In a 1978 interview with an Italian Communist Party journalist, Michel Foucault reiterated his sense that power was diffuse. Focusing on the supposed conventional structures of its deployment did not interest him. Duccio Trombadori challenged Foucault, asking if he was not backing away from the responsibility of politically challenging institutions, parties, and states imposing new disciplines and enforcing measures reverberating throughout the social order. Foucault was having none of it. The accumulation of capital, ideologies marshaled in its interests, and the authority of the state were, to Foucault, less momentous than what he considered broader and more pervasive practices central to the configuration of civil society. The late 1970s marked, for Foucault, a governance predicament. Everything Foucault thought about this crisis convinced him it was necessary to reevaluate much and widen debate. Foucault demanded the need to dispense with certain protocols of “struggle,” in which “acting out a ‘war’ against an ideological adversary” would be replaced with a supposedly better approach: one that acknowledged that those with whom one disagreed might simply be mistaken or, possibly, misunderstood.1
The interview with Trombadori anticipated a new and controversial study of Foucault in his last years, from 1975 to 1984. A collaborative effort by a pillar of Foucauldian governmentality studies, Mitchell Dean, and an edgy scholar of contemporary political life, Daniel Zamora, the somewhat mischievously mistitled The Last Man Takes LSD: Foucault and the End of Revolution is an elaboration of where the influential French philosopher went intellectually after his 1978 interview and what took him there.2 Foucault, in these years, experimented a great deal. Shifting his intellectual focus to subjectivity and the self, Foucault reached a surprising, if tentative, rapprochement with neoliberal theorists of the capitalist marketplace. As the French philosopher consorted, metaphorically, with Milton Friedman, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was surveying the intellectual scene he influenced so profoundly before his death in 1984. The CIA concluded, “the New Right can point to kudos from Michel Foucault.”3 How Foucault, the left-wing activist and militant opponent of power’s dissemination, looked to neoliberalism for guidance in his quest for a left governmentality is the story of Dean and Zamora’s book. They are adamant that Foucault’s turn to subjectivity and the self, coupled with his openness to neoliberalism’s promise to extricate the state from its onerous, ineffective, and costly intrusions into individual lives, resulted in disastrous implications for the Left and its capacity to wage struggles in the current age of austerity.
Dean and Zamora see in Foucault’s turn toward the transformation of subjectivity a downplaying of the centrality of the state and a dismissal of class politics. Foucault’s method, in their view, privileges “limit-experiences,” such as might be achieved through mind-altering drugs, totalizing spiritually induced commitments, sadomasochism, and even brushes with, or actual, death. For Foucault, “the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and the ordeal [épreuve] of their possible transcendence.”4
Dean and Zamora add little to our knowledge of just what Foucault’s personal experimentation with LSD and other drugs, his time in the leather bars of San Francisco and New York, and his association of death with pleasure meant to him or how they reconfigured his thought. Those drawn to this book because of its title and possessing a primary interest in these issues are perhaps better served looking elsewhere. James Miller’s The Passion of Michel Foucault goes into far more detail on such matters. Praised for addressing Foucault’s sexual life as a legitimate subject of inquiry, that book has also been pilloried for supposedly pathologizing certain practices, failing to acknowledge them as “techniques of resistance,” and portraying them luridly. Miller’s account, like that of Dean and Zamora, suggests that Foucault contributed to neoliberalism’s resurgence in France during the 1980s.5