Foucault and anarchism

why is [Foucault] the target of a visceral rejection or at least a complete indifference for most of the anarchists?

The author suggests two reasons:

Foucault is characterized by a deep pessimism as to the possibility of getting out of power relations or more precisely of organizing them in an emancipative manner


The second reason for the anarchists’ refusal or indifference to Foucault’s analyses stems from a paradox: the great proximity between both and more particularly, as Tomas Ibanez points out, the importance Foucault grants to the reality of power, its ubiquitous, brutal and insidious character, crossing through the most harmless interactions, organizing in series (in the sense that Proudhon gives to this word) and producing structures of domination (Churches, States, Political parties and the very Individuals) with a capacity of illusion and oppression that does not rely firstly on their blinding visibility but on the tight and often imperceptible network of immediate and tiny dominations of which these structures are but the resultant (Proudhon again).

While these two points may be right, one may also ask why in the first place that Foucault ought to appeal to anarchists (or vice versa). The fact that he doesn’t does indeed point to different conceptions of power.


7 Responses

  1. Did he identify himself as anarchist anywhere? (pop quiz)

    The closest I can come up with is his self-identification as “anti-strategic” in “useless to revolt?”

  2. In their book Labor of Dionysus, Hardt and Negri report that Foucault says the following in “On the Government of the Living”:

    “I am not saying that all forms of power are unacceptable but that no power is necessarily acceptable or unacceptable. This is anarchism. But since anarchism is not acceptable these days, I will call it anarcheology–the method that takes no power as necessarily acceptable”.

    (I would check the quote myself but I don’t have access to those lectures, which from what I understand are still only available in French.)

  3. I would say that Foucault definitly is one of the greatest anarchist thinkers of the last 50 years. Especially when you study his thoughts about the “ethics” he composed. It’s almost the most anarchist thing you can imagine that you have to refuse being leaded, that you have to taker care of yourself and above all that you can rule yourself, what is – indeed – the only way not to be ruled by others.

    So yes, he was an anarchist, he just didn’t in the sense of “dogmatic” anarchists. And I think american anarchists (mostly the anarcho-primitivist I guess….) for example, often are influenced by Nietzsche, which also is one of the philosophers with a main influence in Foucaults thinking.

    Nice blog, by the way, maybe you want to visit mine as well:

  4. A few thoughts on Foucault’s relation to anarchism:

  5. Why does Foucault say in his “Society Must Be Defended” lectures that late 19th century anarchism is one of the most racist forms of socialism?

    • Yes, would like to find out the answer very much as well. My guess, is that since Foucault is talking about racism as a form of biopolitical management in the broadest sense, some of the anarchist ideas where very much detailed accounts of how future society would need to look like. Kropotkin, for example, has extensive discussion about all the details of human needs, going even into color of clothes people will be wearing etc. The concerns over health, physical strength, and harmonious society (e.g. Sebastien Faure) may have looked like the biopolitcal-racist projects. But of course, still very vague and would be interesting to hear what people think he really meant.

  6. I’m poorly read in Foucault, but I’ve been raised in the anarchist movement, and have a life time in it so far. So here are my own gut feelings to you question.
    Firstly, the anarchist movement is highly concerned with socio economic privilege and hierarchy. There may be a skepticism about esoteric academic culture to begin with. I.e., Foucault debate may be full of anti establishment values, but could seem to us like an educational upper class using radical ideas to reproduce socio economic privilege, inaccessible to working people, and perpetuating its inaccessibility.

    I don’t think the anarchist movement is inherently anti intellectual, but, but there is a strong strand of anti intellectualism running through it. I see study groups here and there of intellectual activist Marxists for example, reading esoteric texts on economics or globalization. Some how theres a traditional place for intellectualizing Marxists, in a way I cant think of an anarchist equivalent of study groups reading Deleuze or Negri and Hardt. An example of the exception are those anarchists who love the Situationist International, and read Guy Debord. But that really feels unusual.

    But if there were groups of anarchists reading Foucault , I assume my own reactions would not be untypical. I think they would be skeptical of post modernism/post structuralism’s tendency to relegate socio economic class to just another of myriad differences and ‘others’, rather then a hierarchy of privilege along which all other differences of identity are poised and play out. There might be skepticism about wither Foucault’s relentless negation is as characteristic of socialistic anarchism as it is of nihilism, cultivating dyssensis for its own sake rather then as positive path of community liberation. Obviously, if he were read by extreme individualists, for example, those who draw on the work of Max Striner in particular, I think there would be much more sympathy for him.

    Another question all together is the development of post anarchism, and such thinkers as Saul Newman and his book From Bakunin To Lacan. I can say that I never came across his ideas in the anarchist movement, only as I was trying to learn about Post Structuralism. It feels miles away somehow, in its own world of esoteric academia. But in this strand of academic philosophy, you will certainly see a good deal of emphasis on Foucault in particular.

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