I have been fascinated by the recent furore over whether Foucault was a closet neoliberal. If you haven’t come across it, Dean Mitchell (2015) – see below- provides a comprehensive, if slightly defensive, introduction to the different sides of the debate. The book that started it all is D. Zamora and M. Behrent (eds.) Foucault and Neoliberalism (Malden, MA, and Oxford, 2015)
Foucault’s analysis of neoliberalism comes in his Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978–1979 (2008). I read these when they were first published and went back to them recently to see if I had missed anything. All I find is a subtle investigation, without value judgement, of the ways in which power relations cut through neoliberalism, how it intimately and pervasively governs conduct.Here is my rant:
Some eminent academics have suddenly re-discovered that Foucault was not very keen on the legacy of Marx and Marxism. So, Foucault’s opposition to the old guard of the left is no less than an outright ‘betrayal’. Moreover, sin of all sins, they find that Foucault had an ‘ambiguous relationship’ to neo-liberalism’, more, he was ‘impressed’ and ‘intrigued’ by it, indeed ‘flirted’ with it until thoroughly ‘seduced’, succumbing to its ‘charms’. There is at the very least a ‘thinly veiled sympathy’ and ‘minimal criticism’ of neo-liberalism.
Do these critics present any substantial evidence apart from the pervasive and insidious is-ought transformation of Foucault’s text, contextual innuendo , damnation by association with the ‘new philosophers’ and Foucault’s well-known ‘thirst for recognition’ , a deep desire to be a media personality and to go with the flow for ‘strategic reasons’? His crime it seems is that he ‘took it seriously’. For instance, Foucault actually has the audacity to state that the neo-liberalism of the Chicago variety is “much less bureaucratic” and much less “disciplinary” than other regimes of power. Therefore, in these critics’ utterly dualistic world, Foucault must have wanted to ‘encourage’ neo-liberalism further. In his response to the idea of a ‘negative tax’ – a sort of universal tax credit to replace welfare- his opponents acknowledge ‘it is difficult to determine his views on the matter’ but that is not enough. Surely, his critics suggest, Foucault’s followers would expect to hear him ‘denouncing’ all forms of neo-liberalism as ‘a sinister form of power’? Surely, as always with Foucault, we should be comforted by knowing exactly where he stands and remains….?
They suggest that Foucault’s followers have a ‘reluctance to hear what he is saying’…..
 Essays in D. Zamora and M. Behrent (eds.) Foucault and Neoliberalism (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2015)
 Ibid., 4
 Ibid., 47,49 as examples
 Ibid., 64
 Mainly taken from M. Foucault The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008 ).
 D. Zamora and M. Behrent, 12
 Ibid., 26
 M. Foucault,2008 ), 213
 D. Zamora and M. Behrent , 27
Mitchell, D. (2015) ‘Foucault Must Not Be Defended’ – paper via academia.edu (need to register for free access)
22 October 2015