Ben Golder, Foucault and the Politics of Rights is forthcoming later this year with Stanford University Press.
This book focuses on Michel Foucault’s late work on rights in order to address broader questions about the politics of rights in the contemporary era. As several commentators have observed, something quite remarkable happens in this late work. In his early career, Foucault had been a great critic of the liberal discourse of rights. Suddenly, from about 1976 onward, he makes increasing appeals to rights in his philosophical writings, political statements, interviews, and journalism. He not only defends their importance; he argues for rights new and as-yet-unrecognized. Does Foucault simply revise his former positions and endorse a liberal politics of rights? Ben Golder proposes an answer to this puzzle, which is that Foucault approaches rights in a spirit of creative and critical appropriation. He uses rights strategically for a range of political purposes that cannot be reduced to a simple endorsement of political liberalism. Golder develops this interpretation of Foucault’s work while analyzing its shortcomings and relating it to the approaches taken by a series of current thinkers also engaged in considering the place of rights in contemporary politics, including Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and Jacques Rancière.