Foucault’s 'critique' of neoliberalism: Rawls and the genealogy of public reason

Journal: 
Issue: 
Autumn / Winter 2013
Author(s): 

Foucault devotes seven out of the twelve lectures he delivered at the Collège de France in 1979 to German and American neo-liberalism. Contrary to the widespread view that the purpose of these lectures was to ‘critique’ neoliberalism, I sketch another reading of those lectures that connects them with a different kind of critique of liberal political reason that we find in the work of John Rawls. I begin by showing that Foucault is more normative than is often realised: at one point he raises the question what form of governmentality would be appropriate to socialism? I then show that Rawls is not simply normative but also descriptive of the institutions and policies of liberal government: his argument for property owning democracy as an alternative to welfare state capitalism is one element of a conception of governmentality associated with his conception of justice as fairness. Finally, I point to some of the ways in which Rawls’s conception of the kind of government and economy compatible with his principles of justice was influenced by elements of postwar neoliberalism. I conclude by suggesting that Foucault’s sketch of a genealogy of neoliberal economic and political thought points to a historical conception of Rawls’s idea of public reason, and that the egalitarian tradition of neoliberal thought on which Rawls draws points toward possible answers to Foucault’s question about a governmentality appropriate to socialism.

PDF of article:
£6.67

Subscribers to New Formations can access this article for free. If you are already a subscriber please login to your account to read the article.

Subscribe to New Formations

Please note that due to EU VAT charges on digital products, the final price may be slightly different depending on the EU country in which your billing address is located.
NF 80/81 Neoliberal Culture