I don’t think Foucault deserves all the ‘credit’ for the failure of ‘confessional politics’ the authors claim in the article below; though, he shares in it to a degree, perhaps. Mostly as is typical of foucault interpreters who rely overly much on only one aspect of his work – in this case – through his ‘care of the self’ analyses in his late work. There was, though not addressed by Dean and Zamora, a critical element to his views of confession and care of the self. Not considered here, as another example, is how care of the self squares or doesn’t, with another of his main concerns – the death of the subject. OR, how that interest pares or doesn’t with his concern for the systems and processes of subjectivication. Or, with his commitment to ‘systems of thought’, [the title for he requested for his position when enrolled at the College de France], that include such supra-self issues like biopolitics, clearly still misunderstoond today as more than a simplistic account of capital’s control of genomes. With foucault, it is dangerous to cleave to a single area of his analysis, with the result that there has now been decades of often insufficient and misleading claims about his work.
That said, i agree wholeheartedly with the author’s rejection of confessional ID politics as framed by their citation of Cedric Johnson:
“White guilt and black outrage,” as Cedric Johnson, professor of [Political Science and] African American studies, has recently pointed out, “have limited political currency, and neither has ever been a sustainable basis for building the kind of popular and legislative majorities needed to actually contest entrenched power in any meaningful way.”
In fact, he added, this “militant expression of racial liberalism” will “continue to defer the kind of public goods that might actually help” all those who are “routinely surveilled, harassed, arrested, convicted, incarcerated and condemned as failures”
a key term here being, “racial liberalism”; for liberalism is still liberalism, even when it’s anti-racist in intent. as Johnson, in an article in the Jacobin criticizing Ta-Nesisi Coates, argues:
“… scores of others would have found themselves quite at odds with Coates’s liberal antiracist viewpoint that working-class-centered, anticapitalist political projects are patently inadequate for addressing the concerns of black voters.
The claim that social democracy and socialism are always and everywhere at odds with racial progress is simply false. It is not supported by the actual history of progressive struggles and the substantive ways they transformed black life.
Ultimately, Coates’s views about class and race — and this nation’s complex and tortured historical development — are well-meaning and at times poetic, but wrongheaded. The reparations argument is rooted in black nationalist politics, which traditionally elides class and neglects the way that race-first politics are often the means for advancing discrete, bourgeois class interests.”
To underscore a position i’ve suggested several time below, ID politics is profoundly joined with liberalism in many ways, but a central one is the ways in which it vehemently adheres to individualistic hegemony, is even libertarian in this regard, and anti-social, and anti universalistic.
why, then, do MF interpreters go wrong?
it’s simple: they have never understood his reading of nietzsche and rousell in combo.
which translates as: ‘power’ is NOT a top down force; it’s a shared force.
no foucault interpreter has understand the significance of that aspect of F’s systems thought.
Today, the self is the battlefield of politics. Blame Michel Foucault
Mitchell Dean and Daniel Zamora
The rise of confessional politics has its origins in the left’s post-60s turn away from structures and towards the individual
<img src=”https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/70a8bc6ecae995ffe38eb7a45dc7c6d5fa38169d/0_22_4802_2883/master/4802.jpg?width=445&quality=45&auto=format&fit=max&dpr=2&s=19f9571e28e17fa07a5f721bd9522e71" alt=”US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Democratic lawmakers observe a moment of silence for George Floyd
‘Confession today is performed in the street, in art galleries, in workplaces and on social media.’ Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPATue 15 Jun 2021 06.23 EDT
Guardian/US Tue 15 Jun 2021 07.26 EDT
“We are perhaps living at the end of politics,” Michel Foucault wrote in the late 1970s. With the exhaustion of utopias and radical alternatives to capitalism, what was now at stake, he memorably wrote, was to develop “new types, new kinds of relations to ourselves”. Political advancement is not delivered through “parties, trade unions, bureaucracy and politics any more”, he wrote. Instead, politics has become “an individual, moral concern”.
In this new definition of politics – in which “everything is political” and “the personal is political” – the self was thought to have become the battlefield of contemporary politics. At that time, many intellectuals, including Foucault, announced the “end of the age of revolution”, opening an era where transforming oneself became the most popular conception of social change. With the collapse of collective “grand narratives”, they argued, we had now to look inwards. Beginning in the late 60s, political change would be reframed as a struggle against oneself, against our “inner enemy”. One had to confront the “fascist within”.
This shift made the self just another market to conquer, with self-help coaches, new age gurus, energy healers, food counsellors, alternative therapists and lifestyle brands all trying to profit off of this turn inwards. Politics, as Christopher Lasch would write, would “degenerate into a struggle not for social change but for self-realization”. But, contrary to what Lasch thought, the rising “therapeutic sensibility” he observed didn’t become an “anti-religion”, based on “rational explanation” and “scientific methods of healing”, but would deploy its own confessional techniques, endlessly re-presenting social questions as personal ones.
Much like with Christianity’s focus on the soul, this new politics of the self produced a confessional culture, in which the battles and struggles playing out within, had to be discussed, confessed and shared with those outside. “Consciousness raising”, “self-examination” or “self-empowerment” became key techniques. This trend was accelerated by self-help literature and consultants, who helped bring confessional culture come to the fore in our contemporary political practice.
Today, this shift has been notably visible in the confessional tone of many forms of contemporary anti-racism. Discussing racism in America in one of her training courses on “white fragility”, the diversity consultant Robin DiAngelo avowed to her audience that she had been herself “colluding” with it “every moment of [her] life”.
“I try, as hard as I can, to counter it,” she added, “but we can never be free of it.”
In a similar vein, the bestselling anti-racist educator Ibram X Kendi argued that “being an anti-racist” is “always ongoing”; it “requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination”. Anti-racism becomes, then, a practice of endless work on the self, made of constant self-examination whether on the streets or the training spaces of corporations and universities.
A visual representation of what this kind of politics looks like was captured in the viral photo of senior Democratic leaders, including Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, kneeling on the floor in Ghanaian kente silk stoles after the police murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent passing of the Justice in Policing bill. Similar ceremonies have been undertaken by professional sports teams, celebrities or wealthy chief executives such as Jamie Dimon taking a knee in front of his Chase bank vault.
Similarly, it is reflected in the pledges against racism posted by several Hollywood stars on social media. In an openly confessional tone they filmed themselves “taking responsibility” for “every unchecked moment”, every “stereotype”, every time they “remain silent” or “turn a blind eye”. Rather than simply looking inward, however, this confessional politics is played out in public. Unlike either the private confessional booth or the sanctity of the ballot box, confession today is performed in the street, in art galleries, in workplaces and on social media.
Despite what Foucault had hoped for, we have not seen a retreat from confession but an intensification and multiplication of it in the public domain. Today’s secular confessionals increasingly resemble the loud and public forms of penitence of the early Christian communities where the penitents had to “publish themselves” (publicatio sui, as the church father Tertullian put it) through rituals of humiliation to choose the path to purity.
This new kind of confessional politics takes today shape through posts and challenges on social media, viral hashtags made by influencers, companies such as Coca-Cola or Disney training their staff to “be less white” and “work through feelings of guilt, shame, and defensiveness” or CIA running ads of operatives speaking out against “internalized patriarchy”.
This phenomenon is reinforced by corporations and self-help industries that march ever deeper into our psyches
It is a confession taken not under the priestly “vow of silence” but in the full gaze of publicity. It inaugurates a “lifelong work”, as DiAngelo put it, fighting the evil within and joining with other penitents. It is a world in which the abandonment of the struggle against social and economic exploitation shifted politics towards a contest between competing confessional groups each publicly affirming the righteousness of their own true path to salvation.
This political phenomenon is echoed and reinforced by corporations and self-help industries that march ever deeper into our psyches, encouraging us to practise “mindfulness techniques” at work, for example. It’s mirrored in everything from the management guru Peter Drucker’s call to “manage oneself” to the best sellers of the billion dollars industry of personal development or the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson’s “rules for life”.
Despite the ever-growing presence of this politics, its shortcomings are growing clear. “White guilt and black outrage,” as Cedric Johnson, professor of African American studies, has recently pointed out, “have limited political currency, and neither has ever been a sustainable basis for building the kind of popular and legislative majorities needed to actually contest entrenched power in any meaningful way.”
In fact, he added, this “militant expression of racial liberalism” will “continue to defer the kind of public goods that might actually help” all those who are “routinely surveilled, harassed, arrested, convicted, incarcerated and condemned as failures”. With material stakes of politics growing ever more urgent many in the liberal center would much prefer us to busy ourselves with loud rituals announcing our inner battles. In this way, they reveal the failure of a politics based on the thesis, advanced by Foucault 40 years ago, that struggles around the self are becoming more and more important in our world relative to those of exploitation and inequality.
- Mitchell Dean and Daniel Zamora are the authors of The Last Man Takes LSD: Foucault and the End of Revolution