Indeed, one could argue that we’re in the middle of a golden age of serious intellectual histories of the topic. Angus Burgin’s “The Great Persuasion,” Daniel Stedman Jones’s “Masters of the Universe,” and Jennifer Burns’s “Goddess of the Market” have all recently looked at how free market advocates managed to emerge from World War II to advance a set of ideas that became intellectually dominant a half-century later. The great thing about these intellectual histories is that they take the ideas and the progenitors of the ideas seriously, without being either hagiographic or oppositional.
Zamora’s interview closes with his pretty astute observation about Foucault’s significance in today’s academy:
[I]t seems to me that relations of power within the academic field have changed considerably since the end of the 1970s: after the decline of Marxism, Foucault occupied a central place. In reality, he offers a comfortable position that allows a certain degree of subversion to be introduced without detracting from the codes of the academy. Mobilizing Foucault is relatively valued, it often allows his defenders to get published in prestigious journals, to join wide intellectual networks, to publish books, etc.Very wide swaths of the intellectual world refer to Foucault in their work and have him saying everything and its opposite.
One of the virtues of teaching at a policy school is that Foucault is not quite as central to scholarly conversations as in traditional humanities departments. That said, Zamora’s observation rings true — which is why conservatives should embrace him and his work. From a conservative perspective, the great thing about Foucault’s writing is that it is more plastic than Marx, and far less economically subversive. Academics rooted in Foucauldian thought are far more compatible with neoliberalism than the old Marxist academics.
In some ways, Zamora’s book is an effort by some on the left to try to “discipline” Foucault’s flirtation with the right. It will be interesting to see the academic left’s response to the book. But Zamora also reveals why free-marketeers might want to give Foucault another read and not just dismiss him with the “post-modern” epithet.