“Foucault’s Pendulum”: Social Scholarship, Ideology, and Libertarian Temptations

I'm no prophet. My job is making windows where there 
were once walls.
― Michel Foucault

Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk, is credited with triggering a profound spiritual movement in the minds of early modern Europeans.  Luther, who was an extremely pious Catholic, eventually became a reluctant rebel by channeling the frustrations of the faithful over their inability to reach out directly to God within the then existing church matrix.  The Protestant Reformation, which he helped unleash, developed in opposition to the powerful institutions and guidelines of the Roman Catholic Church that acted as a gatekeeper to the sacred knowledge.  The reformation movement decentered and fragmented the once powerful Catholic ideology and bureaucracy, eventually shifting the minds of people toward the individual interpretation of Scripture.

In its condemnation of Luther, the papal court compared his heresy with that of Jan Hus.  One hundred years prior to Luther, this religious dissenter from Bohemia had been burned at the stake for essentially advocating the same things that were later ushered in by the Protestants.  Puzzled by the comparison, Luther, who had never heard about Hus, went to a library to research what the Bohemian had been up to.  Stunned by the obvious similarities between Hus’s and his own ideas, the rebellious German monk allegedly exclaimed, “Yes, I am a Hussite.”[1]  This historical anecdote was on my mind while I was following a recent debate about how and why, at the end of his life, Michel Foucault (1926-1984) – a 20th-century philosophical giant of a French-Jewish extraction and, simultaneously, one of the intellectual gurus of the modern left – became interested in “neoliberalism.”[2]


Foucault’s intention to explore the ideas of individual liberty and free enterprise – the process which led him to discovering for himself the writings of modern libertarian and libertarian-leaning thinkers, particularly F. A. Hayek (1899-1992), Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), Wilhelm Röpke (1899-1966), Milton Freedman (1912-2006), and Gary Becker (1930-2014).  As the intellectual historian James Miller has informed us, the outcome of those insights was that Foucault implicitly came to defend “the value of a libertarian kind of liberalism.”[3]

By now, his works have become classics, and among many social scholars, it is considered a matter of good humanities taste to infuse academic writings with references to Foucault.  It will not be an exaggeration to compare his intellectual standing and prestige to the one enjoyed earlier by such celebrities as Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud.  By the end of the 1980s, in the eyes of some Western left academics, especially in North America, Foucault acquired a saint-like authority.  “He’s become sort of an untouchable figure within part of the radical left,” as Belgian sociologist Daniel Zamora stressed in his interview with a rather telling title “Can We Criticize Foucault?”[4]


Yet, despite his impeccable scholarly and activist credentials, at some point, near the end of the 1970s, Foucault somehow caught a “neoliberal virus” (some of his critics saw this as a product of his inherent “anarchist bias”).  The first signs of the “infection” emerged after 1975 when the philosopher began contemplating on the nature of his own and his friends’ radical militancy: “How does one keep from being fascist, even (especially) when one believes oneself to be a revolutionary militant? How do we rid our speech, our acts, our hearts and our pleasures of fascism? How do we ferret out the fascism that is ingrained in our behavior?”[5]  As a result, according to Colin Gordon, who apprenticed closely with the master, the philosopher began distancing himself away from “the militant ideal of the time,” which a few years later made him explore “the formidable capabilities of liberalism as a political rationality.[6]  Eventually, sometime after 1978, both in his interviews and lectures delivered at College de France,[7]

Foucault started examining and challenging some 20th-century conventional left orthodoxies, especially the veneration of the power of a benevolent welfare state that faced economic and social stagnation by the end of the last century.  The philosopher suggested that democratic socialism failed to deliver a well-working political matrix and suggested his left-leaning audiences explore ideas of “neoliberalism” – free market and individual liberty notions that were gaining popularity in the 1970s and the 1980s.  Foucault assumed that this emerging political mindset was worthy of attention and intellectual respect because it could offer a type of “governmentality” that developed and corrected itself through its own critique.[8]  He never approached his toying with “politically incorrect” insights as some kind of an intellectual epiphany.  In fact, more often than not, Foucault simply narrated and summarized for his students and acolytes what he was learning from the writings of West German Ordoliberals (Röpke), Austrians (Mises and Hayek), and Chicagoans (Friedman and Becker).

Still, the very fact that the prominent left philosopher was actively exploring those “forbidden” names and schools in front of leftist audiences (which were accustomed to operating within the comfortable and familiar Marx-Marcuse-Gramsci ideological matrix) was already a revolutionary act.  Foucault literally stunned his acolytes on the left by suggesting that one could actually learn from such writers as Mises and Hayek, whom no self-respecting mainstream social scholar of the time would have ever engaged into an intellectual dialogue.  Yet, not only did Foucault discuss these authors in his College de France lectures, but he also openly encouraged students to read them.[9]  Speaking in broken English, François Ewald, one of his close students who was listening to those talks, later tried to explain the keen attention of his teacher to the libertarian economists, “The sole liberalism[10] for Foucault, the sole interesting liberalism is the liberalism practiced by economists and not by the theoreticians of the political or of the philosophical politics of liberalism. Why? Because Foucault gives to the economists a very specific status, that is, they are truth producers.”[11]

One can speculate that, as a wayward Marxist, Foucault might have discovered it appealing to his taste how libertarians privileged the economic approach.  Thus, he challenged his students to scrutinize activities of governmental bureaucracy in terms of supply and demand, in terms of efficiency, and to take into consideration the cost of intervention.  Moreover, the philosopher stressed that the radical critique of authorities through the lenses of “critical theory” of market can become a potent political weapon against governmental bureaucracy – a trajectory of activism that has been traditionally scorned as right-wing.  In an inverted Marxist manner, for Foucault, this “homo economics” approach made perfect sense because it could be expanded to scrutinizing rational and irrational behavior, culture, intellectual life, and politics, for essentially all human beings have had to deal with the allocation of available resources.[12]  In a politically incorrect manner, he also challenged his audience to think about the often-spoken Third World underdevelopment, not only in terms of the established ideological cliché of neocolonialism, but also in terms of how particular cultures and societies invested (or did not invest) in the development of human capital: the quality of parental care, education, knowledge, and curiosity about outside world.


He found a “neoliberal” approach to an individual as an equivalent of an enterprise or an investment capital especially attractive.  Furthermore, his generalizations about the potent intellectual and cultural sources of Western European economic advancement in the 1600s and the 1700s were strikingly out of touch with the rising ideological tide of anti-Western sentiments in North American and European social scholarship.  Talking about the role of human capital, Foucault drew attention to what might have jump started Europe’s economic development: “To what was this due?  Was it due to the accumulation of physical capital? Historians are increasingly skeptical about this hypothesis.  Was it not due precisely to the existence of an accumulation, an accelerated accumulation, of human capital?”[13]  Moreover, comparing the welfare state in France and in the United States, Foucault suggested that, if placed on a grading scale of hegemony, the American state appeared less “disciplinarian” than the omnipotent bureaucracy erected in his native France.[14]  To an average Western leftist academic, all those utterances surely appeared as scandalous attempts to exonerate the “ruthless” free market, Eurocentrism, neocolonialism, and the United States – the “eternal capitalist Satan” of progressive theology.

When his 1978-1979 College de France lectures were finally published in France in 2005 and then translated into English in 2008, a small debate emerged within and around Foucault scholarship about whether the grand master had slipped into capitalism or not, and if he did, to what extent.  Two observers, one coming from the left and another from the right, could not avoid noticing that the whole controversy over Foucault’s alleged neoliberalism looked like a fairly tribal attack on the philosopher who disrupted the tunnel vision of the traditional left.  As such, it was an obvious attempt to posthumously “discipline” Foucault for his flirtations with the intellectual right.[15]


The most recent comprehensive insight into Foucault’s “heretical” exercises has been made by Belgian sociologist Zamora and his American colleague historian Michael C. Behrent, who invited a group of Marxist and post-Marxist scholars to explore the issue.  The result of their efforts became a volume titled Foucault and Neoliberalism.  Their overall verdict was that the great left thinker indeed betrayed the cause and ended up joining the “dark forces” of neoliberalism.[16] Introducing their findings, Zamora stressed, “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.”[17]

To the traditional left, whose ethos had been shaped in the crucible of the marshal and statist 20th century, such a stance sounded like pure apostasy.  Until recently, despite Foucault’s deviation from the “correct” intellectual path, left academic writers frequently downplayed his “libertarian twists” as misunderstood episodes in the otherwise noble progressive career of an academic-activist.  This is especially true regarding American academia, where, as Behrent informs us, there has been unwillingness to actually read what he was saying about neoliberalism.   According to Zamora, “This blindness is surprising because even I was astonished by the indulgence Foucault showed toward neoliberalism when I delved into the texts. It’s not only his Collège de France lectures, but also numerous articles and interviews, all of which are accessible.”[18]  It is clear that the revelations about the “dangerous” intellectual games the great left master played at the end of his life and the very conversation about his “heresy” worried the gatekeepers of the traditional leftist “temple.”  Thus, Doug Henwood from Nation magazine, who agreed to write a blurb for Foucault and Neoliberalism, felt the need to issue a warning to the faithful: “The anti-statist turn of much of the global left has disturbing but largely unexamined affinities with neoliberalism. Michel Foucault, for all his greatness, is a key figure in this turn.”[19]

Like many other twentieth-century intellectuals who were raised within the matrix of traditional Marxist theology, in the 1960s, Foucault seemed to have originally been preoccupied with the quest for a new class-redeemer to fill the void created by the historical “apostasy” of the industrial working class (the proletariat in the Marxist jargon).  Many on the left became frustrated with the labor they thought was “corrupted” by capitalism and lost its revolutionary potency.  They now came to view it as a class that was unable to fulfill its historical mission of liberating humankind from capitalism.  To instill a new life into the old eschatological prophecy of Marxism, the New Left began shopping around for other groups of oppressed “noble savages” to act as new revolutionary saviors – substitutes for the working class.

These were found first of all among third-world populations, women, people of “color” as well as among various transitional and marginal groups, such as students, gays, the mentally ill, and the homeless.[20]  Incidentally, Foucault’s seemingly bizarre brief flirt with 1978 Islamic revolutionaries in Iran, which he was later ashamed of, perfectly fit that attempt to pin point a new political force that was expected to redeem humankind from capitalist modernity.  As left writers stressed themselves, romantic expectations of revolutionary potency from the “oppressed” third world and non-Western cultures in general heavily pervades many segments of the Western left.[21] Essentially, this is a rerun in a new “progressive” guise of the old Enlightenment and Romanticism myth of the noble savage.

When, in their turn, many of non-Western and gendered “wretched of the earth” did not live up to eschatological expectations of the left to serve as revolutionary icebreakers an gravediggers of “evil” capitalism, it was a logical step for such writers as Foucault to move further down the road toward the individual – the ultimate “revolutionary” redeemer of himself (or herself for that matter).   In the background of this collapsing political eschatology, there was unfolding the above-mentioned tectonic shift in the world of ideas – the movement away from the teleology of traditional Marxism with its “science worship” to post-modern concern with the subjective and individual. Eventually, both in political life and in theory there was growing an intellectual realization that knowledge was not one-dimensional but plural.[22]

Tasting forbidden fruits of libertarian authors was part of that intellectual apostasy that was unfolding within the left “church.” In the wake of communism’s collapse and the eclipse of socialism in the West, on both sides of the Atlantic, a small school of thought emerged among the left that began tinkering with the ideas of Hayek and like-minded authors.  It was clear that some on the left wanted to learn their twentieth-century lesson and were eager to reinvent themselves in the light of libertarian ideas.  As Barry Stocker has informed us, the best definition for such intellectuals as Foucault would be left-libertarians.[23]  French scholar Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, the first to devote a whole book to the explanation of Foucault’s “reactionary” drift, stated that the left should follow Foucault’s example and openly explore and embrace elements of “neoliberalism” in order to renew the left cause. Interestingly, de Lagasnerie accompanied his comments by appealing to the authority of “holy fathers”; thus, he pointed out that Karl Marx had prompted his flock to harness the ideals of the bourgeois revolution in order to win masses and to move further smoothly to the next stage – a socialist revolution.

Lagasnerie chastised his fellow leftists for a sectarian assumption that “neoliberalism” always served as an instrument of oppression, which made them automatically praise and endorse everything that neoliberalism stood against.[24] Being firmly on the left side of the political spectrum, political scientist Hanson has similarly noted that it was unwise to treat “neoliberalism” as some homogenous monstrosity.  He found it silly to scrutinize the minds of such alleged heretics as Foucault, digging there for some traits of the Mont Perelin society.  Instead, as Hanson reasonably suggested, it would make more sense to criticize forms and ways of governmental domination for what they were without invoking traditional leftist moral labeling of who was and who was not on the “dark side.”[25]

Simon Griffiths, a left sociologist, who also sought to sincerely explore the writings of such “enemies” as Hayek, went even further, arguing that the era of state socialism could simply be a detour from the “natural course of events” –  classical liberalism with its ideas of individual liberty and autonomy.[26]  In this case, as he hinted, it could be the twentieth-century left who ended up on the “wrong” side of history.  Leaving aside his questionable teleological thesis about the natural course of events, the phenomenon we call socialism (along with its wild and unruly brother named communism), indeed appears to be a world history episode that acquired its classical statist features in the crucible of the marshal twentieth century.

Maturing amid World War I, the interwar depression years, World War II, and the subsequent Cold War, socialism eventually crystallized into two historical projects: communist central planning and “progressive” welfare-warfare state impromptu scheming.  Foucault neatly labeled that twentieth-century interventionism as “social pacts of war.”[27]  Taking into consideration this historical record, Griffiths suggested that it was time for the Western left to go back “home” to their classical liberal roots by invoking individual liberty, bottom-up diversity, and local autonomy.  American progressive activist David Markus, editor of Dissent magazine, has recently well-expressed such a sentiment by stressing that if the left wanted to be successful, they needed to “go horizontal.”[28]

It is instructive to observe how, in the 1970s and the 1980s, academic celebrities of a lesser caliber than Foucault were similarly trying to step out of the Marxist intellectual “closet” and move toward methodological individualism, while still keeping one foot inside that closet.  A good example is James Scott’s Seeing Like a State (1989),[29] a dense text that nevertheless became very popular with a broad range of social scholars – a reflection of the shifting intellectual sentiments among the academic left toward the local and individual.  Scott, a geographer by training and an anthropologist by his research life style, brought together case studies from Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America to show how grand social engineering projects, which were orchestrated by bureaucratic elites, produced grand misery, starvation, and ecological disasters.  His list of these failed schemes ranged from German forestry experiments in the 1770s to the notorious “cannibalistic” collectivization policies masterminded by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s and to the debacle of the relatively benign “vegetarian” village socialism in Tanzania in the 1970s.

On the one hand, this self-proclaimed anarchist scholar produced a comprehensive text, which endorsed the value of local knowledge and exposed the political hubris of grand planners. On the other hand, the irony of the situation was that he managed to format his narrative with hardly any references to Hayek and Mises who had already addressed and explored in detailed the same themes.  The two cursory and scornful references to Hayek, which he reluctantly buried mostly in his endnotes, do not count.[30]  Scott had to admit that it was the left who initiated the greater bulk of statist schemes that ended up in social and demographic disasters.  At the same time, apprehensive to step deeper into the “treacherous” waters of libertarian thought, Scott warned in his introduction that readers should not treat Seeing Like a State as a silent endorsement of Hayek, Friedman and the rest of “neoliberal” crowd.[31]

Instead, in order to theoretically validate his liberty, spontaneity and local knowledge argument, he preferred to stay within the womb of the familiar sacred texts of Marxism, invoking the ghost of Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919).  Since the 1960s, for the New Left, she became one of the major intellectual sources to be used to channel the emerging libertarian ethos into left circles.  In the first decade of the twentieth century, this cosmopolitan Marxist activist had vigorously attacked Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik elitism, especially his pet project of a vanguard party.  As an antidote, she valorized the spontaneity of revolutionary grass roots.  It was this particular line of thought that became relevant for the New Left.  Obviously, it did not matter to Scott that both “libertarian” Luxemburg and authoritarian Lenin were members of the same creed and were in a complete agreement about an imminent apocalyptic battle against the “evil” capitalism.  Their major disagreement was about better ways of combatting the forces of “darkness” on the road to the communist paradise. As such, the format of their socialist dispute was very much reminiscent of the Protestant debates, let’s say, between Presbyterians and Congregationalists.

Yet, the most picturesque case of the “coming out” party was Feyerabend, a post-modernist philosopher of Foucault’s caliber who was the author of the landmark tome Against Method (1975)[32] – a book that assailed grand positivistic theories and advocated the so-called epistemological anarchism.  For some reason, Feyerabend chose to introduce his famous volume with extensive references to, and quotations from Vladimir Lenin’s brochure “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder (1920).[33]  Not only did he quote from Lenin, but he also found it necessary to highlight the enduring nature of the Bolshevik’s “wisdom”: “We also see how an individual, such as Lenin, who is not intimidated by traditional boundaries and whose thought is not tied to the ideology of a particular profession, can give useful advice to everyone, philosophers of science included.”[34]  In this particular brochure, Lenin, a militant Bolshevik, had taken on his more militant foreign comrades who had been itching to arm themselves and replicate the 1917 Bolshevik Communist coup.  Pointing out that there had been no clearly defined blueprint to making a revolution, Lenin had encouraged his impatient comrades to be more creative.  Particularly, he alerted them that there had been different ways to orchestrate a successful revolt against capitalism.  The chief of the Bolsheviks suggested that, in order to win masses to their side, communist militants not gamble exclusively on violence, learning instead how to combine legal and illegal methods, including tedious and unromantic parliamentary work.

Amazingly, among all available and obviously more relevant authors, Feyerabend singled out this particular brochure as an introductory jumping ground to start his entire volume.  Apparently, being a captive of “sacred” Marxist texts, the philosopher never even thought about how bizarre the whole situation appeared: in order to validate the post-modern sensibility about the dispersed nature of knowledge, the scholar referred to the guidebook for communist militants written by the early twentieth-century revolutionary who had been firmly convinced that Marxism had been the only correct way of explaining the surrounding world and society; the classic of Marxism-Leninism once famously uttered, “The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true!”

In his novel entitled Foucault Pendulum, Italian writer Umberto Eco[35] portrays three intellectuals who get together and participate in an occult game that they characteristically call the “Plan.” The game is to jokingly “prove” that everything in our world is somehow connected and subjected to the control of some centralized secret society with medieval roots.  The friends become so much obsessed with their “Plan” that they completely forget that the whole thing is just a game.  Eventually, the project acquires a life of its own and gets out of control when, by chance, a group of conspiracy theorists learns about the “Plan” and takes it very seriously. The conspiracy buffs are convinced that the “planners” hold the keys to the ancient treasure of the Knights Templar.  As a result, the major character named Casaubon has to hide away from a potential assassin in the Parisian Museum of Technology.


A large part of the novel deals with descriptions of flashbacks of agonizing past events that go through the mind of Casaubon while he is hiding in the museum. At some point, he escapes from the building and ends up in a countryside cabin, where he finds the diary of a deceased friend.  The grand game nears its end when Casaubon learns from these notes that the whole project of the “Plan” might have been purposely set up by this friend who had been longing to rekindle a lost but memorable sense of authenticity he had experienced in his youth.

Eco, who was on friendly terms with Michel Foucault, insisted that his novel with such an occult setting had nothing to do with Foucault the philosopher.  After all, the title of the novel is a direct reference to the device invented by 19th French physicist Leon Foucault who had wanted to demonstrate, via his pendulum, the rotation of the earth around the sun.  Critics nevertheless did not buy this disclaimer, viewing it instead as a nicely-crafted literary prank of the great writer.  As if to confirm their educated guess, the novel ends a day after Michele Foucault died.

Last, but not least, the name of the major character of the book alludes to a real historical personality, the fifteenth-century French philologist and theologian Isaac Casaubon who had been active in the intellectual life of Western Europe at the very end of the 1500s.  Viewed as one of the most learned men of the time, on one important occasion, Casaubon had been invited to act as a referee in a heated debate between groups of Catholics and Protestants.  In post-reformation Europe, which had still been saturated with religious intolerance and outright violence, each group of theologians expected him to side with their argument.  Unfortunately, neither side could have foreseen that Casaubon actually had had his own way of reading the sacred books of church fathers, which, and I want to emphasize this, had deeply upset both Catholics and Protestants.


[1] Ryan Reeves, “Setting the Stage,” Tabletalk Magazine, July 1st, 2015, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/setting-stage/, accessed 2/111/2016.

[2] In the current left discourse, the expression of “neoliberalism” is usually used to describe the rise of free market sentiments in the wake of the decline of socialism and with the first cracks in the welfare state in the 1970s and the 1980s.  At the same time, it also serves as a catch-all term that has nothing to with the ideas of economic liberty.  Thus, the left (and most recently some segments of the nationalist right) indiscriminately apply this definition not only to everything that is somehow related to free market, individual liberty, and austerity measures but also to the activism of monopolies, international financial institutions, and to the increase of warfare spending.  In this discourse, under the rubric “neoliberalism” one may find domestic and foreign policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, crony capitalism, financial schemes of IMF and the Federal Reserve, and even hawkish ideology of American neoconservatives. An extreme example of the latter approach is Thom Hartman who currently works for Russian propaganda channel RT.  He has insisted that the major drive for the 2003 American invasion of Iraq was an attempt to try free market ideas of F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand in a new Iraqi setting.   Thom Hartmann, Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture (New York: Viking, 2009), 89.

[3] James Miller, “Foucault’s Politics in Biographical Perspective,” Salmagundi 97 (Winter 1993): 40.

[4] Daniel Zamora, “Can We Criticize Foucault?” Jacobin Magazine, December 10, 2014, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/foucault-interview/, accessed 8/15/2015

[5] Miller, “Foucault’s Politics in Biographical Perspective,” 40.

[6] Jacques Donzelot and Colin Gordon, “Governing Liberal Societies – the Foucault Effect in the English‐speaking World,” Foucault Studies 5 (January 2008): 48‐62, 50

[7] Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics – Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-79 (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); idem: The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the College de France 1982-1983 (New York: Picador/Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

[8] Donzelot and Gordon, “Governing Liberal Societies,” 49, 57.

[9] Miller, “Foucault’s Politics in Biographical Perspective,” 41.

[10]  I need to remind here that in Europe the expression liberalism is used in its traditional meaning to describe what Americans usually call libertarianism.

[11] Gary Becker, François Ewald, and Bernard Harcourt, “American Neoliberalism & Michel Foucault’s 1979 Birth of Biopolitics Lectures: A Conversation with Gary Becker, François Ewald, and Bernard Harcourt [2012],” 6. http://www3.law.columbia.edu/bharcourt/documents/becker-ewald.pdf.  Later, Ewald went to work for government in an abortive attempt to reform the French Social Security system along free market lines. Michael C. Behrent, “Accidents Happen: François Ewald, the ‘Antirevolutionary’ Foucault, and the Intellectual Politics of the French Welfare State,” The Journal of Modern History, vol. 82 (September 2010), 585-625.

[12] Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, 246-247.

[13] Ibid., 232.

[14] Michael C. Behrent, “The Strange Failure (and Peculiar Success) of Foucault’s Projest,” in Daniel Zamora and Michael C. Behrent, eds. Foucault and Neoliberalism (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2015), 179.

[15] Dunn, “The Limits of Neoliberalism”; Daniel W. Drezner, “Why Michele Foucault is the Libertarian’s Best Friend,” Washington Post December 11 (2014), https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/11/why-michel-foucault-is-the-libertarians-best-friend/

[16] Zamora and Behrent, Foucault and Neoliberalism.

[17] Zamora, “Can We Criticize Foucault?”

[18] Ibid.

[19] Zamora and Behrent, Foucault and Neoliberalism, blurb, front matter.

[20] Pauline Marie Rosenau, Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 161-162.

[21] Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson, Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seduction of Islamism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 7.

[22] It is appropriate to stress here that before post-modernism entered the picture, Hayek had already spelled out this intellectual stance in his famous 1945 article “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” F. A. Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” American Economic Review 35, No. 4 (1945): 519-30.

[23] Barry Stocker, “Another Liberty Canon: Foucault,” Notes on Liberty, July 14, 2014, https://notesonliberty.com/2014/07/17/another-liberty-canon-foucault/

[24] Magnus Paulsen Hansen, “Foucault’s Flirt? Neoliberalism, the Left and the Welfare State,” Foucault Studies 20 (December 2015): 291-306, 292, 297.

[25] Ibid., 305.

[26] John Meadowcraft, “Review of Simon Griffiths, Engaging Enemies: Hayek and the Left (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Little field, 2015),” Review of Austrian Economics, May 15, 2015, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11138-015-0313-0, accessed 1/14/2016.

[27] Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, 216-217.

[28] David Markus, “The Horizontalists,” Dissent, Fall 2012, https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/the-horizontalists, accessed 2/11/2016.

[29] James Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989).

[30] Ibid., 256, 344, 381, 388, 427.

[31] Ibid., 8. For more on Scott downplaying his intellectual predecessors, see J. Bradford DeLong, “James Scott and Friedrich Hayek [2007],” http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2007/10/james-scott-and.html, accessed 9/9/2006.

[32] Paul Feyerabend, Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (London and New York: Verso, [1975] 1993).

[33] V. I. Lenin, “‘Left-Wing’ Communism, An Infantile Disorder,” in V. I. Lenin, Selected Works, vol. 3 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1967).  The particular Lenin’s phrase that attracted the philosopher’s attention is “History as a whole, and the history of revolutions in particular, is always richer in content, more varied, more multiform, more lively and ingenious than is imagined by even the best parties, the most conscious vanguards of the most advanced classes.” Ibid., 401. Feyerabend stresses regarding this quoting, “Lenin is addressing parties and revolutionary vanguards rather than scientists and methodologists; the lesson, however, is the same.” Feyerabend, Against Method, 9.

[34] Ibid., 10.

[35] Umberto Eco, Foucault Pendulum (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989).

10 thoughts on ““Foucault’s Pendulum”: Social Scholarship, Ideology, and Libertarian Temptations

  1. A little clarity goes a long way. Luther preserved and exaggerated Catholic hatred of all things Jewish, till both versions of christian altruism ruled Germany together. Fascism, bluntly put, is christian socialism, and capitalism in Marx’s time was monarchic slaveholding mercantilism with a monopoly on trade. Not until nationalsocialists were stretching ropes at Nuremberg in 1947 did Ayn Rand make it clear that freedom is what replaces the initiation of force which ancient mystical altruism demands. Lay looters simply blink away or redefine Foucault the way republican fascists in 1933 redefined “liberal”, adopting instead the nationalsocialist usage of the word as an epithet.

    • Totally agree with you on Luther enhancing Catholic anti-Semitism. Yet, we should not forget that there was another line of thought he indirectly triggered: decentralization and de-centering of the church and the critical interpretation of the Bible. I used here Luther as metaphor for Foucault, who being part of the “left church,” was too challenging the pillars of this church and its traditional creed (the proletariat as the savior/redeemer of the world form “oppression”), moving (in a clumsy manner, being crippled by his leftist intellectual bubble) away from the “big is beautiful” governmentally toward the individual.

  2. Thank you for this. Very interesting! In fact, I would say it’s the best thing I’ve read on “Notes on Liberty” in quite a while. You should write more!

  3. I just found the time to dig into this excellent piece. From what I have read it remains debatable whether Foucault really turned into a Neoliberal. However, he certainly was one of the first lefties who viciously expressed his moral discontent with the modern welfare state; many followed this trajectory.
    Do you have any other sources about his beliefs on Hayek / Röpke / Friedman and Mises?
    Thanks for the piece!

  4. It’s a little TL;DR but what I read is fascinating. I’d add a point or three. The problem with orthodox Foucault is that he’s a typical academic dweeb, kind of like a more ambitious AOC. If he actually learned something through his years it’s good to hear, and he wouldn’t be the first to need to disown some of his earlier works. But most of all that in the US at least, in the 1970s and 1980s, the kind of dogmatic academic Soviet Marxism that embraced Foucault was itself marginal to the point of being seen as crackpot, yes the same stuff that is going to feature markedly in the “Democratic” party debate next week. OK, and finally, “neoliberal” means just about whatever, if Hayek was “neoliberal” 70 years ago, then what are our latest-day “liberals”?

  5. Say the words “radical left” and my deflector shields deploy automatically. I have neither the time nor interest in dealing with esoteric – often utterly insane theories that emanate from the mouths of radical leftist academics. Past experience has repeatedly proven that their ideas have zero practical application in the “real world”, and consistently fail every time they’re tried.

  6. […] after several years of gentle prodding, finally got on the board at NOL and his thoughts on Foucault and his libertarian temptation late in life (#5) did much better than predicted. I am hoping to get him more involved in 2020. You can do your […]

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