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Peter Levine, Foucault and neoliberalism on his blog.

If you’re intellectually and ideologically eclectic, then you will find important ideas all over the map. It will not surprise you to learn that a person generally associated with the left has benefited from F.O. von Hayek or Gary Becker: leading libertarians. An excellent example is James C. Scott, who likes to call himself (I suspect partly for the frisson of it) “a crude Marxist,” but who has been deeply influenced by Hayek. Scott’s analysis of the high-modernist state is indispensable, however you choose to classify it.

On the other hand, if you’re a committed leftist intellectual, it may well come as a surprise to you that Michel Foucault read Hayek and Becker and said positive things about neoliberalism. That is the theme of Daniel Zamora’s forthcoming volume Critiquer Foucault: Les années 1980 et la tentation néolibérale. In the left magazine The Jacobin, Zamora presents it as puzzling and even potentially scandalous fact that Foucault should have showed “indulgence … toward neoliberalism.”

I do not know the relevant texts and statements by the late Foucault. But I think the affinity between Foucault’s style of critique and libertarianism is important although not very surprising, and I would understand it in the following contexts:

1. The “revolution” of May 1968 was led by activists and intellectuals who considered themselves Marxists and often especially favored Maoism. Yet their successful concrete demands were for greater individual freedom, especially vis-a-vis the state. They won a lower age of consent for sex (1974), abortion rights (1975), freedom of information (1978), and many other reforms traditionally recommended by classical liberals. They also reformed the state by reducing the power of the president, making elections more important, and strengthening NGOs. In Marxist terms, ’68 was a bourgeois revolution, not a proletarian one. So it shouldn’t be shocking that perhaps the greatest political thinker of ’68 was a bourgeois liberal (of a kind).

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Foucault and Neoliberalism AUFS Event: Daniel Zamora – A Reply: Was Foucault Speaking in His Own Voice?, An und für sich blog, January 6, 2015

First I would like to thank the four contributors and AUFS for devoting this series to the theme of Foucault and neoliberalism. All the interventions are highly stimulating and take us to the heart of a debate of great current moment. Obviously I am not able to undertake a general discussion of all the interventions and all the central questions they pose. But I am sure that the debate will not end here, that it will continue when the book is published in English. However, I would like to revisit the reasoning behind my argument, and why I do not think that it is a problem of interpreting Foucault’s words.

It is indeed true, as Stuart Elden notes in his response, that “Foucault’s mode of reading texts often makes it look like he is agreeing with arguments, when he is really trying to reconstruct them, to understand their logic, and so on.” Verena Erlenbusch, for her part, adds that I “[fail] to recognize that Foucault is not speaking in his own voice but paraphrasing important representatives of neoliberal thought.” The argument made by Stuart Elden clearly applies to Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France. But while I am largely in agreement with his critique, I do not think it affects my argument. This is the case for two reasons.

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Originally posted on The Dish:

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In an interview discussing a new volume of essays he edited about the French philosopher, Daniel Zamora portrays Foucault, especially in his later years, as more friendly to and fascinated by neoliberals Hayek and Friedman than many of his votaries on the academic left want to believe. Zamora claims to have been “astonished by the indulgence Foucault showed toward neoliberalism”:

[H]e saw in it the possibility of a form of governmentality that was much less normative and authoritarian than the socialist and communist left, which he saw as totally obsolete. He especially saw in neoliberalism a “much less bureaucratic” and “much less disciplinarian” form of politics than that offered by the postwar welfare state. He seemed to imagine a neoliberalism that wouldn’t project its anthropological models on the individual, that would offer individuals greater autonomy vis-à-vis the state.

Foucault seems, then, in the late seventies, to be moving towards the “second…

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Clare O'Farrell:

Editor’s note: For ease of reference all the posts relevant to the current debate concerning Foucault and neoliberalism are now categorised under ‘debates’ on Foucault News.

Originally posted on Progressive Geographies:

There are some interesting comments on last week’s thoughts on the Foucault and Neoliberalism debate – here. In particular the points made by Stephen Shapiro and Michael Behrent are worth reading – both are situating the discussion within a wider knowledge of French politics at the time, which is a very important move, although they draw different conclusions. Behrent’s comments are drawing upon, and justifying, a piece he published in Modern Intellectual History in 2009 (open access), which is translated in the Zamora collection.

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Peter Frase, Beyond the Welfare State, Dec 10, 2014.

Jacobin has published Seth Ackerman’s translation of an interesting interview with French sociologist Daniel Zamora, discussing his recent book about Michel Foucault’s affinities with neoliberalism. Zamora rightly points out that the “image of Foucault as being in total opposition to neoliberalism at the end of his life” is a very strained reading of a thinker whose relationship to the crisis of the 1970’s welfare state is at the very least much more ambiguous than that.

At the same time, Zamora’s argument demonstrates the limitations imposed by the displacement of “capitalism” by “neoliberalism” as a central category of left analysis. For his tacit premise seems to be that, if it can be shown that Foucault showed an “indulgence” toward neoliberalism, we must therefore put down his influence as a reactionary one. But what Foucault’s curious intersection with the project of the neoliberal right actually exemplifies, I would argue, is an ambiguity at the heart of the crisis of the 1970’s which gave rise to the neoliberal project. That he can be picked up by the right as easily as the left says much about the environment that produced him. Meanwhile, Zamora’s own reaction says something important about a distinction within the social democratic left that is worth spending some time on, which I’ll return to below.

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Clare O'Farrell:

Peter Gratton adds some further thoughts to the discussion.

Originally posted on PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR:

Here. I had been rounding up a post on this but never got around to it, and Stuart makes excellent and helpful points (with the modesty to suggest his views are revisable once the book referenced in the Zamora interview is published). Daniel Zamora’s original interview at Jacobin got picked up quickly by two “libertarian” sources at Reasonand at, of all places least likely to see a reference to Foucault, the Washington Post in the form of Daniel Drezner’s piece on “Why Michel Foucault is the libertarian’s best friend.” First, from Stuart Elden:

Foucault’s mode of reading texts often makes it look like he is agreeing with arguments, when he is really trying to reconstruct them, to understand their logic, and so on. To suggest there is some sympathy to neoliberalism is one thing, to claim he was a neoliberal/libertarian or other labels is quite another. Compare these…

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Clare O'Farrell:

A really useful and informative post by Stuart Elden on the history of the reception of Foucault’s lectures on neoliberalism, in the light of recent activity on this front. He comments ‘Foucault’s mode of reading texts often makes it look like he is agreeing with arguments, when he is really trying to reconstruct them, to understand their logic, and so on’.

Originally posted on Progressive Geographies:

FoucaultI’ve been away, but several people have been sending me links to a recent string of articles on Foucault’s supposed sympathies to neoliberalism. The start of the debate – in English at least – was the translation of an interview with Daniel Zamora at Jacobin. The interview relates to a book entitled Critiquer Foucault: Les années 1980 et la tentation néolibérale which has just been published. Clare O’Farrell rounds up the key pieces at Foucault News.

The book is a collective work, edited by Zamora. I’ve not read it yet, and suspect that very few of those commenting on it have either. Anything said now is necessarily provisional.

The first thing that struck me was the question – is this news? Foucault’s 1979 lectures on neoliberalism – the misnamed The Birth of Biopolitics – have been widely available for a decade. They were first published in French…

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