From: "M.A. King" <kingma@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 30 Jun 1998 15:11:02 -0400 (EDT)
Let's see how well this has aged. :)
On Sat, 6 Jun 1998, Larry Chappell wrote:
> > So, does
> > managing your life, or your society, with the aim of reducing surprises
> > really reduce surprises, or does it increase the opportunities for you to
> > be surprised?
> Who knows? How could there be a general answer to a question of this
I had the impression you were looking for one. Evidently you're not,
which changes the complexion of things.
Although this ...
> The theoretical issue that Foucault, Illich and, I would add, Ellul
> point to is whether miscarriages of intention can be understood
> systematically. If so, are we trapped by unintended consequences or can
> we propose systematic alternatives?
... seems to suggest that you think there could be a general answer....
> similar counterpoint. Now the general point you make is correct: By
> hypothesis, resistance to power never frees us of power because power is
> everywhere. That does not eliminate the question of freedom unless all
> we want to mean by freedom is resistance to power in general (as opposed
> to some configuration of power). I suspect that few people want to use
> the term "freedom" So the valid question remains: Is there a conception
> of freedom usable for critique that can either be derived from Foucault
> or is compatible with Foucault?
Depends what you mean by "critique", I guess--and "usable" in what way?
If usable as some kind of foundational principle, or some kind of
teleological goal, then no--because freedom for Foucault isn't a *thing*.
And if critique in the Marxian systematic sense, then no again. I don't
think there's any question that what motivates Foucault politically is a
quest for freedom, wherever and in whatever form it can be found--but I
don't think you can nail it down much more than that.
> NB: These are distinct questions: the question of derivation and the
> question of compatibility. It is important not to run them together.
True, but I don't think any "theory of freedom" could be compatible with
Foucault, either--precisely because he teaches that freedom is not an
object, hence not something you can theorize about. Once you make it an
object by theorizing about it, you lose it.
> Like you, I doubt that we can derive a theory of freedom from Foucault.
> It is worth exploring the issue anyway. I suspect that a successful
> attempt to build a Foucauldian theory of freedom will concentrate in
> Foucault's Nietzchean borrowings that treat selves as works of art
> (Coles' approach I think) and emphasize technologies of the self.
Who is Coles? Could you elaborate a bit on the connection between the
self as art and freedom? I imagine it goes something like this: freedom
consists in knowing how you've been made into what you are, and working on
yourself, taking (in the sense of wresting) care of yourself in order to
escape those subjectivating forces. I think Miller takes something like
that line in _The Passion of Michel Foucault_. I don't know that this
could be the basis of a *theory* of freedom, though, because while this is
one kind of freedom, it's not *real* freedom as opposed to the
pseudo-freedom of liberalism and Marxism. Seems to me that to have a
theory of x is to have some view on what x *really* is.
It's also a kind of freedom with no limit case--while liberalism's limit
case is the complete absence of restraint and Marxism's limit case is the
complete absence of exploitation and alienation, there is no case in which
you could be free of everything that has made you what you are, because
then you just wouldn't be at all--which seems somehow to disqualify it as
an object for theory. Maybe.
> Now at least one influential way of reading/using Foucault involves
> insisting that liberalism simply cannot grapple with the problem -- that
> liberal regimes always disguise their unfreedom. If this is right, we
> cannot simply say -- lets use Foucault for some purposes and talk
> liberalism for, say, policy or management issues. Is Foucault
> anti-liberal to the core? That, I take it os a serious scholarly issue.
Well, the short answer (as I was on about a couple of weeks ago) is no,
although he became friendlier to liberalism over the course of his career.
To say that liberal regimes disguise their unfreedom smacks of Marxian
ideology critique, which Foucault often denigrates (and caricatures,
according to people better-versed in Marx than I am)--it seems to imply
that liberal freedom isn't *real* freedom, that real freedom is elsewhere,
and that maybe liberalism can only survive by covering up the fact that
its freedom isn't real freedom. Which, I suppose, is something like the
Marxist line. For Foucault, on the other hand, the idea of "real freedom"
drops out; liberal freedom is one kind of freedom, certainly. I don't
know, anyway, to take a Foucauldian line on policy and management issues.
What kind of policy, what kind of management, could possibly be more
compatible than any other with "creating oneself as a work of art"? After
all, the subjectivating forces which that kind of freedom is opposed to
include the techniques of policy and management to which one is subjected,
*whatever they may be*. This is why I take issue with people like Simons
and Connolly when they try to describe the political outlines of a society
which would be conducive to the practice of Foucauldian freedom: if their
kind of "agonistic democracy" were to be instituted, then it would be
precisely the subjectivating techniques of that agonistic democracy (i.e.
those forces working on one to make one a good citizen in that kind of
society), among other things, which one would be trying to escape by
working on oneself. (I think Reiner Schurmann takes a position something
like mine in a paper called "On Constituting Oneself as an Anarchistic
> More narrowly, I am concerned
> with the ways in which liberal societies (others too, but they are of
> less practical concern) ask people who do not fit to participate in
> liberal ways of living. Amish, mentally ill, Christian Scientist. I am
> interested in ways of exempting people from particular social contexts.
Ah, me too, I think.
> I am sure this pricis sounds cryptic, but the list is not the place to
> explicate a project. What I am NOT attempting is a simple defense of
> liberalism (though I am a defender), but rather exploring the
> possibility of freedom FROM liberalism.
Sounds quite a lot like what I've been doing lately, too. Can you riff on
a bit more about the direction of your explorations? :)
> > You mean Fraser and Habermas? Well, the fact is, the challenge you put--
> > give me a notion of freedom I can resist in the name of, or why should I
> > resist?--is one which was put by Fraser in "Foucault on Modern Power:
> > Empirical Insights and Normative Confusions", and expanded on by Habermas
> > in _The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity_. So, you may not have been
> > quoting them, but your words were, so to speak....
> Wow. Plagiarism in the unconscious!! Archetype forgive me. I surely
> hope I can cleanse myself of Habermas. Or is this guilt by association?
----Matthew A. King------Department of Philosophy------McMaster University----
"The border is often narrow between a permanent temptation to commit
suicide and the birth of a certain form of political consciousness."