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Michel Foucault still confuses the Right, 40 years later

Foucault was no straightforward Marxist

June 25, 2024 - 10:55am

Michel Foucault, who died 40 years ago today, is undoubtedly one of the most influential intellectuals of the late 20th century. The standard narrative which has circulated about him for decades, especially on the political Right, is that he is the godfather of the postmodernism that became hegemonic throughout Anglophone universities in the Eighties and Nineties. This ideology opposed the notion of objective truth, preached the virtues of relativism, described the supposed reality of an invisible yet pervasive oppressive power, and was generally anti-Western.

According to this view of Foucault’s work, a generation of academics, philosophers, teachers, writers and journalists have been inculcated on his ideas, thus producing a cultural elite that promotes the iniquities of “wokeness” and identity politics. Bound up in this outlook is the rejection of free speech, belief that Western societies form the cultural superstructure of white supremacy which must be “decolonised”, and contention that gender and sexuality are entirely socially constructed and therefore malleable.

Moreover, Right-wing critics frequently label Foucault’s thought as another species of Marxism. Douglas Murray wrote in The War on The West that “Foucault’s obsessive analysis of everything through a quasi-Marxist lens of power relations diminished almost everything in society into a transactional, punitive and meaningless dystopia.” Jordan Peterson has also been fond of calling Foucault a “postmodern neo-Marxist”.

It’s a popular and long-held narrative, but there are several problems with it. For one, it is incoherent to describe Foucault as a “neo-Marxist” or a “cultural Marxist”. He, like other postmodern thinkers, was broadly opposed to Marxism. While Foucault joined the French Communist Party as a young student on the encouragement of Louis Althusser, he left soon afterwards due to the homophobia he experienced in the party and the antisemitism employed by Stalinists in the wake of the Doctors’ Plot.

Foucault subsequently became very critical of Marxism, which he saw as a scion of the Enlightenment that upheld scientific objectivity and believed history had a progressive, teleological direction instead of being a series of non-linear discontinuities and contingencies that possess no inner logic.

Like many other postmodernist philosophers, Foucault shaped his thought from a fundamental disillusionment with Stalinism and the horrors it wrought. Communism’s hoped-for telos of history instead led to further oppression and empowered a new elite in the name of the proletariat. With two world wars and the Holocaust barely behind them, it seemed to them that history didn’t progress towards freedom, but in the direction of catastrophe. Postmodernism, then, is more a reflection of this profound disillusionment with history than an insidious plot.

The intellectual godfather behind Foucault isn’t Karl Marx but Friedrich Nietzsche. His genealogical approach to history and the idea that knowledge is implicated with power and always situated from a particular perspective are taken straight from the author of Beyond Good and Evil.

Secondly, a reading of Foucault’s oeuvre demonstrates that he would be very much opposed to contemporary identity politics. He argued that the identities we assume and uphold are the result of “subjectification”: that is, determined from outside of us. Those who base their subjectivity on their race or sexuality are really imposing on themselves categories devised by others. As he said in a 1982 interview on the politics of homosexuality: “If people think they have to ‘uncover’ their ‘own identity’ and that their own identity has to become the law […] if the perennial question they ask is ‘Does this conform to my identity?’ then, I think, they will turn back to a kind of ethics very close to the old heterosexual virility.”

Foucault’s rejection of identitarianism as essentialist shouldn’t be surprising — it is the logical outcome of his general opposition to the idea of fixed, stable categories. So many of the identity categories we take for granted are contingent, and thus are subject to change and evolution. To take refuge under identity and make it a goal in itself restricts us by subordinating our unique selves to categories that are ultimately imposed on us. As Foucault said: “I think we have a right to be free.”


Ralph Leonard is a British-Nigerian writer on international politics, religion, culture and humanism.

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Mike Downing
Mike Downing
28 days ago

Good analysis.

Foucault and his ideas have been bastardised and appropriated by others to suit their own ends and led away from the freedom he imagined.

But this is the same thing that happens to everyone from Jesus Christ to Buddha, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
28 days ago

Comment disappeared again.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
28 days ago

All this is saying is that whilst some of Foucault’s bad ideas, like to denial of the existence of objective truth so you can make up whatever truth suits you, have survived in the woke nightmare we are currently living through, other bad ideas have come from elsewhere.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
28 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

No, it’s not saying that

Theodor Adorno
Theodor Adorno
28 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

And all you are saying Adrian is that you haven’t understood or been willing to understand what the article actually says. Cloth-eared self-certainty isn’t a substitute for actually engaging with ideas. E.g. nowhere does Foucault say you can just make up the truth to suit yourself, ironically, you’ve just made that particular truth up yourself.
Foucault has been massively misunderstood. His notion of bio-power could have come in very handy when trying to understand the bovine stupidity of lockdown


Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
28 days ago
Reply to  Theodor Adorno

What’s so impressive about your posts is that they’re not in any way arrogant or snotty. I could be lying of course.

Theodor Adorno
Theodor Adorno
26 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

“Snotty” is in the eye (nose) of the beholder Hugh, you don’t appear lily white on that front. “Arrogant” – I took exception to Adrian’s obtuse (and arrogant) failure to engage with the author’s actual argument. He is free to disagree profoundly with the original article, he just shouldn’t make things up about it. What’s so impressive about your post is that you targeted the person defending the importance of accuracy not the person making things up – and I am not lying about being impressed of course.

0 0
0 0
28 days ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Objective Truth?! Give us a break. Conditions of existence for that, please. Objectifying whatever pleases you may be widespread but that’s not such a condition.

c b
c b
28 days ago

This is shallow. A post-modern Marxist is obviously not the same as a trad Marxist. Yes, Foucault had roots in Nietzsche too. But his anarcho-nihilism, like Derrida’s (with roots in another right-winger, Heidegger), both fit into the Sartrean Marxism that dominated Paris, while disavowing its Stalinist roots. What could be more efficacious for “the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions” (C. Manifesto) than an attack on all knowledge and all values. So postmodernism was just revolution by other means (and not limited to class revolution). The closing quotation (“I think we have a right to be free”) is as misleading as many things Foucault said. He did not believe in an inner self (a “subject” in Cartesian terms) who could be liberated into freedom. We were always caught in various networks of social relations. It also follows that he did not believe in a “rights” based discourse: human rights, civil rights, those cries were just a rattling of chains according to Foucault and Derrida, who offered critiques of all thought as oppressive but no way out of the cobweb.

0 0
0 0
28 days ago
Reply to  c b

No way Foucault is a Sartrean . And you’ve provided the reason why, no Cartesian subject to be set free. That’s a scientific result.

c b
c b
28 days ago
Reply to  0 0

Didn’t say he was a Sartrean. His politics fit into the goals of Sartrean Marxism (revolution), but had less of a rationale (no eventual liberation anyway) and a different method (abolishing truth, rather than triumphing through the dialectic’s absolute truth).

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
28 days ago
Reply to  c b

I also have to say the premise in this article is oversimplified. But here’s a comment all and/or no one will like, all of these philosophers are a little tough to really pin down. I have spent a lifetime with Nietzsche. He was a literary magician – but he absolutely also believed in science. He himself (in Gay Science) says a great thinker’s positions are like a symphony; overlapping, playing on multiple levels. I think the post-existentialist writers actually end up emphasizing will-to-power and perspectivism as though he were a quasi-religious writer who didn’t accept the validity of math, or science. I would argue to my dying breath this is cherry-picking; his complexity here defined him (i.e, he certainly ‘believed’ in both sides of the equation).

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
28 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Terribly interesting. Harry Neumann said something like this about Nietzsche: His overman represented a failure on his part to embrace what stared him down in the night: the abyss. His courage failed him in his darkest hour. He succumbed to hope. Here is Neumann on that score: “Cartesian (symbolic) mathematics, liberalism’s main weapon, provokes the fury resolved to destroy science and the reality unmasked by it. That anger’s main foe is not illiberalism (philosophy, politics) but its own liberal reason: it cannot endure science’s victory over morality, a victory sparking the spirited self-pity of a nonexistent self, a self reduced to zero.”

Will Liley
Will Liley
27 days ago

Neumann: incomprehensible gobbledegook

Patrick Turner
Patrick Turner
28 days ago
Reply to  c b

Might be an idea – one you could recommend to all the other pearl clutching defenders of civilisation of who lazily tag left ID politics cultural/neo-Marxism/critical theory – to actually read Marx. Foucault was a determined foe of collectivist politics, be they Soviet or social democratic. His political instincts were anarchic and individualist. That he tied himself up in contradictions with his convoluted support for the regime that emerged from the Iranian revolution only confirms his deep ambivalence toward modern political traditions and movements grounded in enlightenment rationality (e.g., those who – rightly or wrongly – take the name Marxist). Foucault was part of a small group on intellectuals on the centre-left in 1970s France who played footsie with the neoliberal ideas of Gary Becker and others. In common with the latter, Foucault saw in society’s increased marketisation a proving ground for liberty and self-directed projects. Yes, Foucault’s post-structuralist anti-essentialism places him at odds with much of today’s identity politics. But his individualism and epistemic sophistry opens a trap-door to the solipsism and irrationality upon which the appeal to identity also rests. Not to push the comparison too far, Judith Butler’s support for gender identity politics has always been based on her equally post-structuralist opposition to essentialism, that of sex/biology. In the end, it is simply very poor criticism to lump together every form of supposedly radical theory that has emerged on the left over the last 150 years. The result is at best superficially fluent, poorly evidenced and ultimately incoherent polemic. The latter produce not just straw men but chimeras composed of ‘Marxism’/’Postmodernism’/’Critical Race Theory’/’Intersectionality’ etc. The irony, for anyone who actually gives a genuine fig about these theories and isms, is that the most determined and rigorous intellectual and political foes of all the aforesaid are thinkers from the left. If you wish to genuinely know your enemy, rather than just enjoy the easy satisfaction of having your prejudices confirmed, read them and toss aside the culture-war screeds. And if it’s Foucault’s influence on contemporary left politics you wish to gain a better understanding of I can recommend this recently published book without reservation:
https://www.versobooks.com/en-gb/products/2729-the-last-man-takes-lsd

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
27 days ago
Reply to  Patrick Turner

Thanks for the recommendation.

Andrew R
Andrew R
28 days ago

Even the Marxists hate the loony Postmodernists.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
28 days ago

Ralph Leonard is an interesting thinker and writer, and to some extent i agree with his analysis that the Right have misrepresented Foucault; however, the analysis also raises the evolution of Foucault’s own thought(s) and they’re as subjective as any of those others he’s seeking to overturn.
I suspect what we’re actually discussing here is beliefs. How our own beliefs evolve are necessarily a product of our upbringing, education and experience (how could they be anything else?), even in the negation of some or all of those formative influences.
What’s important is to recognise this within oneself, rather than trying to bolster the “self” through either seeking to impose one’s beliefs on others or denying agency to those who think/believe differently. The latter is not the same as disagreeing with them.
So, for instance, i disagree with those who post comments which seek to proselytise for their religion. I’m not denying them agency – nor would i seek to do so if in an editorial position. The denial of agency is what we’re calling “Cancel Culture”; it’s an abnegation of culture.
As such, those who may think they’re followers of Foucault (either consciously or by default) by seeking to de-platform others are the ones who’re misrepresenting him.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
28 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

My main disagreement with Foucault is that there are such things as objective facts, within the realm of reality in which most of us live. Gravity, for example.
We have, as human beings, developed transmissible ideas, theories, and narratives that do describe our world imperfectly. That’s true. And these ideas, theories, and narratives were developed by cognitive elites who often sought, obtained, or wielded power. Also true.
It is, however, these ideas, thoughts, and narratives that allow airplanes to fly, cars to self propel, air conditioners to cool our buildings, buildings themselves to be structures, and computers to turn numerical code into information.
Reality, simply put, exists. By definition it must. And if we discard that reality, or pretend it doesn’t matter, then we’re simply adrift in a pointless intellectual exercise.
Foucault obviously disliked rules of all sorts, and collectivists of all flavors, whether Marxist, fascist, socialist, or monarchists, insist on huge libraries of them.
But philosophies like Foucault’s are at bottom meaningless, and are simply intellectual toys, thought exercises from the faculty lounge. They’re never a recipe for positive changes in society, but instead are poisons.
It very well could be that most things in life are very simple. They might be unpleasant, arduous, or disheartening. They may be buried under layers of obfuscation, difficulty, or authoritarianism.
But these are things that will relate more or less directly to the human condition, from which there is no escape, no matter the strength of one’s intellect.

John Tyler
John Tyler
28 days ago

Objective facts? Heresy! 🙂

Point of Information
Point of Information
28 days ago

Foucault does not – or at least does not in a substantial quantity of his published works – deny objective truth or reality.

Both Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality are works that analyse history via ideas. Foucault takes events, science and structures (such as the physical structure of a panopticon prison) as facts – without the existence of which there would be no history-shaping ideas to write about.

Foucault argues that “discourse”, or “chat”, about how things are, leads to and stems from real events in history. The more discourse/chat about an idea there is, the more likely it is to start a chain of events, or determine how we see ourselves (no Roman would have felt the need to describe himself as “bisexual”).

A contemporary version of what Foucault describes as discourse is mass social contagion via the internet. Here is an acute example: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9530444/#:~:text=In%20Germany%2C%20we%20now%20identified,(MSMI)%20(1).

The notion that ideas – and technology – shape behaviour and thereby events is commonplace among historians of all colours, although you can take it too far: sometimes history happens because of the weather, not ideas whose time has come.

Also Foucault’s view of “thick” (ie. complex) history is the opposite of Marxist/Hegelian and far more in tune with contemporary science.

With apologies to the general mass of mankind who think Foucault is a mystery to be solved and (no doubt rightly) prefer him not Anglicised.

RM Parker
RM Parker
28 days ago

Bravo. I also always saw postmodernism as a jeu d’esprit: an entertaining exercise, but in no way a life-plan.

Sarah Lane
Sarah Lane
28 days ago

I have always thought it ironic that gender theorists adopt poststructuralist ideas around truth and reality when it suits their ideology, but deny this plurality of truth when others have opposing ideas. This completely negates the theory as put forward by the likes of Foucault that there are no absolute truths. Following the logic of poststructuralism, transactivists can state that a man is a woman, but they can’t expect others to believe their ‘truth’, as there are no ‘truths’. Instead, their approach is more totalitarian, as they impose their own truth on others, which is what Foucault was arguing against in the first place.

0 0
0 0
28 days ago
Reply to  Sarah Lane

The posturings of trans activists say a lot about them, but not a jot about Foucault.

Andrew Vanbarner
Andrew Vanbarner
28 days ago
Reply to  Sarah Lane

True. But it’s also true that postmodernism doesn’t really exist. We just call it that because a group of powerful intellectuals ordered us to do so.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
28 days ago

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.

The Late Sir Roger Scruton.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
27 days ago

C S Lewis made the same point.

0 0
0 0
28 days ago

Decent discussion as far as it goes. Identity politics can involve many things, most of which Foucault would have criticised or at least re- contextualised.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
28 days ago

Distinctions without a difference. Just another of UnHerd’s occasional nonsense pieces seeking to ward off charges of being a – gasp – conservative outlet.

John Murray
John Murray
28 days ago

Calling him a “Marxist” is a bit of a right wing tic, like the left calling anybody they don’t like “racist” regardless of any evidence. However, there is no shortage of other things to take issue with. I’d start with criticizing Foucault’s views on having sex with boys.
https://thecritic.co.uk/issues/april-2021/michel-foucault-the-prophet-of-pederasty/

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
28 days ago

In my experience – which includes a PhD thesis somewhat drawing on Foucault’s ideas – people typically read just as much Foucault as serves whatever point they are trying to make and understand even less of it.
I do not exclude myself from this observation.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
28 days ago

And it doesn’t just apply to Foucault’s ideas. We are easily led. Moi aussi.

John L Murphy
John L Murphy
28 days ago

Yes, I was told when working on my diss. in the first half of the ’90s that I had to have “some theory” in it. So I tossed in a bit of Foucault, as I had a couple of his books (assigned for courses) on my shelf. Voila.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
27 days ago

The same can generally be said of those who read Nietszche.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
28 days ago

Years ago I tried to get to grips with Foucault, but it was like wrestling eels. You would think, decades after his death, there would be some comprehensible consensus about what he thought and how it could be relevant to wider society. Yet here we are, nobody really seems to have a clue.

John Tyler
John Tyler
28 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Like so many other philosophers, especially 20th Century onward, the less comprehensible the more highly regarded. String together some meaningless phrases, redefine whatever suits you, forget reason while employing misleading logics, pretend you know what you’re talking about with sufficient passion and confidence and you too can be a famous philosopher.

k. chris
k. chris
28 days ago
Reply to  John Tyler

A superb description of Judith Butler and “their” fellow-travelers. Her what-should-be-a-parodic passage from one of her essays is a perfect example of this.

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

“Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time,” Diacritics (1997):

Ian_S
Ian_S
27 days ago
Reply to  k. chris

Sadly, I’ve done enough poststructuralism to understand what that says. But it’s poorly written, and I had to use background knowledge to parse it. It’s a standard humanities writing style though: inefficient use of words (could be said more simply and more briefly), but more to the point, it’s written to sound “cool”. The idea in that passage is actually pretty basic, but it’s made frilly and congested for more performativity, more “ooh, deep”, and more “look how smart I am”. The funny thing is because poststructural ideas are fairly simple once you get them, they aren’t beyond the not-so-bright. So it’s an easy way of sounding educated even when you’re dull. The window-dressing “this is only for geniuses to understand” style — when actually it’s well within reach of midwits — is a neat ego massage rolled into a confidence trick.

Ian_S
Ian_S
27 days ago
Reply to  John Tyler

Or at least, land a job as a lecturer in a “studies” department. Write a few papers full of the latest argle-bargle, dye your hair green/blue/pink, and you’re away.

Tim Falla
Tim Falla
28 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Indeed. As Roger Scruton puts it in ‘The Uses of Pessimism’, “Professors in the humanities learned from their French mentors that there is a way of writing that will always be considered ‘profound’, provided only that it is (a) subversive and (b) unintelligible. As long as a text can be read as in some way against the status quo of Western culture and society, undermining its claim to authority or truth, it does not matter that it is gibberish. On the contrary, that is merely a proof that its argument operates at a level of profundity that makes it immune to criticism.”

RM Parker
RM Parker
28 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Buttered eels, at that. One cannot help but conclude that said outcome was rather the aim of the exercise.

Martin Layfield
Martin Layfield
28 days ago

Although a degenerate and definitely on the left, Foucault is a thinker those on the right should study as a critic of the enlightenment.

William Reynolds
William Reynolds
28 days ago

Forget Marxism and the technicalities of identity and identitarianism. This is obfuscation. Wokery is a critique of power, Foucault’s work is a critique of power. An intellectual debt can be based on a misconception.

Theodor Adorno
Theodor Adorno
28 days ago

So thinkers are to be blamed when people misconceive their work and the none-too-bright get a free pass?

William Reynolds
William Reynolds
28 days ago
Reply to  Theodor Adorno

Yes, why not? He isn’t around to be offended. If he was, he could clear up the misconception.

Theodor Adorno
Theodor Adorno
26 days ago

What if the misconception is based upon a bad will, active misreading of Foucault, the onus is still upon the thinker/his advocates? How about those with the misconception work harder on their understanding?

William Knorpp
William Knorpp
28 days ago

I went to philosophy grad school in the ’80s and suddenly encountered political correctness and the Orwellian left. The (pseudo-)scholarly analog/foundation of PC was a bizarre mishmash of views on the *intellectual* left that was sweeping through the humanities (and has now captured much of the rest of academia…and many of our other institutions). At the time, postmodernism was the flagship view on the intellectual left, but it has always been a radioactive stew of inconsistent ideas–Marxism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, radical feminism, and critical theory in all its variations (critical legal studies, CRT, queer theory, etc.). CRT and transgender pseudoscience seem to have replaced pomo as the flagship views today. At any rate, none of these views were generally taken seriously in “analytic” philosophy department at the time.
This postpostmodern mishmash of recent movements in Continental philosophy is notorious for a few things: First, each of the views is radically implausible in its own right, and inconsistent with at least several of the other views. Second, the methods of reasoning fashionable among its adherence are known for their extreme sloppiness, unseriousness and obscurantism. The methods, such as they are, typically involve free-associative bullshitting and fashionable name-dropping, always arriving at seemingly pre-determined conclusions. Third, the north star of this movement is far-left politics. Thus the pre-determined conclusion are usually politically correct, i.e. hard left (everything is racist, you are racist, something something patriarchy…and now, even more bizarre ones like “women have penises”…). Someone who spends his education immersed in this intellectual cesspool generally comes out effectively less intelligent than he went in…
There’s a lot to say about all this, but I’ll end with a point that is consistent with some other comments here: though it’s good to correct misconceptions about philosophers, including Foucault, it’s a bit of a losing game, practically speaking. Misunderstanding Foucault is about as common on the left as it is among political critics on the right. Most who love to invoke him don’t much understand him, having picked up vague quasi-Foucaultian ideas like “everything is power.” Careful thought and the quest for truth is not what drives the contemporary political and intellectual left. It remains Marxist in its conviction that “philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it.” Whatever arguments, accusations, interpretations, misinterpretations, fallacies, incoherent ideas, etc. serve to baffle opponents, weaken the system and advance the cause of revolution are eagerly deployed.
I don’t suggest that we go down the bad road they have, just that we strive to understand our opponents.

Paul MacDonnell
Paul MacDonnell
28 days ago

Thank you for this excellent piece. The misreading of Foucault by many conservatives misleads the unwary. His Archaeology of Knowledge, for example, is an extremely condensed insight into the construction of narratives and thought systems and is comparable to Thomas Khun’s insights set out in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
27 days ago

It’s interesting that when I was at university in the 70s Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was a respected text – and not considered to be either of the left or the right. It was Kuhn who introduced the concepts of paradigm and paradigm shift to a wide audience.

Richard Gipps
Richard Gipps
28 days ago

I find it impossible to take this piece seriously. Why? Because if the author was serious he would first have given us an explication of why, in their own terms, those writers who call Foucault ‘quasi-Marxist’ think he is. Having considered all that, then we could move forward and see if their reasons for so styling him were any good. But we don’t get that. So there’s no point engaging.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
28 days ago
Reply to  Richard Gipps

It’s written within the terms of a shorter-form Unherd piece, therefore not liable to the wider exegesis you’re criticising for being absent.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
27 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Which is a pity. It should have been a longer, main article which could have done the topic justice.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
28 days ago

Of course he does, and for good reason. His philosophy is incoherent.

Thomas K.
Thomas K.
28 days ago

Whether or not he was a Marxist, Foucault’s ideas certainly were very instrumental in creating the intellectual climate key to allowing Neo-Marxist ideologies to take root and flourish, even if he himself never intended that and would’ve been disgusted by the results.

And as for the comparison people are making between him and other ‘visionaries’ like the Buddha and Christ, there is a key difference. Their ideas lead not just to bad people subverting them for their own ends but also many many more *good* things that made the world a much better place than it would have been otherwise. I can scarcely say the same about Foucault. I can be critical of the Enlightnement and it’s many shortcomings without devaluing the whole endeavor through relentless and merciless critique to the point of deconstructing my own existence. But that’s maybe because at the end of the day I still think, when tallying the pros and cons, the Enlightenment was ultimately more good than bad.

But than again, I also think untoward acts with semi-willing, underage boys in a Tunisian cemetery is something people *shouldn’t* be allowed to do, and recognize the role the Enlightenment had in shaping the Western values that thankfully condemn such behavior. I can see Foucault may have felt differently.

Max West
Max West
28 days ago

The pomo’s were against the economic determinism of Marx, but it was precisely the turn against this side of Marxism that produced the anti-foundationalist cultural Marxism in which power relations, rather than economic relations, are the source of all beliefs. That’s Foucault in short and sum.

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
28 days ago

Foucault and Derrida were marxoid intellectuals like nearly everyone in Paris, trying to work a way out of the implosion of Marxist-Leninism, that was becoming increasingly obvious even for the obtuse. They found the answer in the proposition that nothing is true, other than my truth, which, as commentators here say, does not really exist in their world. In other words, they said nothing, like post modernists.

Arthur King
Arthur King
24 days ago
Reply to  Jonathan Story

And they want the world to burn

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
28 days ago

The best part of this article was the sentence in which the words “Foucault” and “incoherent” appeared together.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
27 days ago

He just seemed to be an extreme libertarian seeking the right to celebrate his own fringe sexuality. Most of the rest was the traditional trappings of the post-Marxist Left like celebrating the Islamic revolution in Iran.
Still, the French discursive writing style is fully there in his intellectual histories. The best critique of him came from Baudrillard in the 70s- a very short monograph entitled Forget Foucault.

William Amos
William Amos
27 days ago

“If people think they have to ‘uncover’ their ‘own identity’ and that their own identity has to become the law [
] if the perennial question they ask is ‘Does this conform to my identity?’ then, I think, they will turn back to a kind of ethics very close to the old heterosexual virility.”

A kind of ethics that precludes the sexual abuse of children, heaven forbid

RA Znayder
RA Znayder
26 days ago

Many of the postmodern thinkers turned their backs on Marxism because it was a modernist meta-narrative. Not just disappointment with Stalinism caused this turn, also the fact that the modernist project had supposedly led to fascism. Nietzsche was indeed the biggest inspiration for exposing even enlightened society as simply a sect with dogmatic believes based on power dynamics. Of course we should not forget the more fundamental leap of poststructuralism, which already made a similar jump on the, more fundamental, linguistic level.
And it wasn’t just Marx either, also Freudian psychology was seen as a repressive theory permeating Western culture by thinkers like Deleuze and Guattari (Anti-Oedipus). And many postmodernists did have a disdain for the capitalist, Oedipal, patriarchal colonial etc. etc. status quo. Critical theorist were sort of on the same track, although usually not so radical and highly abstract. Some postmodern thinkers were also aware that the critique of meta-narratives would itself be a meta-narrative. Deleuze proposed a sort of constantly changing schizoid way of existing. Perhaps from here one can understand the jump to confusing identity politics, though I’m not sure.
I any case, I think postmodernity has not broken the status quo really. A typical form of late capitalism, which has co-opted postmodernity, has immerged. And without any narratives to believe in it seems hard to fight it.