The Biopower of Neoliberalism

  • Abstract:

    In the following paper, I draw on Michel Foucault’s genealogies of biopolitics and neoliberalism to explore the links between capitalism and racism in the contemporary United States. The account I develop here illustrates the way in which the biopolitical power to make live and let die is exercised through the employment of liberal and neoliberal economic strategies of government. Specifically, I argue that these strategies of government instrumentalize the population as a mass of potential market-actors and entrepreneurs and, in the process, continually reproduce, manage, and regulate the freedom, security, and endangerment of its members. The discursive deployment of the figure of the entrepreneur operates here as a marker for the selective identification and sequestration of ‘failed entrepreneurs’ and ‘illegitimate capitalists’ as dangers to the market economy and life itself. This selective mechanism, in turn, ensures the biopolitical isolation and purification of ‘successful entrepreneurs’ and ‘legitimate capitalists’ as exemplary models of healthy life. This is accomplished, as I will show, primarily through the systematic erasure of historical context from public discourse. I illustrate this fundamentally anti-historical nature of the figure of the entrepreneur with an analysis of President Obama’s 2013 commencement speech at Morehouse College. Specifically, I show that, insofar as populations are compelled to comport themselves as entrepreneurs, they are trained to perceive slavery and its descendant institutions as obstacles to be overcome through individual initiative and moral choice. Because systematic effects of this legacy are ongoing, Black Americans’ access to the politico-economic resources necessary for entrepreneurial self-direction is significantly impeded. Those who are unable to acquire these resources are compelled to secure alternative means of self-preservation. Having failed to follow socially sanctioned paths for survival, these subpopulations are depicted as ‘failed entrepreneurs,’ ‘illegitimate capitalists,’ social enemies, and examples of unhealthy life. As such, they must be sequestered and instrumentalized as raw materials for the prison-industrial complex. In closing, I suggest that the politico-economic productivity of this biopolitical investment constitutes an important extra-disciplinary function of the prison system.