Foucault: Arch-liberal?

It’s too nice a day to really go off on Foucault.

I have oft wondered about the supposed radicalism of Foucault? He and Chomsky are two of the most cited intellectuals in the world, and yet I have wondered about his radicalness. His historical understanding seems to be rooted in Althusserian structuralism, and his notion of power seems to be nebulous in a way that his refusal to define for reasons of avoiding “reduction” seemed both arbitrary and a mystification in and of itself.  Indeed, his turn just before the end of his life was an ethical turn aimed at the self, which seemed to come out of some of his particular failures of predicting politics in localities (Foucault’s failure to understand Iran seems key.)

While I do deeply respect Foucault’s historicism and think his structural critiques of differing European periods are key as well as his points about the basic failures of the liberal state, I think the failure to truly address what power is and what the self is the point where Foucault can be seen as less profound as both the Nietzscheans and the structural Marxists that he built on.   Listening to Hans Sluga interview on Entitled Opinions, the fact that power is kept nebulous leads Foucault to want to critique without being unable to question any of the basic assumption of his own epoch/episteme.  Sluga actually that Foucault’s slipperiness on his relationship to Nietzsche is key.   Foucault mystifiies power in a way Nietzsche does not in which power is both a net good but it is the ability to assert the will and make values through Umwertung aller Werte, or re-valuation itself.   So power is not just violence but the means to create  values. Foucault is not that precise, and thus avoids the “right-ward” drift of Nietzsche, but does this at cost of radicalization or the ability to more radically against general trends in specific moments.

This is why Foucault seems so useful:  He gives us means to talk about the past and critique, but his central analytic of power is vague and even quietistic.   Sometimes a little Hegel does one good.


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About El Mono Liso

Por una civilización de la pobreza.

Posted on April 24, 2012, in History, ideology, Philosophy and Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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