Lazzarato on Foucault and the Failure of Liberalism


The governmentality Foucault describes in The Birth of Biopolitics does not seem sufficient for understanding what it implies from the 1990s on, when governmentality began to limit the freedom which Foucault made the condition of “liberalism.” The freedom in liberalism is always and primarily the freedom of private ownership and owners. When the “rights of man” are threatened – by a crisis, a revolt, or some other phenomenon – regimes of governmentality other than liberal governmentality are required in order to ensure their durability. In this way, the problem of “governing as little as possible” first created the conditions for, then gave way to, as has always been the case in the history of capitalism, ever more authoritarian politics. To read The Birth of Biopolitics in light of what is taking place today is to be struck by a certain political naivete, since the parable of “liberalism” always describes, leads to, the same thing: crisis, limitations on democracy and “liberal” freedoms, and the institution of more or less authoritarian regimes according to the intensity of the class struggle to wage in order to maintain the “privileges” of private property…

This is why the current crisis is not only a financial crisis but also a failure of neoliberal governmentality of society. This mode of government founded on business and proprietary individualism has failed.1

Meanwhile, Edward Snowden tells Amnesty International that the United States government is blocking his attempts to get asylum (despite America’s claim to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights); Turkey’s crackdowns on protestors has seen an ever-escalating use of forceful measures, triggering climbing death toll; Egypt’s ‘experiment’ with ‘democracy’ collapses into widespread and violent unrest; police and protestors clash in the streets of Rio; the Chinese military units in Hong Kong display their weaponry as a counterpoint to the surges of people in the streets; etc., etc., etc.

1Maurizio Lazzarato The Making of the Indebted Man Semiotext(e), 2012, pgs. 108-109

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