotistical, arrogant and inept. We forget that he is the actor of a wider situation, whose historical function today consists in pursuing a project greater than his own person. It is in fact necessary to set aside micro-scale “psychological” analysis, to objectively consider a policy which, for all its brutality and sometimes tragic irrationality, nevertheless has a precise meaning in the history of our societies. The personal and even sociological characteristics of an individual clearly matter but only through having made Macron this warlord whom we admire or hate.

Some people have mistakenly believed that neoliberalism was too variegated and incoherent a thing to pose a serious threat. Others thought its doctrine was already discredited, along with the political actors and governmental fashions that clothed themselves in its rationality, as if it was enough to observe its catastrophic effects on nature and society to be conclusively liberated from its spell. So many mistaken analyses, so many things overlooked and missed.

We now urgently need to understand how neoliberalism is a doctrine of civil war, in the sense that Michel Foucault suggested as a way of analyzing certain forms of power in his lecture series The Punitive Society. Course at the College de France, 1972-1973, Palgrave Macmillan 2015, p. 13): “civil war is the matrix of all power’s struggles and strategies”.

The current government knows this perfectly well, since it knowingly and systematically pursues that course, while at the same time blaming various “enemies of the republic”, using an inversion of truth which works at the same time as a denial of responsibility.

We therefore see that the Foucauldian invitation to consider all power – and therefore neoliberal power itself – according to the “matrix” of civil war contains something decisive, in a conjuncture like ours. It avoids giving in to the illusion that the state has, in essence, the function of harmonizing differences and points of view through a “dialogue”, rational if possible, between “partners”, in order, on the contrary, to consider the state as a leading player in the conduct of civil war. But it also enables full appreciation of the scope of the mobilizations in progress, by bringing to light the profound coherence which links the policy of regression of the social state and Macron’s ecocidal politics.

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