Brad DeLong, “Sensible Liberal” on Foucault

Brad DeLong, who occupies what Atrios calls the “Sensible Liberal” position, on Foucault:

  • Michel Foucault: The bill of indictment against Foucault is:
    1. He was a naive enthusiast for a bunch of nasty Iranian terrorists and thugs.
    2. He was French.
    3. He trusted sources he shouldn’t have trusted.
    4. There’s nothing useful you can get out of Foucault that you can’t get out of John Grenville Agard Pocock, Quentin Skinner, and a creative misreading of Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

I agree with criticisms 1, 2, and 3. 4 may be true as well, but I came to these ideas not through Pocock and Skinner but through Foucault and Keith Tribe (1). Therefore I openly avow myself the pupil of that mighty thinker Michel Foucault, and even here and there coquette with the modes of expression peculiar to him. But at least for my purposes his useful ideas suffer a certain mystification in his hands: he presents them upside-down, as it were. They must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

(Both Atrios and DeLong are economists.)

Here’s DeLong on himself:

I am, as I said above, a reality-based center-left technocrat. I am pragmatically interested in government policies that work: that are good for America and for the world. My natural home is in the bipartisan center, arguing with center-right reality-based technocrats about whether it is center-left or center-right policies that have the best odds of moving us toward goals that we all share–world peace, world prosperity, equality of opportunity, safety nets, long and happy lifespans, rapid scientific and technological progress, and personal safety. The aim of governance, I think, is to achieve a rough consensus among the reality-based technocrats and then to frame the issues in a way that attracts the ideologues on one (or, ideally, both) wings in order to create an effective governing coalition.

There are some interesting comments to the initial post quoted above on Foucault, but perhaps the most striking thing is that DeLong comes across as a proponent of exactly the kind of technocratic liberalism that Foucault unravels in STP and the Birth of biopolitics.

“Reality-based” by the way, is a phrase often used on the left to make fun of the right-wing, and probably vice versa.


One Response

  1. Not the point of your post… but the fourth “criticism” is quite wrong. I think Skinner’s The Foundations of Modern Political Thought is an exemplary text, however, it presents somewhat a different picture than Foucault’s scattered remarks and lectures on modern political thought – there’s a productive comparison to be made, for instance, between the concluding chapter of Skinner’s two volume work and the infamous “governmentality lecture,” but it is wrong to reduce Foucault’s concepts to Skinner’s (and it isn’t even clear why Foucault is reduced to Skinner and not the other way around). And, clearly, the are significant differences in approach/method to the topic between Skinner and Foucault. Skinner is interested in the networks that lead to some ideas taking precedence over others and how these ideas led to the development of the theory of the modern state. This is not Foucault’s problematic!

    For what it is worth, I find Pocock’s work rather strange.

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