Radical Left

Concerned Leftists Rediscover Michel Foucault Might Not Have Been As Anti-Market as They'd Like

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Jacobin magazine readers discover something Nick Gillespie was telling you here at Reason at least as long ago as 2010: that lefty intellectual hero Michel Foucault late in life found himself attracted to aspects of the ideas of free-market thinkers such as Mises and Hayek, or, as the lefties prefer to pigeonhole them, "neoliberals."

Excerpts from an interview with Daniel Zamora, a writer on Foucault who "exposed" that their hero might have had a soft spot for the liberating powers of free market:

I wanted to clearly break with the far too consensual image of Foucault as being in total opposition to neoliberalism at the end of his life. From that point of view, I think the traditional interpretations of his late works are erroneous, or at least evade part of the issue. He's become sort of an untouchable figure within part of the radical left….

Foucault was highly attracted to economic liberalism: he 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 was one of the first to really take the neoliberal texts seriously and to read them rigorously. Before him, those intellectual products were generally dismissed, perceived as simple propaganda.

"One of the first" if you refused to read anything but people you consider politically sympatico, I guess. Foucault saw something in "neoliberalism" that anyone who pretends to care about human liberty, possibility, or dignity should respect. And Zamora understands this is a problem for the left, their willful ignorance of their imagined intellectual opponents:

Sequestered in the usual sectarianism of the academic world, no stimulating reading had existed that took into consideration the arguments of Friedrich Hayek, Gary Becker, or Milton Friedman….

The intellectual left…has often remained trapped in a "school" attitude, refusing a priori to consider or debate ideas and traditions that start from different premises than its own. It's a very damaging attitude. One finds oneself dealing with people who've practically never read the intellectual founding fathers of the political ideology they're supposedly attacking! Their knowledge is often limited to a few reductive commonplaces.

The interview goes on with Zamora noting that Foucault dared question the totalizing social security system ("To [Foucault's] mind, the mechanisms of social assistance and social insurance, which he put on the same plane as the prison, the barracks, or the school, were indispensable institutions 'for the exercise of power in modern societies.'") in favor of a welfare state that was merely about ameliorating poverty, even through a Friedmanite "negative income tax."

This is an important point. As I've written before, a welfare state that was just and only about making sure no one fell below some level of near-absolute destitution would be far preferable to our unimaginably complex quasi-totalizing system of roundrobin income redistributions along multiple dimensions or some leftist quest for "equality" as opposed to nobody dying in the proverbial streets from poverty.

Zamora is uncomfortable with a line of thought from the left that critiques more comprehensive social security, and he gripes about "a certain 'libertarian' left" and in general is disturbed by a Foucaultian emphasis on the marginalized and social "power" writ large. That, he fears, takes our eyes from where he seems to think they belong: on the supposedly lamentable fact that some people are richer than others and the economic "exploitation" that inevitably accompanies that fact.

Whole interview very interesting for those wanting to see a smart lefty grapple with the libertarian-ish temptation to a left that he wants to stay Marxist or generally against a world with free markets, private property, and the inequality that comes along with that freedom.

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85 responses to “Concerned Leftists Rediscover Michel Foucault Might Not Have Been As Anti-Market as They'd Like

  1. One finds oneself dealing with people who’ve practically never read the intellectual founding fathers of the political ideology they’re supposedly attacking!

    Practically?

    The left/progs/TEAM BLUE/whatever you want to call them have, in their classic projection, absolutely adopted the very thing they accuse their enemies of (especially TEAM RED): they are actively anti-intellectual. They think (because they are actively delusional and all reinforce each others’ delusions) that they are intellectual, while engaging in every possible type of anti-intellectual behavior under the sun. Censorship, oversensitivity, refusal to even look at the arguments of their opponents, you name it, they do it.

    They’re laughable as anything other than a bullying mass that relies on governmental force and mob shaming to get anything done.

    1. I see a lot of that on Facebook? leftists unfriending/blocking/hiding anyone who dares question The Party Line and it’s a noted phenomenon.

      Of course, leftists don’t have to listen to non-leftist arguments since they’re all based on hate, greed, selfishness, fear, or other negative emotions.

    2. Exactly.

      By the way, a political philosopher based in Turkey made the same points as Doherty, only finer. Left-libertarians pay heed!

  2. Foucault of you leftist retards.

    1. Nice.

      Though, like “Koch”, it works better in print than verbally, as i think its pronounced more “foo-COE”

  3. Oh god, are we really going to start talking about Foucault here? I still have PTSD from my criminology courses.

    1. I mentioned this last night, when Kennedy messed up the sequence of William Wallace’s ‘execution’

      “…Though a strong, sturdy fellow, this executioner found it so difficult to tear away the pieces of flesh that he set about the same spot two or three times, twisting the pincers as he did so, and what he took away formed at each part a wound about the size of a six-pound crown piece.

      “After these tearings with the pincers, Damiens, who cried out profusely, though without swearing, raised his head and looked at himself; the same executioner dipped an iron spoon in the pot containing the boiling potion, which he poured liberally over each wound. Then the ropes that were to be harnessed to the horses were attached with cords to the patient’s body; the horses were then harnessed and placed alongside the arms and legs, one at each limb.

      “The horses tugged hard, each pulling straight on a limb, each horse held by an executioner. After a quarter of an hour, the same ceremony was repeated and finally, after several attempts, the direction of the horses had to be changed, thus: those at the arms were made to pull towards the head, those at the thighs towards the arms, which broke the arms at the joints. This was repeated several times without success. He raised his head and looked at himself. Two more horses had to be added to those harnessed to the thighs, which made six horses in all. Without success.”

  4. As I’ve written before, a welfare state that was just and only about making sure no one fell below some level of near-absolute destitution would be far preferable to our unimaginably complex quasi-totalizing system of roundrobin income redistributions along multiple dimensions or some leftist quest for “equality” as opposed to nobody dying in the proverbial streets from poverty.

    I agree, as long as you fund it with your own money. Stay the fuck away from mine.

    1. A societal conception of welfare as something that is justifiable to make sure no one is truly destitute would mean much less welfare.

      The notion of welfare itself has been captured and corrupted by the Progs and their Total State fellow travelers to mean a tool for achieving equality. Which, of course, can never be achieved, and so is a perfect tool for the ever-expanding Total State.

      1. Which, of course, can never be achieved, and so is a perfect tool for the ever-expanding Total State.

        This is it… somewhere, someone out there makes less than someone else. Redouble our efforts! More state!

      2. It couldn’t possibly be the case that you’ve erected an absurd straw man in order to justify not believing in the welfare state at all. How well could you live on an average Social Security check? Do you consider that a lavish lifestyle?

        1. Re: Tony,

          How well could you live on an average Social Security check? Do you consider that a lavish lifestyle?

          Compared to working for that same money?

          You really don’t get economics, do you?

          Well, do you, punk?

          1. Oh but let me try to understand. “Economics” means, you argue absolutely and without hesitation, that a 90-year-old with no savings must engage in productive labor in order not to starve to death, and if the economy cannot employ vast numbers of elderly people, then they should fuck off and die. Am I educated now?

            1. Re: Tony,

              “Economics” means, you argue absolutely and without hesitation, that a 90-year-old with no savings must engage in productive labor in order not to starve to death

              So you’re flying off a tangent, as usual.

              First, let me explain something: a person who receives free money from the government does not have to leave home to work for that same money. That is an IMPROVEMENT in his well-being. Thinking it is otherwise demonstrates a lack of knowledge in economics.

              Second, ascribing a moral value on an outcome has no bearing on what economics is as a science, just like the fact that people fall to their deaths does not make physics evil or immoral.

              Am I educated now?

              You’re actually quite the disturbed little fellow.

              1. But I have accurately described the inevitable consequences of your beliefs? Calling them absolute scientific truths is more than a bit presumptuous, especially since if you look out your window you will see a planet full of communities that have managed quite well to operate welfare societies without the universe collapsing into a puff of self-contradiction.

                1. Re: Tony,

                  But I have accurately described the inevitable consequences of your beliefs?

                  What you did was to describe a possible outcome and from there derive a moral judgment on economics, something that makes as much sense as describing the outcome of a fellow falling off a cliff in order to conclude that physics are evil.

                  Calling them absolute scientific truths is more than a bit presumptuous

                  Not if they are indeed the truth. But you’re not talking about economics but instead echoing some sort of morality play.

                  you will see a planet full of communities that have managed quite well to operate welfare societies

                  All I see is countries on hock. Talk about non-sustainability.

        2. It couldn’t possibly be the case that you’ve erected an absurd straw man in order to justify not believing in the welfare state at all.

          I was contrasting a welfare state designed to prevent destitution, with a welfare state designed to achieve “equality.”

          Where do you get “not believing the welfare state at all” out of that?

        3. How well could you live on an average Social Security check?

          I wouldn’t be destitute.

          Why? Are you trying to make a point?

          Other than reinforcing my point that way too many people no longer see welfare as appropriate to reduce destitution?

          1. The debate central to this interview is about the liberal tradition of collectivizing to reduce economic inequality and the neoliberal idea of collectivizing to establish a safety net but being unconcerned with inequality (which is basically the American model). My thoughts on this are complicated because while I like the simplicity and liberty that come with a simple safety net system, I also believe that too much disparity results in its own set of social problems (particularly, problems for democracy), even if no one is destitute.

            I suggest that you’re taking the neoliberal viewpoint as something that all leftists are required to adopt as a given. But they’re not trying to get something over on you–eliminating destitution isn’t the only purpose of a welfare state for many liberals (see Elizabeth Warren).

            1. Re: Tony,

              The debate central to this interview is about the liberal tradition of collectivizing […]

              You must mean the socialist tradition of collectivizing.

              I also believe that too much disparity results in its own set of social problems (particularly, problems for democracy), even if no one is destitute.

              Leaving aside the logical problem of arguing by appeals to opinion (who gets to say what is “too much”?), the problem with your proposition is that it is self-defeating: there will ALWAYS be someone dissatisfied with the level of disparity no matter how unreasonable his position. If your target is to make everybody happy (which is implied here: “its own set of social problems (particularly, problems for democracy)” then the solution would be to have NO income at all rather than the exact same level of income, because the moment a few people start TRADING, their well-being starts to rise above everybody else’s. You can’t really stop people from trading, so proposing you do is meaningless.

              If you tell me that the level of disparity to overcome can be decided by vote, it would still not solve the problem YOU suggest, which is the social unrest derived from disparity. The only reasonable solution is to make sure every single person is free to pursue their interests and to shoot dead anybody caught in the act of showing his “dissatisfaction” by looting or stealing.

    2. ^^ This. The definition of “destitute” has changed from absolute (cannot meet basic needs) to relative (has less than someone else). Using this definition, the number of “destitute” people will never go down. Which, of course, is part of the plan.

      1. ^^this this

      2. Twenty percent of the American people are still in the lowest income quintile.

    3. Do you understand what the word “preferable” means?

      1. Re: Carl the level,

        Do you understand what the word “preferable” means?

        Yes. My preferable is obviously not his preferable, but does not matter because he can’t have my money. Capisce?

        1. So, you don’t. Got it.

    4. Get off my roads.

      1. Re: Tony,

        Get off my roads.

        Stop taking my money and I’ll comply.

        1. No you won’t.

          1. Re: Tony,

            No you won’t.

            Oh, yes I will. You have my word. You just want the money.

            1. I suspect you already take more than you pay for. Even if that weren’t the case, surely someone as principled as you wouldn’t be caught dead using public resources paid for by such evil means.

              1. Re: Tony,

                I suspect you already take more than you pay for.

                Your suspicions are irrelevant. Clearly, you are unwilling to stop the fleecing. Who is the addicted one, Tony?

                Even if that weren’t the case, surely someone as principled as you wouldn’t be caught dead using public resources paid for by such evil means.

                So you’re not going to stop taking my money?

                1. It’s not your money, it’s your debt for services rendered.

                  1. Debt for services rendered NOT ASKED FOR.

                    Like the mob, Tony.

                  2. Re: Tony,

                    It’s not your money, it’s your debt for services rendered.

                    So that means “No”. So what is this “Get off my roads” thing, if you’re not willing to stop taking from me? You’re a thief and a hypocrite.

                    1. Tony, I live in a town with an annual road maintenance budget of $1 million dollars. It would cost more than $250 million to repair all the roads (assuming no further degradation). I keep paying and nothing gets fixed. What service am I paying for? For roads paved and paid for 20 years ago? Tax dollars clearly aren’t going towards road maintenance.

                      My taxes go up every year; I pay more for police, fire and road services every year. The money just goes to retirees who cashed out and fled the city years ago. In the meantime they cut police officers and firefighters by 30%. And this is after enacting a new millage for the police and fire departments. I must be a sucker to keep falling for this. Even the most poorly run businesses treat me better than my city government. I’m all for paying to support city services but dammit I expect to actually to receive those services.

  5. Before him, those intellectual products were generally dismissed, perceived as simple propaganda

    To the Left, everything is propaganda, and thus simply prefer theirs to anybody else’s.

    Call it projection, if you will. I call it irrationality, but whatever.

  6. To [Foucault’s] mind, the mechanisms of social assistance and social insurance, which he put on the same plane as the prison, the barracks, or the school, were indispensable institutions ‘for the exercise of power in modern societies.

    Which begs the question of whether you think the exercise of power in modern society is a good thing or a bad thing.

    To lots and lots of people, identifying something as an indispensable institution for government control of society is the same as saying its indispensable, period.

  7. TL:DR; Leftist finds something unexpected in his navel during routine inspection.

    1. I believe the butthurt is that there was something found in someone else’s navel that was unexpected.

  8. But what do Millennials think of Foucault?

    1. I, as a token millennial, think that old white intellectuals have no place in our New Millennial Society.

      1. Seconded. Polls strongly urge exile.

        1. Projection for approaching New Millennial Society commencement is pushed back to 2050. New polling strongly indicates members will favour old intellectuals at revised start time.

      2. Just like your mom. And Nicole.

    2. As a millennial, I am mistrustful of public intellectuals. Either there the kind of arrogant pricks who like to talk too much about shit they don’t know, or their being exploited for a political cause by other people. As a rule, I don’t trust the opinion of any philosopher unless they have been dead for at least 50 years,

  9. I had to read Foucault in college (“Discipline and Punish” and “History of Sexuality”) and …given that many of the other authors we were reading were even more over-the-top screaming Marxists… the thing I took away from him was his particular interest in the broader nature of ‘power relations’ in human life, rather than simply in the context of ‘class struggle’; and in particular, his exploration of how the state uses power against citizens in either overt or passive ways (e.g. the ‘Panopticon’ mechanism, where it sees you but you can’t see whether it is *looking*)

    I mentioned in the Noah Berlatsky thread that he was probably the only readable ‘marxist critical theorist’ i’d ever come across. Which isn’t saying much.

    I’m reminded of a funny exchange with my professor after we’d gone over the 4th or 5th ’20th century marxist philosopher’; “Is there anyone who’s *not a marxist* worth reading?” “That’s not what this class is about” “I know: What’s the OTHER class?” He laughed. “I have no idea” I think he suggested John Rawls was ‘less Marxist’, but then we read that too and I was unimpressed.

    1. And John Rawls is highly regarded among ‘moderate’ or ‘mainstream’ liberals. Not progresssives – liberals.

      1. John Rawls: nebbishadik apologist for evil or the most nebbishadik apologist for evil? Discuss.

    2. Wow. Holy shit. At least my social and political philosophy class prof. had us read Rand (and watch her Mike Wallace interview).

      1. belated =

        this was a ‘social and political philosophy seminar‘ on 20th century philosophers

        we’d already taken the 101 soc.pol.phil where we’d read smith, marx, hobbes, locke, rousseau, weber, etc.

        the teacher was a guest from NYU who wanted to go ‘in depth’ on the frankfurt school and french 60s ‘post-structuralists’.

        He was a nice guy. But was WAY too-into the whole school of ‘marxist-gibberish-lingo’ philosophy. The nice part was that he would take the class to the bar once a month and get everyone loaded. There was also a bible-beater in the class who brought up Jesus at least once every class. Good times.

    3. Do you guys have a good list handy for readable leftist theory? I really feel like I should read up more on it to be more philosophically well-rounded, but do not want to waste my time.

      1. “readable leftist theory”

        ‘Well THERE’s your problem…’

        Honestly, John Rawls’ “Theory Of Justice” is probably the closest thing you’ll find to ‘plain english’ lefty-reasoning that doesn’t make you feel like your teeth are being pulled out through the top of your skull.

        Most everything else is so drowning in marxist gobbledygook and requires so much back-reading to parse it that its simply not worth it.

        Maybe also Rousseau’s “Emile” to get some grounding in the Proto-Prog hopeless idealism.

        1. Rawls’ “readability” as more to do with him being a philosopher working in the Anglo-American school of Analytic philosophy. Anything coming out of the Continental school is going to be unreadable as the Voynich manuscript, regardless of the actual stance taken by the philosopher.

          1. ^What he said

        2. Thanks. I try to get excited about reading this kind of stuff but usually end up picking up a science non-fiction or an enlightenment/libertarian philosophy.

      2. The best breakdown of Leftist theory I have ever read, which also acts as a nifty reading list is The Lost Literature of Socialism by George Watson. Its fantastic but hard to come by these days.

    4. Same here, decent social theorist. I just wish his writing structure wasn’t so goddamn awful at times. I think it might be a translation thing but I’m really not sure.

  10. A magazine called ‘Jacobin’ is all you need to know about such people and its readers.

  11. You’re just mad that even flawed leftist philosophers are giants compared to the handful of goobers you guys can claim.

    1. How would YOU know?

    2. Profound and insightful comment by Tony. Ignore actual material being discussed, commence juvenile strawman.

      1. What would you like to talk about? The debate between reducing inequality vs. eliminating poverty, or the fact that most libertarians don’t think either should be anyone’s concern and are basically vulgar anarchists?

        1. Re: Tony,

          What would you like to talk about? The debate between reducing inequality vs. eliminating poverty

          Why not both at the same time? Just introduce Juche and we’ll be equally rich – and don’t you dare say otherwise.

          basically vulgar anarchists?

          I am a vulgar anarchist!

        2. I’m sorry, did you just respond to my criticism of you ignoring the actual material being discussed by ignoring the actual material being discussed?

          Quality response there Tony. “LOOK OVER THERE, STRAWMAN” is a profoundly pathetic tactic.

    3. Locke is a goober? Holy shit, dude.

  12. “The intellectual left….has often remained trapped in a “school” attitude, refusing a priori to consider or debate ideas and traditions that start from different premises than its own.”

    What premises do their ideas and traditions start from?

    To me, they always look reactionary–in the true sense of the word. I was talking to a lefty about Singer the other day. He brought it up!

    He was running with the the moral indefensibility of affluence–which Singer was doing back in the ’70s before China tuned in, turned on, and revved up. As if American consumers lifting hundreds of millions of Chinese peasants out of abject poverty had never happened!

    It gave me an opportunity to bring up my favorite issue again–progressives complaining that America’s poor are too fat. I don’t know where the intellectual left thinks it’s coming from on the subject of economics anymore. Keynesians would laugh most of them out of the room.

    1. Which progressives? You gotta stop getting your ideas about progressives from fascist assholes. Why the poor are obese in the developed world is a scientific question, a pathology liberals are concerned about (not complaining about). It’s the fascist idiots who say “our poor are obese, they don’t need any more help obviously” in their special brand of shallow nonsense.

      1. Re: Tony,

        Which progressives?

        The same nice Progressives who imposed Obamacare on us.

        You gotta stop getting your ideas about progressives from fascist assholes.

        That would be like saying stop taking your ideas about dogs from canis domesticus.

        Why the poor are obese in the developed world is a scientific question

        It’s actually an economic question, but whatever.

        1. Obamacare is neoliberalism par excellence, but to you it’s nothing more than a totem of pure evil as described to you by the fascist assholes to which I referred. I’m sorry for how stupid they’ve made you.

          And everything is a scientific question.

          1. Re: Tony,

            Obamacare is neoliberalism par excellence

            Idiots who post on a libertarian Facebook I visit regularly always claim that Stalin was in reality a capitalist, just to distance themselves from the realities of socialism. Must be friends of yours.

            1. What good are you since you think anything that government does is socialism? The conversation being had by serious people is about a capitalism-centric welfare state and a redistributive welfare state, because serious people don’t believe that social Darwinism is the only morally permissible system.

              1. Re: Tony,

                What good are you since you think anything that government does is socialism?

                So were you being glib when saying Obamacare is neoliberalism?

                because serious people don’t believe that social Darwinism is the only morally permissible system.

                I don’t understand what is this “Social Darwinism” you talk about. Markets and Capitalism are so far apart from natural selection per s? that the notion such a thing exists is laughable.

            2. Obamacare is neoliberalism?

              LOL

              Tony is the pet parrot of an idiot.

      2. Tony, have you read anything by an actual fascist?

        I think you might like it.

      3. You gotta stop getting your ideas about progressives from fascist assholes.

        If you quit commenting here, that perception will drop dramatically.

  13. The text widely received and celebrated by flawed leftist philosophers:

    Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity

    http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sok…..efile.html

    1. Truly the finest work of the 90s.

  14. He especially saw in neoliberalism a “much less bureaucratic” and “much less disciplinarian” form of politics

    You don’t get to achieve equality without discipline and bureaucratic. You need enforcement and enforcers. Clearly if Foucault was in favor of less bureaucracy and less discipline, he did not subscribe to egalitarian politics, or found the idea of egalitarianism too regimental. Which it is.

    1. The argument is that he was seduced by the arguments of libertarians favoring a poverty-reduction approach over an inequality-reduction one. But you reject both because you’re a useless anarchist who entertains the fantasy that you could live the lifestyle to which you are accustomed but without paying taxes.

      1. Re: Tony,

        The argument is that he was seduced by the arguments of libertarians[..]

        Begone, temptress!

        favoring a poverty-reduction approach over an inequality-reduction one.

        Maybe because the second one is a practical impossibility for the reason that we’re not robots.

        1. We’ve reduced economic inequality quite significantly and successfully before. And it happened to coincide with the most rapid social, economic, scientific, moral, and health advancements in the history of the human species. Purely a coincidence I’m sure.

          1. Re: Tony,

            We’ve reduced economic inequality quite significantly and successfully before. And it happened to coincide with the most rapid social, economic, scientific, moral, and health advancements in the history of the human species.

            Instead of just asserting this, why not elaborate on what you mean? Because I believe you’re confusing rising incomes with reducing economic inequality (really, income inequality)

            You can’t reduce income inequality unless you impose an authoritarian regime that reduces the income of one set of people to equate it to the income of another set of people.

  15. “Their knowledge is often limited to a few reductive commonplaces.”

    You can say this about any political stripe, leftists are just the most extreme example.

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