Posted by: Dan | February 29, 2008

Cutting the Roots, Instead of Trimming the Branches

In 1976, Jean Baudrillard wrote a provocative essay entitled Forget Foucault, wherein he argued that Foucault's discourse, as powerful as it is, is fatally flawed. Drawing on Foucault's writings on both power and sexuality, Baudrillard argued that Foucault was able to speak so well of these things only because the forms of those things were disappearing. Hence, Baudrillard writes that “Foucault spoke so well of power to us… only because power is dead”. He then goes on to say that “[Foucault] spoke so well of sexuality only because its form, this great production (that too) of our culture was, like that of power, in the process of disappearing”.

Now, I'm not convinced that Baudrillard is correct when he argues that power is “dead” (by this he means that it is “[n]ot mere impossible to locate because of dissemination, but dissolved purely and simply in a manner that still escapes us, dissolved by reversal, cancellation, or made hyperreal through simulation (who knows?)”). Indeed, it seems to me that contemporary capitalism reflects a change in the form of power, but not its death or disappearance — it continues to exhibit a great concentration of power within particular institutions.

I am, however, more sympathetic to Baudrillard's notion that the form of sexuality is disappearing — and that got me thinking.

In particular, it got me thinking about criticisms of the State project that have been raised by the likes of Hauerwas, Cavanaugh, and Bell Jr. What if Hauerwas et al. are able to speak so well about the State, because the form of the State is disappearing? Perhaps we are able to so trenchantly criticise the State because the State is, in essence, dead.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't disagree with the criticisms of the State raised by Hauerwas et al. I just think that when such criticisms are limited to the State we are not getting to the root of the problem we are confronting today. At its core, I believe the problem we are confronting today is that of late capitalism (global capitalism, disaster capitalism, call it what you will). Power today is not rooted in the State, it is rooted in global economic forces and institutions, and it is these forces and institutions that then manipulate the State to meet their desired ends. Therefore, rather then focusing overly-much upon the State (and spending all our time trimming branches — indeed, trimming branches that these institutions are also eager to trim!), it is these economic powers that we must confront if we are to have any hope of digging up the roots of the problem of living Christianly today.

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