From: darcy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Stephen D'Arcy)
Date: Mon, 19 May 1997 19:12:25 -0400 (EDT)
Doug Henwood wrote:
> It occurred to me over the weekend, while paging through Power/Knowledge,
> that perhaps the reason that the assembled Foucaultians have such a hard
> time with Naziism is that it's precisely the sort of sovereign, centralized
> power that supposedly didn't exist anymore in the 20th century, instead of
> the everywhere-and-nowhere model of dispersed power that has predominated
> since the king lost his head.
First, it is not clear to me that it is "the assembled Foucaultians"
that are having a problem here; surely it is the assembled
spokespeople for the Anti-postmodernism Industry that are having a
problem, as they wait in vain for a set of instructions for
anti-fascist action to issue from Foucault's book on the history of
punishment in modern France.
Second, one of the well-known methods of government used by the German
state in the Nazi era was to have children monitor their parents and
inform the authorities about any anti-Nazi (etc.) activities they
might be engaged in. Are you really prepared to suggest that Hobbes
better prepares us to analyze the power dynamics of this situation
than does Foucault? If you believe that, please try and present an
argument of some kind, because I can tell you that very few people (on
or off this list) will find that plausible, assuming they have read
and understood both Hobbes and Foucault.
> The classic Marxian analysis of fascism is that it's a strategy embraced by
> the ruling class in a time of profound crisis. That, too, would be a tough
> one for those Foucaultians who regard such Marxian class analysis as a
> dusty relic of the 19th century.
Foucault, as I trust you know, never suggests that class analysis is
useless or obsolete. Others do, but that has to do with a general
distrust of Marxism, on both the left and the right; it does not tell
us anything about the content or implications of Foucault's analysis
of power dynamics.
But what you refer to as an "analysis of fascism" does not take us
very far. If I suggest that the medicalization of deviance took place
because of the convergence of (say) a strategy adopted by the medical
profession to extend the scope of its "jurisdiction," and (say) a
strategy adopted by the state to de-politicize the regulation of
deviant behaviour, I would have said something about that phenomenon.
Maybe it is plausible, maybe it isn't. Either way, you would want to
see the evidence. Let's suppose I made a convincing case. Now we
would know something about the "function" of the medicalization of
deviance, and that may be a good thing to know about.
But don't we also want to know about HOW it works, and not just about
FOR WHOM it works? Don't we want to know, e.g., how "medical models"
are (re)made to be effective in discussing, and arriving at
authoritative decisions about, what to do with an abused wife who
kills her husband, or how to handle an eight year old boy who
persistently disobeys his parents and teachers, or has trouble making
friends? Don't we want to know about what is going on when, to use my
earlier example, children are mobilized for the purpose of monitoring
their parents, or vice versa? It is in connection with THESE sorts of
questions that we need a manner of analyzing power relations that is
more sophisticated than the one we inherit from early modern political
philosophy, and which many Marxists (though, I suggest, not Marx)
have taken over uncritically.
Telling us that the bourgeoisie is responsible for fascism is helpful,
arguably, as a starting point. But it doesn't tell us anything about
how fascism works. Imagine Marx saying that exploitation is what the
bourgeoisie does to secure profits, and then repudiating the task of
meticulously analyzing its complex dynamics, and the subtle, often
hidden, forms of coercion and regulation that make it function as a
system! Marx would have regarded that as shirking his intellectual
AND political responsiblity.
That is also what he would have thought about Marxists who today
regard it is their task to "smash" other theoretical perspectives
without trying to learn from them. Marxists who are too busy trying
to smash "postmodernism" to learn from Foucault are like the 19th
century socialists who were too busy trying to smash political economy
(Smith and Ricardo) to take on the difficult task of critically
appropriating the insights which that theoretical tradition had
produced. Thankfully, Marx was willing to make the effort.