Michel Foucault as a Moral Monster
The recent allegations of paedophilia involving Michel Foucault (above) raise the question: should he be cancelled? (Matthew Campbell, “French philosopher Michel Foucault ‘abused boys in Tunisia’”, The Sunday Times, 28/3/2021). Must he be cast into the outer darkness, the netherworld where dwell those intellectuals condemned by academia and the progressivist Left for expounding ideas considered inappropriate, unsafe or dangerous for vulnerable minds? Certainly, the allegations are extremely serious and if they were made against anyone not of the Left or without Foucault’s cultish following, they would lead to their immediate dismissal from contemporary intellectual polite society. The irony is, it is Foucault more than anyone else who provided the ideological foundations for the suffocating cancel culture that has engulfed Western societies and should now engulf him.
Foucault was one of the most important intellectuals of the twentieth century, a central figure in the rise of Postmodernism, Critical Theory and Cultural Marxism, and a key ideologue in the ongoing Culture Wars (cf. Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories, Swift Press, London, 2020). He is esteemed in academia and the Left generally as a “master thinker” and trail-blazing scholar who is influential in every area of the arts, humanities, social sciences and policy studies. Throughout these fields he is regarded as a primary authority whose views are confidently cited in a vast number of publications, from academic papers and monographs to university textbooks: registering over 1,240,107 citations, including 462,413 since 2016, according to Google Scholar. He is especially influential in criminology, health, social work, education, law, media, literary, post-colonial, and sex and gender studies. It is through this unexcelled influence that his worldview has infiltrated every aspect of contemporary intellectual culture. Unsurprisingly, his supporters now argue that “the value of Foucault’s intellectual contribution is of course independent of whether he was a moral monster”, and it is also claimed that the libertarian and antinomian attitudes towards child sexuality in the 1960s and 1970s obviates Foucault’s culpability, despite the fact that this is not an allowable argument on the Left or amongst proponents of the cancel culture. (Mark G. E. Kelly, “Must We Cancel Foucault?” Telos, 10/5/2012)
This essay appeared in a recent Quadrant.
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“Moral monster” or not, Foucault was an intellectual who wrestled with many personal proclivities and issues, which he dissected and discussed throughout his many works. Allegations that he “was a paedophile rapist who had sex with Arab children while living in Tunisia in the late 1960s”, should come as no surprise to those familiar with his life and work. Neither should they be surprised at claims that “Young children were running after Foucault saying ‘what about me? take me, take me’ … They were eight, nine, ten years old, he was throwing money at them and would say ‘let’s meet at 10 p.m. at the usual place’ [a cemetery]. He would make love there on the gravestones with young boys.” It also should not be a surprise that a large number of other French intellectuals joined Foucault in signing a petition in 1977 to legalise sex with children aged thirteen. Various combinations of paedophilia, transgressive sex and death were quintessential Foucauldian themes, as we will see.
The ideal of unshackled sexual indulgence was an unquestioned item of faith amongst the French intelligentsia at the time, and the petition to lower the age of consent to thirteen readily found support from the French intellectual elite, including Foucault, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Derrida, Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, Jean-François Lyotard, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Gabriel Matzneff, Guy Hocquenghem and Alain Robbe-Grillet. It is impossible to overstate the influence of such writers on contemporary culture, and yet the implications of their support for a measure that would expose barely adolescent children to sexual predation has never been explored.
It was a period when pro-paedophilia activists in France felt confident enough to form advocacy groups like the Paedophile Liberation Front and the Research Action Front for a Different Childhood, and publish journals with titles like Le Petit Gredin (“The Little Rogue”), P’tit Loup (“The Little Wolf”) and Backside. Several influential French intellectuals came out in favour of paedophiliac relationships in the name of sexual liberation, supporting the argument that paedophiliac love was a liberating act, emancipating the child, returning to them control over their sexuality and their body, and freeing them from adult domination, in particular, that of their parents. They denounced the family as a harmful, violent institution: a “crappy bunker”, according to Hocquenghem, and a “gulag” according to Matzneff. In contrast, the paedophile was depicted as “the good adult”, the ally who saves the child from the bad parents and the prison of the family. Activists also equated rejection of paedophiles to homophobia and to the persecution of Jews. Their opponents were denounced as “reactionary”, while paedophiles were defined not as sexual predators but as victims, like homosexuals, of retrograde and archaic laws that needed to be reformed. The campaign elicited sympathy from the “Libertarian Left” and support from Libération and Le Monde, which published the petition (initiated by Matzneff) referred to above.
How far this tolerance for paedophilia extended through the intelligentsia has become increasingly clear over the past eighteen months following the revelations concerning Gabriel Matzneff, a major French writer and the winner of many prestigious literary prizes. These revelations were contained in Le Consentement (“Consent”), a memoir by Vanessa Springora, a writer and publisher, which appeared in January 2020. Springora describes how, from the age of fourteen, she was groomed and sexually abused over a period of years by Matzneff, who was then forty-nine. This has led to Matzneff’s disgrace, the termination of his career, a criminal investigation, the resignation of various officials, and questions about some of the key figures of France’s political and cultural elites, connections which appear to have allowed Matzneff to escape conviction and retire to Italy.
Matzneff was protected for decades by his prominent position in the French intelligentsia, according to Pierre Verdrager, the author of L’enfant interdit: Comment la pédophilie est devenue scandaleuse (“The Forbidden Child: How Paedophilia Became Scandalous”, 2013). As he makes clear, paedophilia was tolerated in this milieu because of its transgressive nature, and because it was seen as the pursuit of a cultural elite that refused to be constrained by the normal rules of society. According to Verdrager, “there was an aristocracy of sexuality, an elite that was united in putting forth new attitudes and behaviour toward sex … They were also grounded in an extreme prejudice toward ordinary people, whom they regarded as idiots and fools.” (Norimitsu Onishi, “A Victim’s Account Fuels a Reckoning Over Abuse of Children in France”, The New York Times, 12/2/2020)
The key point here is that nothing Matzneff was doing was a secret. He had long described his paedophiliac activities involving girls and boys in his books, on his website, and in television appearances. In his journal, published in 1985 as Un Galop d’Enfer (“The Hell Gallop”), he recounted his sexual tourism trips to the Philippines, where he had sex with multiple children: “Sometimes, I’ll have as many as four boys—from 8 to 14 years old—in my bed at the same time, and I’ll engage in the most exquisite lovemaking with them.” In the promotional material for this book, he also explains how, “from my adolescence, I manifested a sensual nature, an ardent temperament; and the taste to fascinate and seduce … Mystical Eros, Carnal Eros, I have known everything, experienced everything. There is nothing new that I can still discover.” He even wrote an account of his relationship with Springora in La Prunelle de mes yeux (“The Apple of My Eye”) in 1995 with her identity only thinly masked. Another woman, Francesca Gee, has since come forward with a similar story about her seduction at the age of fifteen and claims that her account of her treatment by Matzneff was suppressed for years by the publishers she approached, but will now shortly appear.
As a consequence of these revelations, the French intelligentsia and its foreign allies have been scrambling to suppress, obscure, deflect, downplay and deny this scandalous period of its recent history. Consequently, the Matzneff affair seems to have been buried. It is this that makes the revelations about Foucault so significant: it’s not just Matzneff who’s under the microscope, it’s France’s most internationally prominent and influential intellectual since Jean-Paul Sartre who has been accused of despicable acts.
And yet, right from the outset in the 1960s, Foucault was at the centre of the events that are presently coming to light, both as a participant and as a theoretician. In reviewing this history, it must be noted that his homosexuality is not an issue, and right from the outset, he made his own orientations quite explicit. From as early as he could remember, he had only been sexually attracted to other men and boys, an attraction he initially experienced with an anxiety accentuated by his fear of his domineering father and the reactionary Vichy regime under which he spent his teenage years. Reflecting on his youthful attempts to gain the attention of a schoolmate, he remarked that all “my life I’ve been trying to do intellectual things that would attract beautiful boys”. (Qu. James Miller, The Passions of Michel Foucault, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993 [henceforth PMF], p.56)
And in his very last book, The History of Sexuality, Vol.3, The Care of the Self (Penguin, Ringwood, pp.187-232), published within a month of his death in 1984, Foucault provides an extended discussion of sex with boys in classical civilisation. At one point, he stages a mock debate in which a cynic questions the platonic dimension which purportedly guides the relationship between the adult mentor and the boy: “Seriously,” the cynic remarks, “they can’t make us believe that the whole pleasure of this relationship is in looking into each other’s eyes and in being enchanted by friendly conversation.” He then describes the encounter in a fashion that builds in intensity and anticipation of a sexual consummation that Foucault describes in loving detail, and that won’t be repeated here. (ibid, p.227) In such passages, Foucault is clearly emphasising that the relationships he is concerned with are anything but merely platonic in nature, and don’t involve friendship. Rather, they are about dominance and submission and the active and passive roles assumed by the parties, and he cites Socrates’s observation that in man-boy love, “it is obvious that the boy is only the spectator of the man’s pleasure”. (“On the Genealogy of Ethics,” in The Foucault Reader, Penguin, Ringwood, 1984, p.345) Finally, as his life reached its tragic denouement, dying of AIDS at the age of fifty-seven, Foucault exclaimed: “To die for the love of boys: what could be more beautiful?” (PMF, p.350)
Nevertheless, there was another dimension, as Foucault sought to take the exploration of sexuality to another level. Consequently, in coming to grips with Foucault, any inquiry must avoid “normalising” him, as he himself would put it—that is, treating him as just another privileged academic or intellectual with a comparatively uncomplicated character and personal life, while ignoring the extraordinary nature of his life’s project. It was in The History of Sexuality, Vol.2, The Use of Pleasure (Penguin, Ringwood, 1985, p.7) that Foucault defined the challenges he felt he faced as he sought to pursue his proclivities: “What are the games of truth by which man proposes to think his own nature when he perceives himself to be mad; when he considers himself to be ill … when he judges and punishes himself as a criminal.” How might such a person conduct their life if they are burdened at one and the same time with a rhetorical genius of great insight and originality, and an unquenchable taste for pleasures which transgress—possibly in extreme forms—the conventional bounds of society.
From his earliest works Foucault had sought to liberate the broadest possible range of sexual experience from what he saw as the prison-house of the libido erected by the Judeo-Christian tradition and bourgeois capitalism. This is the mission he described in The History of Sexuality, Vol.1, An Introduction (Penguin, Ringwood, 1978, p.156), a mission that “has become more important than our soul, more important almost than our life”, and was the “Faustian pact” he had entered into: “to exchange life in its entirety for sex itself, for the truth and the sovereignty of sex. Sex is worth dying for.”
Transgressive forms of sex, violence, personal transformation and death lay on a conceptual and experiential continuum for Foucault, organised around the pursuit of “limit experiences”, which he pursued throughout his life. These involved the “voluntary obliteration” of the self, achieved through “certain extreme forms of passion … a shattering type of suffering-pleasure … and intense dissociation” that make it possible to perceive the world in a radically different fashion. In a 1981 interview Foucault detailed how “through intoxication, reverie, Dionysian abandon, the most punishing of ascetic practices, and an uninhibited exploration of sado-masochistic eroticism, it was possible to breach the boundaries separating the conscious and unconscious, reason and unreason, pleasure and pain—and, at the ultimate limit, life and death”. (PMF, p.30)
Foucault eagerly embraced the cornucopia of libertinage that he discovered in America on his lecture tours in the 1970s, reflecting in an interview that “the kind of pleasure I would consider as the real pleasure would be so deep, so intense, so overwhelming that I couldn’t survive it … Complete total pleasure … for me, is related to death.” (Politics, Philosophy, Culture, New York, 1988, p.12) He had several times attempted suicide as a young man and exalted the act as “the simplest of all pleasures” for which one should prepare carefully with an aesthete’s passion for detail. Later, as the AIDS epidemic took hold, he invoked the possibility of “suicide festivals” and “suicide orgies” at which one could avail oneself, one final time, of the services of anonymous partners “for occasions to die liberated from every identity”. (Qu. PMF, p.55) After a decade of exploration of the gay scenes in San Francisco, New York and elsewhere, and facing his own imminent fate, Foucault also re-affirmed his view that sado-masochism “is the real creation of new possibilities of pleasure, which people had no idea about previously”. (Qu. The Advocate, 7/8/84, p.43) As he remarked, it is in “the dark domain [of sexuality that] we now encounter the absence of God, our death, limits and their transgression”. (“A Preface to Transgression,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, Blackwell, Oxford, 1977, p.51.)
In pursuing his mission, Foucault embraced the role of the militant outsider casting a jaundiced view over Western society. Although he enjoyed an extremely privileged position as a famous author, a tenured professor at a premier university, and a major public intellectual, he depicted his society as profoundly repressive and controlling, as what he would call a “Panopticon State” of total surveillance, unfairly labelling, persecuting and oppressing various “victim groups” as criminal, deviant and insane. In reaction to this persecution, he aligned himself with these groups in their political struggle. Consequently, for decades academics and activists have “enshrined Foucault as a kind of patron saint … whose authority they routinely invoked in order to legitimate … their own brand of ‘progressive’ politics … committed to forging a more diverse society in which whites and people of colour, straights and gays, men and women—their various ethnic and gender “differences” intact—can all live together in compassionate harmony”. (PMF, p.384)
Unfortunately for this progressivist and academic appropriation of Foucault, his lifework “is far more unconventional—and far more discomfiting—than some of his ‘progressive’ admirers seem ready to admit”, challenging the entire moral foundation of Western society, including virtually all the values sacred to these admirers and the Left generally. Facing his own intense desires, “Foucault struggled bravely … Harbouring his maddest impulses in the books that he wrote … exorcising his desires while struggling to establish their innocence [through historical inquiries into] the divisions we customarily make between good and evil, true and false, the normal and the pathological.” (ibid)
It is a feature of the “normalisation” of Foucault’s life and work—the smoothing out and downplaying of these particular character traits—that the tortuous path of his intellectual and psychological formation can be simplistically assimilated to the mainstream currents of thought in play during his youth and education. This usually involves a review of such influences as Marxism, existentialism and phenomenology, and such figures as Husserl, Hegel, Hippolyte, Heidegger, Freud and Sartre. These considerations are indeed important, and their impact on Foucault was significant. However, Foucault never really belonged to this mainstream current of thought, but rather to one of the most important antinomian literary, artistic and philosophical traditions to emerge from the decadence of European society.
Foucault took a little time to confirm his natural intellectual and literary affinities, but when he did, they proved to be with writers dwelling on the margins of bourgeois culture and standing in profound and fundamental opposition to it. These included Friedrich Nietzsche, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Gerard de Nerval, Oscar Wilde, Raymond Roussel, Antonin Artaud, Pierre Klossowski and Georges Bataille. Nietzsche stood intellectually at the head of this tradition, but its symbolic head was the sinister figure of the Marquis de Sade, the central character of Foucault’s breakthrough work, Madness and Unreason: History of Madness in the Classical Age (1961). “Lonely, strange, and alien”, these writers sought “to rescue from oblivion the animal energies of being human”. Alienated from the mainstream, they cultivated an imperious contempt for the conventional masses who allowed themselves to be limited in their desires and were prepared to accept the repressive conventions of bourgeois civilisation. (PMF, p.117)
This choice for the intellectual and literary “Other” of the bourgeois world reflected Foucault’s own deepest inclinations and was to define the trajectory of his thought and activities throughout his career. Such writers provided the intellectual and ideological support for what became Foucault’s life project as he attempted to resolve his own particular existential predicament: to embrace who he was; to obey the Nietzschean injunction to “Become who you are!” and to follow the command of the French surrealist poet René Char to “Cultivate your legitimate strangeness” (an adage that Foucault used as an epigram for his History of Madness) even if this led into problematic, transgressive and even dangerous realms.
Initially, Foucault’s impulse in the post-war years was to embrace the promethean individualism and pursuit of authenticity advocated by the existentialists under the inescapable dominance of Jean-Paul Sartre. Quite quickly however, he realised he wasn’t prepared to assume the burden involved in taking responsibility for his life project under the intense moral gaze of history, which had the characteristics of a cultural super-ego, or of the all-seeing and censorious “Panopticon State”. Moreover, he saw in Sartre’s ideal of personal authenticity an implicit return to the Cartesian notion of a fixed, centred, unproblematic self, and it was this that he felt driven to attack, as it didn’t correspond at all to his own conflicted experience. He therefore adopted a radically deconstructed conception of the subject, one that could be self-fashioned and liberated from all conventional constraints to the point of fragmentation and delirium, and that could be judged not in terms of bourgeois conventionality but in terms of the aesthetic values of the Sadean tradition.
This trajectory may be followed through Foucault’s books. In his first works he operated in a broadly existential framework influenced by the Marxist orthodoxy of the time. However, the tumult of his private life then provoked a shift in focus outwards from the inner world of the tortured individual towards the external ideological and institutional structures that were the sources of its oppression, as he came to see it. This led to Madness and Unreason, which attacked the fundamental notion of reason, and the distinction between it and madness that consigned certain needs, desires and behaviours to the realm of insanity, deviance and criminality.
Madness and Unreason also gave Foucault an opportunity to assert what he saw as the world-historical significance of the Marquis de Sade. Sade was notorious for a range of violent pornographic fantasies exemplified by his twin novels Justine, or Good Conduct Well-Chastised (1797) and Juliette, or Vice Amply Rewarded (1797–1801) and The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinage (1785). These combine scenes of extreme sexual exploitation and horrific cruelty and violence with blasphemy and long expositions on Sade’s amoral metaphysics of radical materialism. For Foucault, Sade’s advent signalled the negation of the core principles of the European Enlightenment: sadism was “a massive cultural fact which appeared precisely at the end of the 18th Century, and … constitutes one of the greatest conversions of Western imagination: unreason transformed into delirium of the heart, madness of desire, the insane dialogue of love and death in the limitless presumption of appetite.” (History of Madness, Routledge, London, 2006, pp.361-2) In the dark Gothic world of the “Divine Marquis” (as his admirers called him), the victims are trapped in isolated castles and dank dungeons presaging the “Total Institutions” that Foucault insisted characterised contemporary society. There, their minds and bodies are tortured under the protection of gigantic conspiracies, unique for the extremity of their appetites, cunning, wealth and power.
Anticipating Foucault’s exaltation of Sade, his friend Maurice Blanchot observed that Sade is “the master of the great themes of modern thought and sensibility”, in whose thought philosophy collides with madness. (Introduction to The Marquis de Sade, Three Complete Novels, Arrow Books, London, 1991, p.70) He concluded that Justine and Juliette so completely transgressed all human sensibilities that they should be consigned forever to their own bibliographical Hell. He also identified a crucial link between Foucault and the Marquis: the essence of Sade’s position is an absolute egoism which amounts to an ethical solipsism or nihilism. The individual is enclosed within his or her own bestial reality where other people figure as mere objects and only the pursuit of one’s own interests and pleasures has any coherent rationale. To protect himself amongst the anarchy that would erupt in a society ordered to such principles, Sade imagines himself as a member of an elite class of libertines, the “Society of the Friends of Crime”, chosen by nature to be the masters and protected by their ruthless acquisition and manipulation of power. They view the people as a vile and abject mass of “deplorables” whose existence is justified only by the economic surplus they generate, and the pleasures to be derived from their abuse and exploitation.
And here Blanchot also identified a key Sadean theme that was to be central to all Foucault’s works and the Critical Theory and Cultural Marxism derived from them: the ubiquity of power. He notes that, for Sade, “power was a social category … part and parcel of the organisation of society”, and possessed a dark and insidious dimension. In a veritable meritocracy of evil, domination is “not merely a state but a choice and a conquest, and … only he is powerful who by his own will and energy knows how to make himself so”. (ibid, p.42) In this reading, Sade anticipates Nietzsche, Foucault, Critical Theory, Cultural Marxism and all progressivist thought in maintaining that power is a primal and remorseless force, and its accumulation and use are its sole justification. If for a moment the powerful slacken in this project, if they are once thwarted in their designs, if for a moment their domination is undermined and their vulnerability revealed, then they are lost. Power flows elsewhere, into other hands, they are vanquished, and a new despotic elite emerges. Foucault’s major contribution to this hyper-paranoid view of the world was his extremely influential insistence on the equation, power = knowledge, emphasising that each item reduces to the other: power is gained through knowledge, while what counts as knowledge is determined by power. This equation provides a rationale for the contemporary blight of the “cancel culture”, with its arbitrary dismissal of reasoned debate and its enthusiasm for ejecting people, unheard, from the realm of discourse.
Foucault’s interest in Sade was long-standing. Indeed, he became notorious at the prestigious École normale supérieure, which he entered just after the war, not only for his extensive knowledge of Sade and his attempts to replicate his practices, but also for his contemptuous dismissal of those who didn’t share these interests. One who did was the philosopher and pornographic novelist Pierre Klossowski, one of Foucault’s closest intellectual companions. A skilled artist, Klossowski produced a drawing in 1969 around the time Foucault was allegedly raping children in Tunisia. It depicted the recuperation of surplus value as an act of sodomy, and simply “took Foucault’s breath away”. (David Macey, The Lives of Michel Foucault, Vintage, London, 1994, pp.254-5.)
Klossowski had proved capable of competing with the Divine Marquis in the literary field of tortured eroticism. In his book Roberte, ce soir (1954) the protagonist Roberte “circulates” as if she were a token of currency through a sordid economy of the erotic. Raped and assaulted, she is variously the seducer and seduced, the victor and the victim. In another work, La Monnaie vivante (1970), Klossowski develops this idea into a libertine utopia in which the gold standard is replaced by the “pleasure standard” and payments are made in sexually desirable girls and boys.
In his exploration of transgressive behaviour, Klossowski also explored another need he shared with Foucault and that the latter regarded as the principal project of Sade: the desire to destroy the integrity of the everyday self. As the pioneering postmodernist Gilles Deleuze noted with respect to Klossowski, all his work “strives towards a single goal: ensuring the loss of personal identity, dissolving the ego; that is the splendid trophy that Klossowski’s characters bring back from a journey to the edge of madness”. (Qu. PMF p.156-7) In Foucault’s view, it was Sade’s achievement to have proposed the dissociation of the Cartesian ego through the systematic exploitation of the entire panopoly of sexual desires and practices. Moreover, Sade accomplished this at precisely the time that the tyranny of Enlightenment Reason was giving rise to the Panopticon and the repressive Carceral Society that Foucault believed emerged in the nineteenth century and described in Discipline and Punish (1975). Through this act of subversion, the Divine Marquis was able “to introduce the disorder of desire into a world dominated by order and classification”. (ibid, p.278)
Foucault’s interest in the Sadean tradition persisted and intensified. For example, at Uppsala in 1956 he gave a course of lectures on “The Conception of Love in French Literature, from the Marquis de Sade to Jean Genet”; then, in 1978, in The History of Sexuality, Vol.1 (pp.21,149) he discusses Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom in connection with a perverted version of the sacrament of confession and describes Sade’s subjection of sex to the arbitrary power of the dominant party enjoying “an unlimited right of all-powerful monstrosity”. Later, in 1982 during his final years, he was offering “sermon-like” accounts of Sade’s theories to his companions in the Toronto sado-masochist scene, focusing on “one’s search for ecstasy; in terms of the sensuality of surrender, the sensuality of agony, the sensuality of pain, [and] the sensuality of death”. (PMF, p.280)
Several other key features of the History of Madness should be noted here not only because of their subsequent influence, but because of what else they reveal about Foucault’s preoccupations and worldview. First, it introduced Foucault’s fundamental conception of “Madness as the Other of Reason”. According to this, madness involves access to an alternative mental universe—the “Other of Reason”—which reason, operating as an ideological arm of capitalism and bourgeois society, denies exists. This conviction was fundamental to Foucault’s self-interpretation and life project: he had a conception of madness as offering access to a higher realm of consciousness that he associated with his own acute sensitivity, sexual proclivities and pursuit of “limit-experiences”. This notion immediately attracted criticism, notably from one of Foucault’s former students, Jacques Derrida, in 1963. (Subsequently published as “Cogito and the History of Madness,” in J. Derrida, Writing and Difference, Chicago U.P., Chicago, 1978.)
The issue boiled down to whether madness was constituted by the disintegration, failure or deprivation of reason as such—which seems to be the prevalent experience of madness in the ordinary world—or whether it involves access to another mental universe or higher state of consciousness, the “Other of Reason”, against which reason has turned its back, a conviction for which there is little evidence aside from some writings and artwork of mystics, poets and artists. What Derrida’s analysis laid bare were Foucault’s “underlying metaphysics” (a phrase used by Foucault’s doctoral examiners in commenting on the thesis upon which his book was based). Foucault, it seems, was seeking to assimilate his own personal insights, conflicts and experiences to some postulated realm of higher consciousness; he then identified this realm with “madness”, valorised it, and proceeded to project a tale of its vicissitudes onto the trajectory of modern European history.
The total institution of the asylum was central to this narrative. According to Foucault, it was “a microcosm in which were symbolised the massive structure of bourgeois society and its values: Family-Child relations, centred on the theme of paternal authority; Transgressive-Punishment relations, centred on the theme of immediate justice; [and] Madness-Disorder relations, centred on the theme of social and moral order”. (The Archaeology of Knowledge, Harper and Row, New York, p.202-3) It was society’s imperative need to ensure the ongoing dominance of these values that granted psychiatric staff their power and authority over the minds and bodies of those delivered into their care. And it was these relations, particularly those of the family, that had to be contested and destroyed in order to achieve full human liberation.
A great deal more could be written about Foucault, Matzneff and their fellow intellectuals in this formative period of Critical Theory and Cultural Marxism. Nevertheless, the preceding review should suffice to illuminate the fundamentally amoral, nihilistic, irrationalist, relativistic, predatory and exploitative nature of their theories, values, attitudes and activities. It seems incredible that this ideological miasma, born out of the proclivities of decadent intellectuals, has been allowed to infiltrate and dominate our universities, schools, media, art and literature for decades.
The revelations about Foucault should be an alert that proponents of the cancel culture will not be able to ignore. How will they react? Will they be consistent with their purported ideals and cancel Foucault, or will they betray these ideals, reveal their true colours, and sanction the ongoing corruption of the intellectual culture of our society?
Mervyn Bendle contributed the literary article “Medieval Monastic Mysteries” in the September issue. Show your support