Laurence McFalls & Mariella Pandolfi, Post-Liberalism, Academic Foresights, No. 5: July-September 2012

How do you analyze the present status of post-liberalism?

Post-liberalism is the currently emergent historical formation that has both grown out of and broken with liberalism and neo-liberalism. Like its antecedents, post-liberalism entails its own forms of truth, of subjectivity, and of power. In the terminology of Michel Foucault, it is a governmentality, that is, a mode of government drawing on its own typical (post-) political rationality, practices, techniques and agents.

We can initially define post-liberalism by distinguishing it from liberalism and neo-liberalism. From liberal governmentality post-liberalism retains the “conduct of conduct” through the manipulation of interests, and from neo-liberal economic theory it adopts the idea that the market as a locus of veridiction, that is, as a mechanism that empirically produces truth through prices, is not natural but rather a fragile social construct. Well beyond neo-liberalism’s reinforcement and redeployment of market mechanisms and privatization of social services, post-liberalism through its multiplication and radicalization of mechanisms for controlling human life more fundamentally, even ontologically, redefines the human experience, replacing the self-interested liberal subject and the neo-liberal entrepreneur of the self with what Michael Dillon and Julian Reid call the “biohuman.” Unlike both classic and neo-liberalism, post-liberalism collapses the distinction between the individual and the collectivity through what we call the therapeutic government of individual bodies understood and understandable as particularly configured and manipulable exemplars of the human species in its diversity, with each susceptible to its particular vulnerabilities. The post-liberal subject is a composite subject, contingently pieced together genetically and socially. Humans, of course, have always been such constructs, but today they are subjected to social scientific discourses and biomedical technologies ranging from “intersectionality” to genetic engineering that empty them of the transcendent qualities of the autonomous, rational (neo-)liberal subject. (Indeed, post-liberalism’s simultaneous government of individuals and populations can most easily be understood through one of the biomedical practices that inspire it, namely “personalized medicine,” or the use of genetic, molecular, and environmental profiling for the optimization of individual patients’ preventive or therapeutic care.)

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