“Can we praise neoliberalism?”

I haven’t previously felt any need to weigh in on the “can we criticize Foucault?” debate on whether he was sympathetic to neoliberalism or not (see here for background) since the answer is empirically evident that not only can we but we do criticize Foucault.

Here’s a very interesting post however by Henry Sebastian who blogs at sanshistory. He writes:

the reverse question must be: “Can we praise neoliberalism?” and it is here, I suggest, that the uproar such as there was found its momentum.

That might be true (ie., about the “uproar” if there was one), but this question of whether we (rather than Foucault) can praise neoliberalism is provocative. You might remember a similar question in Society Must be Defended, when he asks himself why he is “praising racism.”

YOU MIGHT HAVE THOUGHT, last time, that I was trying to both trace the history of racist discourse and praise it. And you would not have been entirely wrong, except in one respect. It was not exactly racist discourse whose history I was tracing and that I was praising: it was the discourse of race war or race struggle (SMD, p. 65)

So this tracing out can seem like praise, but that is not it exactly.

The blog then goes on to address our initial question by highlighting Foucault’s identification of the “radical potential” of neoliberalism by using a piece from Bob Jessop in 2013 (here) over the difficulty of pinning it down and that it is therefore a site of struggle itself, but not understood as such. Neoliberalism is not only the Harvey-like roll-back of the state/roll-out of the market, but a certain way of leveraging the “collective imagination” of human capital to place human social life squarely as a necessary condition of neoliberalism:

Thus, it is not enough to simply demand “serious” economic study to better encapsulate what neoliberalism actively is, so long as our shared understandings of economy see the social sphere as off-limits.

[Perhaps this is what Harvey objected to at AAG, see my previous post regarding his cut at Gibson-Graham.]

Thus and in other words to praise liberalism is to take it seriously as a reality penetrating forms of life.

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