Late in life, Michel Foucault developed a curious sympathy for neoliberalism

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little eiffel
Late in life, Michel Foucault developed a curious sympathy for neoliberalism
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little eiffel

One can, of course, lament the statist form in which social security is managed, or say, for example, that it ought to be run by collectives — though I don’t really buy that — but criticizing the tool and its ideological basis as such, that’s very different. When Foucault goes so far as to say it’s “clear that there is hardly any sense in speaking of a ‘right to health,’” and asks, “should a society seek to satisfy individuals’ need for health? And can those individuals legitimately demand the satisfaction of those needs?” we are no longer really within the anarchist register.

For me, and contrary to Foucault, what we should do is deepen the social rights that we have already, we should “build on what already exists,” as Bernard Friot says. And social security is an excellent tool that we should both defend and deepen.

Along the same lines, when I read the philosopher Beatriz Preciado, who writes in Libération that “we’re not going to cry over the end of the welfare state, because the welfare state is also the psychiatric hospital, the disability office, the prison, the patriarchal-colonial-heteronormative school,” it makes me think that neoliberalism has done much more than transform our economy; it has profoundly reconfigured the social imagination of a certain “libertarian” left.


ikosmos ikosmos's picture

supplemental: David Harvey, the late Ellen Meiksins Wood and other theorists have long exposed the intimate romance between post-modernist and neo-liberal views.

voice of the damned

Thomas Szasz, the right-wing libertarian psychiatist who quite enthusiastically promoted Foucault's writings, took the thinking of the anti-psychiatry movement(though he rejected that particular label), to its logical conclusion, rejecting the notion that government has any responsibility for "mental health", since "mental health" doesn't actually exist.

The late Jenny Diski sums it up...

"By the 1960s and 1970s a coalition of right-wing libertarians, left-wing radicals and the kind-hearted set their faces against such a fate, and, without the left and kind-hearted quite getting the agenda of the libertarians, collaborated to shut down the fortresses and free the mad to roam, not so much cared for in the community as dosed into a palsied stupor or undosed in manic terror, up and down our high streets to participate in the real world. R.D. Laing, along with others in the anti-psychiatry movement, started well by living with and listening to the speech of the mad, but ended up imposing on them his belief that he too had the gift of tongues and took charge of speaking truth to normality. He began as their interpreter but finally lost interest in the middle-mad-man (who kept behaving badly and had to be carted off back to the loony bin) and became the source of his own wisdom. Before and after the time of the anti-psychiatrists, the pro-psychiatrists did everything in their ever increasing ‘scientific’ power to liberate the mad from the bin and bring them back to the world of normality with cold showers, electric shocks, insulin shock, brain cutting and anti-psychotic medication. The libertarians, for their part, simply announced that there was no such thing as madness and therefore the state was not required to oversee and pay for the care of those who were making themselves socially unwelcome (see Thomas Szasz). The so-called mad were to be turned out of the asylums and become part of the general population. If any individual’s behaviour was intolerable to society, they were to be imprisoned, not given sick notes."


In fairness, I've read a lot of Szasz, and I'm pretty sure he never said that people should be imprisoned for being "intolerable to society", but rather for breaking existing laws. In other words, no insanity defense, killing someone 'cuz you heard a voice should be treated the same as killing someone because you wanted the insurance payout.

Szasz replies to Diski at the end.

little eiffel

That is interesting, VotD, thank-you. I read Diski's piece on The Three Christs of Ypsilanti ages ago, but I was not aware that Szasz had replied to Jenny Diski, (rest in peace.)