Foucault’s Subjectivities Against Neo-Liberalism (Philosophical Anthropology?)

I listened to the recent Miguel de Beistgui lecture on neo-liberalism and subjectivity, part of a conference held by Kingston University entitled The Government of Self and Others: On Foucault’s Lectures at the Collège de France, 1982/3″.  The lecture was good, concise, and was strong where I think it counts: philosophy and politics.  For me, it was old things repeated in a comfortingly clear and distinct way.  Subsequently, I posted a question on the blog where it is hosted.  For perpetuity, I’ve copied it here:

In response to the question about anarchism, I agree with Miguel’s response — anarchism has always been much more than the narrowly defined ‘anarchist tradition’. In particular, I think if we take the post-Kantian notions of Foucault Miguel was so good on, we could argue that most of the questions asked by the ‘anarchist tradition’ were responses to more-or-less different forms of power. Hence the confusion over Foucault’s relation to the state (from either the Anarchist or the Marxist camps).

But what I really wanted to note was the two figures of anarchism given in the Society Must Be Defended lectures. First the Levellers/Diggers, but lastly the Anarchist Utopian Socialists. The account of the Levellers/Diggers is fairly straightforward and has been commented on before. What I find striking is that Foucault’s analysis of biopower found in the last lecture (though he amends it later, by saying that the Nazis may be more of a distraction than the limit-case he was trying to construct), he notes that anarchists have the most problematic philosophical anthropology of all of the roughly-marxist branch of biopolitics. While this could be chalked up to Foucault’s strong anti-humanism (which I think Balibar has done a good job on, particularly in the “Subjection and Subjectivation” essay in Copjec’s Supposing the Subject), I think it would do a disservice to a strong lingering question in Foucault scholarship.

As noted by Miguel in response to the figures of Sloterdijk, but echoed ever stronger in Jeff Nealon’s “Foucault Beyond Foucault” – subject-formation seems so tragically connected to mode of neo-liberal capture, we have to be suspicious of any positive ‘model’ of verediction. I think this is what the question on ‘refusal’ was getting at (and therefore strikes with the ‘negative’ chords of Agamben and Tiqqun quite well). And to get back to the argument of my second paragraph — when Foucault is so certain that utopians socialism’s ‘anthropology’ is doomed to a bad biopolitics, what are we left with? there is Negri’s ‘positive’ biopolitics – which we see shades of in all of the post-operaismo thought (though I haven’t read enough to argue if any of it is a full-blown ‘anthropology of labor’ or whatever). my own affinities lie with Deleuze and a vitalism rather than the pure negativity of more Hegelian-inflected approaches (though heavily reconstructed, like the Agamben/Tiqqun I noted above).

which leads me to my question:
are the features of subjectivity that Miguel likes (in review: sovereign subject as 1) an unalienable jouissance 2) mastery through care of the self 3) active subversion) analytic or synthetic? and how far do they take us away from neo-liberalism (or more generally, the ‘possessive individualism’ of Macpherson)?


One thought on “Foucault’s Subjectivities Against Neo-Liberalism (Philosophical Anthropology?)

  1. While I absolutely love Foucault, he isn’t the best theorist to use to question Anarchism. Since Foucault is all about the discourses that construct knowledge (and the underlying power structures of both), he is asking the wrong questions of Anarchism. Anarchism is not about power, but about authority, and, as such, about criticizing the legitimization of authority. Power and authority are two different, although related, concepts.

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