Cutting off the king’s head: the self-disciplining fantasy of neoliberal sovereignty

Spring 2016

This paper aims to reconsider the relationship and importance of sovereign power for neoliberalism. At the broader theoretical level, this analysis hopes to illuminate the dynamic and mutually reinforcing relation of subjection and subjectivation, as proposed by Foucault, through a psychoanalytic, particularly Lacanian, perspective. It proposes that the identification with a powerful sovereign provides individuals with ontological security in the face of rather complex micro-processes of power and broader depersonalised forms of subjection associated with neoliberalism. In this respect, individuals are affectively ‘gripped’ by sovereignty to account for the complexity and incoherence associated with the concrete and discursive operation of disciplinary power. The appeal of a sovereign fantasy lies in its promise of granting individuals a sense of ‘sovereign’ agency perceived to be lacking in their existence as ‘agency-less’ disciplinary subjects of neoliberalism. This desire produces diverse but complementary contemporary fantasies of sovereignty for producing and reinforcing the ‘self-disciplined’ neoliberal subject. Thus, paradoxically disciplinary power relies on an identification with and desire for sovereign control. To truly move beyond neoliberalism it is necessary therefore to not only challenge its disciplinary body but also cut off its sovereign head.

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New Formations 88: Markets and Machines