Foucault’s neoliberalism

26 May, 2023 at 10:46 | Posted in Economics, Politics & Society | 4 Comments

foucault / desfoucault | Engraçado, PalavrasAlthough somewhat critical of its reductive elements, Foucault found certain attractive features in the ideal or programmatic form imagined by American neoliberalism, namely, that it envisages a kind of regulation outside sovereign, disciplinary, and biopolitical forms, that it regulates without the fabrication of subjectivities and in a manner that optimizes difference and tolerates minority groups and practices. Second, from a policy perspective, Foucault showed a certain acceptance of a neoliberal diagnosis of current problems of the welfare state as creating dependency, as unresponsive and costly, without offering an explicit endorsement of its reconstructions of health and social services as a series of markets. Finally, from the perspective of concrete political alignments, he displays an affinity with the “Second Left,” those elements within French social democracy that opposed the statism of the “First Left” and displayed a willingness to adopt neoliberal ideas and solutions …

Intellectually, Foucault expresses most affinity with American neoliberalism of the Chicago School. From a public policy perspective, he offers critiques of the welfare state found in the work of the principals of that School and explores technologies, such as the negative tax, that are sourced from such critiques. And from a concrete political perspective, he most clearly aligns himself with specific factions of the French Left open to ideas and solutions borrowed from American neoliberalism. To note this threefold, affirmative relationship is not to denounce Foucault as a neoliberal. It is simply to indicate his much more serious and fundamental engagement with a contemporary form of economic liberalism than is usually allowed in Foucauldian commentary.

Mitchell Dean


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  1. An excellent discussion of some of the issues raised here, including Neo-liberals and the New Left.

  2. American neoliberalism in the essence of its architecture enacts its own self-contained and fundamentally false dialectic between a “left” neoliberalism and a “right” neoliberalism that serves to legitimate terms of debate and voices in a highly circumscribed arena the better to foreclose any actual critical thinking or realistic argument. Foucault, no more than any other mortal, could hope to “engage” with neoliberals outside the neoliberal dialectic; they don’t go there — as they say, “there is no alternative.”

  3. Did Foucault bend due to pressures and what that portend for himself and as such provide fodder for the agency that foist neoliberalism on the West – repetitive situation.

    • Sorry in advance, but, so reminiscent of those like Spencer and a host of other, long forgotten thinkers, that were the toast of the town until something else came along.

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