Michel Foucault Debates Power w/ Noam Chomsky

Chomsky and Foucault discusses the nature of power, amongst other things.

Part 1:

for part 2:

Part 2:

People in this conversation

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    I look forward to listening to the rest of this.

    For now, just one quick thought (or two):

    Both Chomsky and Foucault here put forth a notion of power as a negative entity. Power, particularly in Chomsky's understanding, is something that restricts, and that holds back a human nature that would otherwise (naturally) tend towards justice, equality, creativity, freedom and the rest. With Foucault the situation is a bit more complicated, but his call for an immanent critique of the (hidden) oppressiveness of existing (ostensibly netural) institutions nurses a similarly view of power--even when it is productive---as restrictive and oppressive.

    One thing, that is left out of this approach is the possibility (or even the necessity) of power being used to enable and to create the very conditions for human flourishing. Related to this is also the possibility (or necessity) of power being used to suppress those actions and combinations which would of necessity lead to the oppression, exploitation, and domination of others.

    Here, we run up against Chomsky's one-sidedly positive veiw of "human nature."

    Must run. More later.

  • Guest - TOR

    Foucault seems to be light years ahead of Chomsky with the almost Althusserian argument that he makes here. I really had no idea Foucault could be this good. He even positively quotes Mao Zedong on the difference between proletarian human nature and bourgeois human nature to refute Chomsky's theory of a generic human nature that stands outside historically existing social structures. While he probably uses this quote to appeal to the young radicals in the audience, I wonder what his actual stance on Mao was.

    This is definitely a Foucault I really like and one I would like to see/read more of.

  • Guest - Alex

    This debate is from 1971 I think. Foucault was on friendly terms with the French maoist group Gauche Proletarienne for a while after '68 so it's not surprising that he knows about Mao

  • Guest - rowlandkeshena

    Foucault's long-time partner (from 1963, until his death in 1984), Daniel Defert, joined Gauche Proletarienne around 1968, though I don't know how long he was involved in it. So I concur with Alex that it is not surprising that Foucault was familiar with Mao.

    As for the Althusserian nature of his argument, Althusser was Foucault's mentor for many years. Foucault was even inducted into the PCF by Althusser in 1950, though he reportedly had become disillusioned with it by 1953. Also, Foucault's concept of disciplinary institutions, which he articulates most fully in his book Discipline and Punish (published in '75, so a few years after this debate) is built largely on Althusser's concept of ideological state apparatuses.

  • Guest - TOR

    Yeah, I just read that stuff on wikipedia. I'm actually a bit surprised that Foucault's partner was a Maoist and that he was still so heavily influenced by Althusser into the 1970s.

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    Yes, the second part of this (I had only watched part one when I posted above) does get quite interesting.

    Foucault does identify and offer a thoughtful critique of Chomsky's deployment of concepts of "human nature" and "justice" as the proper theoretical (uptopian?) ideals which our practical efforts should seek to realize.

    Yet, if Chomsky is one-sidedly positive in putting forth concepts derived from the present capitalist order as the horizon of emancipatory struggles, Foucault would tend to be one-sidedly negative. For him it concepts of the human and of justice etc are almost entirely ideological means of reproducing the structures of oppression that we know today. That these very notions of the human and of justice may be contradictory--having for instance been shaped by the struggles of workers, the oppressed, and the historically excluded--and hence a site of struggle, and a source of conceptuality that may point beyond the capitalist order even while marking its limits...this seems to escape Foucault....Which again I think points to Foucault distance from marxism, and class analysis...however approving he appears to be of mao in this talk.

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    Or rather, Foucault's distance from *dialectical* thinking

  • Guest - Not James Cannon

    I've always found this to be a fascinating engagement. Unfortunately, the complete video of the debate seems to have been lost. The whole thing has been published in book form though and I'd recommend checking it out.

    I'm happy to see Kasama post this, as much of the Marxist left tends to flippantly disregard anything placed (whether correctly or not) under the broad headings of postmodernism and/or poststructuralism.

  • Guest - Eddy Laing

    further to the question of Foucault's 'distance' and only available in the printed version, since he answered this question in writing:

    "The important thing here, I believe, is that truth isn't outside power, or lacking in power: contrary to a myth whose history and functions would repay further study, truth isn't the reward of free spirits, the child of protracted solitude, nor the privilege of those who have succeeded in liberating themselves. Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its 'general politics' of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which one is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true. (...)

    It seems to me that what must now be taken into account in the intellectual is not the 'bearer of universal values'. Rather it's the person occupying a specific position - but whose specificity is linked, in a society like ours, to the general functioning of an apparatus of truth. (...)

    "Truth" is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation, and operation of statements.

    "Truth" is linked in a circular relation with systems of power that produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it - a "regime" of truth.

    This regime is not merely ideological or superstructural; it was a condition of the formation and development of capitalism. And it's this same regime which, subject to certain modifications, operates in the socialist countries (I leave open here the question of China, about which I know little).

    The essential political problem for the intellectual is not to criticize the ideological contents supposedly linked to science, or to ensure that his own scientific practice is accompanied by a correct ideology, but that of ascertaining the possibility of constituting a new politics of truth. The problem is not changing people's consciousness - or what's in their heads - but the political, economic, institutional regime of the production of truth.

    It's not a matter of emancipating truth from every system of power (which would be a chimera, for truth is already power) but of detaching the power of truth from the forms of hegemony, social, economic, and cultural, within which it operates at the present time.

    The political question, to sum up, is not error, illusion, alienated consciousness, or ideology; it is truth itself. Hence the importance of Neitzche."

    Foucault, M. "Truth and Power." <I>The Chomsky - Foucault Debate on Human Nature</I>. New York and London. New Press.

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