It’s hard to disagree with the insights of this thoughtful commentator:
“Where are the humanitarian fundamentals of Western political thought?…Some people in the West believe that an aggressive elimination of entire pages from their own history, ‘reverse discrimination’ against the majority in the interests of a minority, and the demand to give up the traditional notions of mother, father, family and even gender, they believe that all of these are the mileposts on the path towards social renewal…The only thing that I want to say now is that their prescriptions are not new at all…After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks, relying on the dogmas of Marx and Engels, also said that they would change existing ways and customs, and not just political and economic ones, but the very notion of human morality and the foundations of a healthy society. The destruction of age-old values, religion, and relations between people, up to and including the total rejection of family (we had that, too), encouragement to inform on loved ones — all this was proclaimed progress and, by the way, was widely supported around the world back then and was quite fashionable, same as today. By the way, the Bolsheviks were absolutely intolerant of opinions other than theirs.
“This, I believe, should call to mind some of what we are witnessing now. Looking at what is happening in a number of Western countries, we are amazed to see the domestic practices — which we, fortunately, have left, I hope — in the distant past. The fight for equality and against discrimination has turned into aggressive dogmatism bordering on absurdity, when the works of the great authors of the past — such as Shakespeare — are no longer taught at schools or universities, because their ideas are believed to be backward. The classics are declared backward and ignorant of the importance of gender or race. In Hollywood, memos are distributed about proper storytelling and how many characters of what color or gender should be in a movie. This is even worse than the agitprop department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Zealots of these new approaches even go so far as to want to abolish these concepts altogether. Anyone who dares mention that men and women actually exist, which is a biological fact, risks being ostracized. ‘Parent number one’ and ‘parent number two,’ ‘birthing parent’ instead of ‘mother,’ and ‘human milk’ replacing ‘breastmilk’ because it might upset the people who are unsure about their own gender. I repeat, this is nothing new; in the 1920s, the so-called Soviet Kulturtraegers also invented some newspeak believing they were creating a new consciousness and changing values that way…
“Not to mention some truly monstrous things when children are taught from an early age that a boy can easily become a girl and vice versa. That is, the teachers actually impose on them a choice we all supposedly have. They do so while shutting the parents out of the process and forcing the child to make decisions that can upend their entire life. They do not even bother to consult with child psychologists – is a child at this age even capable of making a decision of this kind? Calling a spade a spade, this verges on a crime against humanity, and it is being done in the name and under the banner of progress.”
Vladimir Putin, speech to the October Valdai Forum, 21.10.2021
The best comment of the day.
Good old Vlad. Could he please invade this country if he is not too busy with the Ukraine
Regrettably you are right, Jon.
Feels extraordinary to be agreeing with President Putin but I do.
If only we could persuade him that resolving his differences with Ukraine do not require the use of force.
Yes, it’s quite jaw-dropping when you come across a measured and well-informed logical demolition of something by someone with whom you’d normally comprehensively disagree. The first time this happened to me it was Wedgwood Benn on Question Time explaining why we needed to leave the EU because it failed his Five Questions test, and to my amazement I agreed with every word.
This time I find it’s ole Vlad who’s bang on the Деньги.
More of Putin’s highly perceptive speech can be found here, BTW.
Jon (if I may),
Thank you; I’ll check it out.
Hang on, remember who spawned Putin, the KGB.
I suspect you are old enough to know what that means?
I dare say someone could write a similar eulogy in praise of Herr Hitler’s love of dogs & children and his detestation of smoking.
Well Hitler produced healthy fit teenagers, cheep holidays, autobahns and Vlkswagen. The reason why dictators rise to power is they tap into something which most normal people know is missing; they seduce with common sense which the ruling class miss because they have lost tough with reality because they are befuddled with hubris.
should be lost touch.
It’s well worth reading the whole thing.
His emphasis on the Chinese for crisis having two characters, one for danger and one for opportunity, is interesting. Clearly he sees opportunities at present.
I’m struggling to think of anything I’ve read by a western leader that sets out his strategic thinking in this vein, albeit much of it is just a pop at the west. Maybe macron has the odd go at it. It’s almost laughable to think of Biden or Boris giving such a coherent view of the world.
Wow. Vladimir Putin. Something he and I agree on. Otherwise, not much. Pretty sure we’re not going bto invade our neighboring countries. Hard to tell what our senile president will come up with next.
The fact you agree with this lunacy is hilarious. Seek psychiatric help.
The sickoos Foucault and Derrida did exactly what Jordan Peterson and the rest said he did – created the Nihilism of Postmodernism by tortuous arguments against ‘Modernism’, which is Western Liberal and scientific and philosophical civilization from the Renaissance to 1930s – (when the philosophies of self loathing and social loathing sprung up in Wiemar and denied all prior truths) – they were ‘Post’ the ‘Modern’ truths of mankind. All the brilliance, advancement, art, liberalism, they denied, merely allowing the existence of the ‘Dialectic’, or discussion, as nothing else can be actually known except arguments; reality and facts cannot be proven true as they are merely reflections from ones senses. And as all discussion is the oppressor trying to force his argument on the oppressed, thus that is all which exists, Oppressor and Oppressed.
Marxism had the Capitalist oppressing the oppressed Proletariat, that was the sole truth; and also was fluid as one could become the other as it was based on who owned the means of production.
Frankfurt made Neo-Marxism, where all is ‘Identities’ who are oppressors, and oppressed. Identities like race, sexual, culture, education, status, gender, ability, age, national origin…. – Immutable things that one is. This is ‘Identity Politics’ and Intersectionality and the only action moral is Equity as all is Oppression/oppressed based on ones identity. Identity Politics is one of original sin.
They came from the ‘Frankfurt School’ of Critical Theory, (Neo) Marxist, Freudian, existential Nihilism – created in Wiemar Republic as one of the movements designed to destroy Western society. It was a wild time of great creativity and great evil – National Socialism was another school of there and then, 1930s Germany, as were Anarchist and Marxists. Frankfurt school moved to Columbia University in the 1950s and 1980, and seeded the Western education system with its hate of all which is decent and love of all which is depraved – and Foucault was their high priest.
Next give us an article on how Satan got a bad rap…..
Foucault wasn’t responsible for anything. When you’re as utterly degenerate as he was, when your entire waking — and probably sleeping — existence is as completely subsumed into the drive for sex as his was, when you can, with complete honesty and absence of irony write a line like “sex is worth dying for”, then you are no more present in the world than the Marquis de Sade. He should have died in a mental institution.
I agree wholeheartedly – Focault and “responsibility” appear to me to be antithetical.
Peterson is surely correct in citing Foucault as an inspiring influence on, particularly, certain poorly educated but dogmatic American scholars whose patchy historical knowledge, propensity towards revisionism of anything that doesn’t chime with their agendas, and general intellectual poverty allows most sensible and informed people not to take their ideas seriously. The problem is of course that the ignorant and the obsessed do, whilst the big corporations are always on hand to make money from the opportunities they provide.
I’m inclined to agree with the author on this one. As the essay points out, postmodern philosophy is extremely dubious of concept of identity and even more so of the idea that it should the defining focus of political action.
I’ve always though that John Rawls’ philosophy bares more responsibility for todays social justice warriors than postmodernism. Rawls’ “vail of ignorance”, which seeks to define a concept of justice independent from all definable characteristics and identities, has the opposite effect of placing historical, ethnic and cultural characteristics in opposition to an abstract, in-human, in a very literal sense, concept of justice; which once conceived, embarks on a run away logic of homogenisation, striving to erase all difference between what it sees as essentially superficial characteristics but only ends up elevating these to the arbitors of the whole of society.
Today, Social Justice warriors call this equity and seek to achieve this though granting the state the kind of influence only ever dreamed of previously by totalitarians. Society moulded into an harmonious balance by a state regulation. The only problem being that such harmony is a fantasy and the attempt to balance all identities, in every way, either require a state of grotesque power to enforce it or begins to fracture society, as a proliferation of new and exotic identities, each seeking the favour of the state, wage a perpetual war against each other for “justice”.
Postmodernism, as encountered in western academia is the defanged variety. Rather than bare the difficult consequences of ethereal nature of truth, as Nietzsche espoused, it took the opportunity declare the individual as the ultimate source of it. Hardly revolutionary in individualistic consumerist societies. Marry this to Rawls’ Theory of Justice, which grounds these individual truths by placing them in a hierarchy of oppressed characteristics to be overcome and you have todays Social Justice movement.
It may well be that Foucault had many and very interesting things to say (in a way it would be surprising otherwise). But even if it is not his main idea, the article suggests that “nothing is true, all truth is power and all claims to truth are oppressive” is pretty close to one of his crucial assumptions. Does it really make a difference if he would have preferred to phrase it as “‘truth’ is purely socially determined, it is enforced by power, and it varies without limit from one society to the next“?
The confusing thing us though, take away the last clause and you have the Nietzschean philosophy: “nothing is true, all truth is power and our most deepest instinct as live is to brutally enforce that on others”. Nietzsche was not a nihilist but he was a relativist: truth and morality come from the powerful and the only meaning is the mocking laugher and sadistic enjoyment of the powerful enforcing their will (and value system) forever and ever into infinity. Take away the goggles of Christianity and this is where you are left. And yet Peterson seems to see this as the basis of modern Christian and humanistic civilisation, when the whole point of Nietzsche was it was supposed to be the apposite – a return before Socrates/Plato/Euripedes and Christ/St Paul poisoned the spirit against itself.
This is absolutely true. When I was studying philosophy I came across the post-structuralists, and they would not discuss or argue any of their assertions as such an activity was ,according to them, merely power playing. However, as the also maintain that there is no authority and all interpretations of any work are legitimate and all works are of equal value (as one said to me the phone book has as much literary merit as any of Shakespear’s plays), they rather disappear up their own a*ses as they have no authority either and I can just ignore everything they say – the pilosophy of Rab C. Nesbitt is as good as theirs.
That reminds me: A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely relative,’ is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Nothing in here on the allegations of Foucault acting on paedophilic tendencies in Tunisia then?
Maybe this will be the first of a new series for unherd:
In defence of Gary Glitter,
In defence of Jimmy Savile,
In defence of Jeffery Epstein,
Why should there be? HIs philosophy would be neither more true nor less damaging if he had been a lifelong heterosexual celibate.
Given that he wrote extensively about sex and sexuality, it is relevant information that he personally was a paedophile and that his written works may be biased by this.
I disagree. He was a major intellectual force in his day on the topic of sexuality, and he engaged with it politically and therefore publicly. He signed an infamous petition in 1977 to try and get sex with children legalised.
He also believed that all sexual relations were power-based, leaving little, if any, room for love or affection.
Nonsense. The whole driving force his work was to discredit and delegitimise the societal structures and initiations that opposed, obstructed and stigmatised the sating of hid depravity
@All. If we are talking specifically about his work on sexuality I’d agree it is relevant. And even his work on societal structures in general may well be influenced by his personal peculiarites. I still think it is better to discuss – and dismiss – his theories on their merits, rather than just say “Nah. Paedophile. Cancelled” and refuse to engage with what he is actually saying. Let us leave that kind of thing to the woke?
Comment of the day!
If I am a turkey and I invest my time constructing philosophical arguments against Christmas, in assessing the merits of my arguments you cannot ignore the fact that I am a turkey or that my issue is with the consequences of Christmas.
The left are wise this which is why they never get to the stage of judging an argument on its merit. The centre and right also incline this way when it suits. When was the last time you came across a debate on the merits of eugenics or the case against the holocaust
Is that really true though?
In the little world of Napoleonic scholarship there was a spat some years ago caused by a historian who insisted that Waterloo was a “German victory”. When the flaws in his reasoning and claims were pointed out he went berserk and smeared and libelled people to the point where he ended up paying libel damages. While all this was going on he decided his brother and the police were stealing his mother’s house (his brother wanted to sell it to fund care home fees) and he started libelling individual police officers. He was then arrested and jailed for downloading paedophile material, despite his defence that it was all a conspiracy between his brother, the police, Jimmy Savile, the Duke of Wellington and the judge at his libel trial, who were all paedophiles; they were the real crooks, not him. He has since been sectioned for life.
Certain forms of mental illness manifest early, maybe 20 years early, as other forms: paranoia, belief in conspiracy theories, and so on. The loony historical claims, poorly thought through and supported by manipulated and misrepresented sources, should perhaps be treated as the tremors before the ‘quake that was his frankly crazy defence at his paedophilia trial.
One should feel sorry for the guy, of course, because he suffers from a horrible disease cruelly guaranteed to make people hate him. But it is a huge reach to argue that we should overlook the later lunacy and paedophilia because taken on their merits his former ideas had value. With both this guy and Foucault, the source was the same mind, and we should be very careful of accepting anything either man reasons or argues, because in neither case is this the output of a healthy mind.
Of course we should not “overlook the later lunacy and paedophilia because taken on their merits his former ideas had value“. My arguments go the other way – if his former ideas had value, we should not dismiss them just because he went (or even was) crazy. Richard Feynmans physics do not become worse because Feynman was a philanderer, just like Chinatown does not become a bad movie because Polanski was a child rapist.
I think we have to hold a line here. In our COVID debate I sometimes find that the people I argue against are totally biased, lousy with conspiracy theories, dedicated to policy-driven evidence, and I generally distrust both their judgements and their statements of fact. But if sometimes one of them comes up with a consistent argument or a solidly referenced piece of evidence, I have to hold myself to treat it on its merits, instead of dismissing it just because I do not like the conclusion or the person making it.
Perhaps I didn’t put that properly. In the case of the historian, a number of people persuaded by his conspiracist arguments still maintain that they aren’t invalidated by his mental instability. The counter argument is that actually they are, because when you delve into the citations, you find he’s constantly misrepresenting his source to say something totally different, so his entire account is and has always been unreliable.
To take one example, he maintained that the Duke of Wellington had a report that Napoleon had invaded Belgium by 9am and then did nothing all day. In purported support he cites a German historian who refers to “the 9am report”. When you look at what that historian actually wrote, it’s unequivocal that he’s talking about when the report was sent, not when it was received. So when this guy confects a narrative that claims, based on similar abuse of sources, that Wellington threw his allies under the bus, do you say “Well that’s probably true because sources” or do you say “this guy has been totally unreliable for 25 years”?
In the case of someone like Foucault it’s therefore quite reasonable, I think, to ask whether his view of X, Y or Z is coloured by the consideration that agreeing with X, Y or Z would entail condemning or renouncing his own conduct. If it would, then he’s basically got a conflict of interest that casts significant doubt on his ability to think and write logically and honestly. In the same way, a bank robber might insist that property is theft, but he would, wouldn’t he?
An argument can still be persuasive even if disingenuous, I suppose, but I still think it’s legitimate to point this out.
It is legitimate to point it out, and it is not irrelevant, but it cannot be the final word. In the case of your historian, once it is established that 1) he is crazy and 2) that he has radically misquoted several of his sources, it is fair enough to say ‘I cannot trust his statements, and I cannot be expected to disprove all his claims one by one – enough!’. But you do have to prove, not only that he has an interest in distorting the facts, but that he actually is distorting the facts. Otherwise you could never trust anybody who tried to prove he was innocent. Or, if you like, if it was proved that Locke or Hume, or Descartes had been a paedophile, would that make any difference to our opinion on their philosophical ideas?
It wouldn’t alter our opinion on their philosophical ideas, no, unless I suppose these were to include claims that chronological age is an illusion and there’s no such thing as a child. Someone sufficiently clever could probably come up with a plausible argument for both those claims, but if you knew they were a paedophile, you might reasonably think they didn’t seriously believe them but thought others might and were disingenuously trying to make paedophilia acceptable.
It is an interesting point though. If you observe, quite accurately, that blacks in America are 12% of the population but commit 50% of the violent crime, you’d be dismissed as a racist and this would entail the dismissal also of the claim you make – even though it is factually accurate – because you’re a racist.
Utlimately I suppose it would depend on whether they had persuaded themselves to paedophilia because they were convinced it was fine, or whether they were paedophiles to begin with who were merely dissembling.
Actually, what is the authoritative evidence in favour of this? Wikipedia does not mention it. What I could find is a report by a French eyewitness at the time (boys swarming around Foucault saying ‘take me; take me!’) quoted in The Times. Also, of course Foucault is on record as having always been fascinated by ‘beautiful boys’ and trying to win their favour, and of petitioning for decriminalising man-boy sexual relationships. It all sounds very plausible indeed, but it would be nice to have some more authoritative evidence and/or to see the case against the allegations for comparison.
In fact, I think that a single distant unsupported allegation from a bystander who might have an axe to grind of a 50-year-old claim about a dead man would not be enough to convince me in the case of, say, Edward Heath or Lord Bramall. In fairness we would have to say that it is not enough in the case of Foucault, either. To be sure it is a much more plausible claim in the case of Foucault, considering both his philosphical work un undermining established morality (that might stop paedophiles), his known liking for ‘beautiful boys’, and his open advocacy of reducing the age of consent. Still, that means we are saying that we believe the claim because we think his work is destructive and evil. It would be a circular argument if we then went on to say that we condemn his work because we believe he was a paedophile. Which puts me back where we started: we should attack him on the content of his work, not on his private behaviour. To me there is no shortage of reasons to condemn him anyway.
Stopped reading at “perhaps even guilty of Francophobia”
ffs. Just because you are critical of something doesn’t automatically make you “phobic”;(except in the eyes of lazy, perpetual “hate-seekers”)
This essay strikes me as a strawman. To my reading of their claims, Peterson, Lindsay, and Pluckrose would indeed agree Foucault’s work was descriptive, rather than normative, and that American theorists are those guilty of operationalizing his theories as normative (e.g. McIntosh, Crenshaw). In fact, it could even be interpreted that Peterson, Lindsay, and Pluckrose see value in Foucault’s descriptiveness as illuminating pathologies of Western Civilization, the antidote to which are a revitalization of Liberalism, as defined by (1) an epistemology of reason and (2) an ethic of Individualism.
Foucault’s work is easy to understand when it is realized it constitutes an excuse for his paederasty.
Good piece. I thought Lindsay and Pluckrose over emphasised how US sj madness derived from Foucault but thought I was just ill informed
I’m also surprised Foucault didn’t get referenced more in criticism of the Covid tyranny
I was unaware that they did, and I am actually sad to hear it. This is because I have suspected for some time that Peterson was over-egging the pudding on it. A telling shrillness enters his voice when he talks of Foucault, Solzhenitsyn and a few others, it makes him sound less measured. In his narrated introduction to The Gulag Archipelago he almost loses his rag at them: that’s where I heard it the worst.
The relevant passage from Bk1 of my heroic couplet satire, The Wokeiad by Richard Craven:-
She tarries not, but spreads again her wings,
Spangling the welkin with brown stinking things.
This time the demon’s course is Eastward set,
Faster than snail but not as quick as jet,
O’er snow-capped mount, o’er desert vast and numb,
O’er palace, project, piggery and slum:
Terra incognita between the coasts
His ignorance of which the wokist boasts. 120
Wokeness now glides over Miami Beach
Where wellness gurus pseudoscience preach
To geriatric dentists and their wives,
Those wan asthmatic martyrs to the hives.
As whale road supercedes the prairie fields,
The nimbus builds and vanquished Helios yields.
Aeolus loosens now his knotted bag,
And the Anemoi from their prison drags.
Mild Zephyr cedes to Boreas the stage,
And Auster vies with Eurus in his rage. 130
Zeus flings his bolts and furiously raves,
And Lord Poseidon’s trident moils the waves.
Wokeness remorselessly through wind and rain
Grinds o’er first Lusitania then Spain,
Where Helios in triumph late restored
Is by his sky-clad acolytes adored,
Then left at Benidorm and up the coast,
Where basting nudists on the playas roast.
Over the Pyrrenees to soaked Camargue,
The hinterland of France’s nouvelle vague. 140
Next Paris, pantheon of po-mo spells,
A shrine to Foucault and to Foucault else:
The Tunis Gary Glitter, Humbert of
Bedouin boy, the freshman’s Nabokov,
White polo-neck, bald head, perverted grin:
Glans pen1s peeping from its peeled foreskin,
Wokeness’s Baptist John or Salomé
Traducer of epistemologé.
Foucault falls into that class of “subtle” commentators who lay out the gasoline and the matches. Harmless enough. Derrida and Darwin fall into this category as well. A blend of truth, gray areas and speculation. Then some enterprising ambitious types come along and give a moral impetus to the airy wispy gesticulations. When movements arise that demand eugenics or 59 genders these subtle gentlemen withdraw into the mist with sheepish blank-staring scholarly neutral ambivalence while the activists flick the bics.
Foucault may be a handy placeholder for a complex of influences on contemporary American identitarian activism, but it seems disingenuous to argue that because Foucault himself did not produce a revolutionary manifesto or roadmap for that activism, he had no direct influence. Influence is the operative word here. The impact of Foucault’s propositions on the nature of truth and its relationship to power is to dissolve the authority of whatever power operates at the time, whether it lies in social structures or systems of thought. That Foucault is not alone in this doesn’t matter. That there were other contributing strains to the development of identity politics in the US–my bet is that a long, homegrown tradition of black nationalism, variously developed, was fundamental–doesn’t mean that Foucault was not important. Misinterpreted, perhaps. Exaggerated, perhaps. Such is the nature of influence, whose impact is unpredictable. I do agree with the author that the psychologizing of forms of identity and their absorption into the “human potential” movement is also important–for that matter Freud was another dissolver of traditional social structures and systems of thought. Jacques Barzun once argued persuasively that the Sixties was only the Twenties postponed by Depression and war. Tracing the currents that have shaped the politics of personal liberation is a huge task. I think Foucault’s contributions should be included.
Being on the”right side of history” is a meta-narrative. Foucalt didn’t believe in meta-narratives. Whether he and Derrida are understood, whether they can be understood, doesn’t mean they are not used to justify nonsense. And they are used.
Nah, gonna go with Helen Pluckrose on this one. “Do you wanna be in my gang, my gang, my gang?” I think not.
Really enjoyed the article.
During the last 2 yrs the medico/pharma fascist elites have terrorised and subjugated the West and thrashed the very concept of human freedom – including the most fundamental freedoms of all – the right to bodily autonomy and the right to free speech.
For me, there is nothing left worth fighting for – or against.
Western ‘values’ of freedom and ‘inalienable’ rights have been shown to be entirely contingent on whatever cabal can terrorise the masses and so have now effectively been consigned to the thrash can of history.
The only remaining question is: what is the most efficacious form of polity for delivering human wellbeing?
Do we need to look beyond the West?
Thank you Jarryd. I’m only sorry that your perceptive analysis did not persuade readers who have never read his work but who presume a right to judge it on the basis of rumours about his personal life. The appropriation of the work of Foucault and still more of Derrida by Americans who often rely on translations is embarrassing. Other Americans who contributed more that either to the current identity politics are Charles Taylor (Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition) and Iris Marion Young (Justice and the Politics of Difference).
I also thought the article was enlightening. I’ve never read him but have read Cynical Theory, which I thought made it very clear that some of post modernism’s ideas are interesting and valid in parts. It’s how they’ve been reified by subsequent activist philosophers that is the problem.
That said, I’m not sure you can publish philosophical works that consciously undermine a long established and well understood moral system, without bearing some responsibility for the fall out.
His personal morality, perhaps, shouldn’t be a factor in assessing the validity of the arguments, but when those arguments undermine the foundations of the rule system that thwarts his personal desires, it seems reasonable the reader should take that into account.
I am sure that Foucault et Al did not have evil intent, but ideas can be used in good and bad ways. Think of consequences of Einstein’s theory of special relativity and its nuclear consequences !
By consequences, do you mean the swift end to the bloody conflict in the Pacific theatre of WW2 followed by decades of keeping the USSR at bay or the ability to produce electricity without dependence on mineral resources owned by unsavoury states?
Bang on !
Japan was going to surrender anyway, the Bomb didn’t accomplish anything