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Foucault and neoliberalism

Summary:
My problem with Michel Foucault, then, is not that he seeks to “move beyond” the welfare state, but that he actively contributed to its destruction, and that he did so in a way that was entirely in step with the neoliberal critiques of the moment. His objective was not to move towards “socialism,” but to be rid of it … In addition to the “dependency” it supposedly creates, Foucault believes that social security ultimately serves mainly the affluent. Thus, in a 1976 interview, he invokes, again without much distancing, the classic neoliberal argument according to which the welfare state actually amounts to a subsidy for the rich paid for by the poor, since it is often the rich who make the most use of the services provided … This argument, largely developed by Milton

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My problem with Michel Foucault, then, is not that he seeks to “move beyond” the welfare state, but that he actively contributed to its destruction, and that he did so in a way that was entirely in step with the neoliberal critiques of the moment. His objective was not to move towards “socialism,” but to be rid of it …

Foucault and neoliberalismIn addition to the “dependency” it supposedly creates, Foucault believes that social security ultimately serves mainly the affluent. Thus, in a 1976 interview, he invokes, again without much distancing, the classic neoliberal argument according to which the welfare state actually amounts to a subsidy for the rich paid for by the poor, since it is often the rich who make the most use of the services provided …

This argument, largely developed by Milton Friedman in his little opus Free to Choose — which Foucault was surely aware of — basically opposed any form of universal service financed by the public. According to Friedman, such a system always leads to “a transfer from the less well-off to the better-off” …

How could we seriously think that discrediting state action in the social domain and abandoning the very idea of social “rights” constitutes progress toward thinking “beyond the welfare state”? All it has done is allow the welfare state’s destruction, not a glimpse of something “beyond.”

Daniel Zamora

Lars Pålsson Syll
Professor at Malmö University. Primary research interest - the philosophy, history and methodology of economics.

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