Colin Wilson on Michel Foucault
This book would make an ideal X-mas present for Conrad Black...
Good short intro to Foucault's philosophy of history here
Foucault’s ideas are radical but not Marxist, which helps explain his current prominence. His ideas fit a time when Marxists are a minority and non-Marxist radicals such as Noam Chomsky are greatly respected.
Foucault’s approach leads to some serious problems. He rightly rejected both capitalism and Stalinism. This was a necessary first step, but he never explained how ideas relate to the material reality of society – where ideas come from, or what role radical ideas can play in changing the world.
The closest he comes to an overall explanation of society is in his writings from the 1980s about “power”.
By “power” Foucault means all non-economic forms of social domination. But he describes power as existing everywhere – so you cannot say that one group of people has it and another does not. Foucault was right to stress the importance of non-economic factors, but his explanation is too vague to be useful.
In practice Foucault’s politics were a blend of more or less radical versions of liberalism and anarchism.
This is why Foucault’s ideas can be used by both the left and the right. He gained huge prominence in the early 1980s, a period when the radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s had just been defeated. Some people joined the Labour Party, while others looked to separate struggles of oppressed groups such as women, black people or lesbians and gays.
Foucault’s ideas were used to justify these shifts to the right and away from a unified movement. Marxism was portrayed as old-fashioned and crude. If power was everywhere, resistance could be everywhere – in isolated struggles by women or black people, for example.
Instead of a Foucauldian focus on the fragment, Marxists need to defend the validity of total history, and of revolutionary history that understands the centrality of class struggle to changing the world.