Quillette has a new article on how Robin DiAngelo gets Foucault wrong. I tend to like something easier and snappier, One Weird Trick that allows you so see through Marx, Hegel, and Foucault. Alas, that is seldom what is offered at Quillette and most other sites discussing the matter. More discipline and hard work is required.
I may have enough of one to pass on to make life easier for you all. Foucault picked up on Marx's idea of ownership of the means of production and generalised it to a more expansive "power." That seems sensible enough, because power comes in many forms, including influence, cultural inertia, and even the subtler structures of how power is allowed to change. So much, you already knew. One could add in Derrida and Paul de Man, though those are usually more prominent in the discussion of "what a stupid bad person you are, thoroughly embedded in the prejudices of your grandfathers, for questioning us at all. It's clearly just resistance, which we know, because we assume it, says very bad things about you personally at the psychological level. And that your income and status depends on it. Have a nice day." But Foucault has held his spot better than they did. DeMan fell as rapidly as Satan from heaven after it was discovered that he had written propaganda for the Nazis. We are now mercifully free off him.
The fatal flaw of Foucault is that his ideas must be close to 100% true or they are not true at all.
The idea of power influencing our perceptions and even those elusive ideas of where our knowledge comes from is not all that alarming. One can see it long before Foucault, long before Marx, back through Voltaire and Descartes, and even back to Pilate and Solomon in the Bible, and Plato. They all might describe this a bit differently, not in terms of power per se, but of hierarchy or citizenship or anointing, but we can make the mental adjustment quickly. Foucault's prism of power is about the same thing, Related, anyway. Thus when we start to read his idea (or more likely, about his ideas from others) we find ourselves suspicious that it does seem somewhat reasonable. We wanted him to be quickly, obviously, and completely wrong, and there he is, saying stuff we grudgingly acknowledge is true. We read on.
We have then passed a break point that we don't fully recognise. In philosophical discussions and even more especially political discussions we are used to granting that an idea has something to be said for it. Sure, power is part of the picture, I can see that. Give me some examples of where power is bending the curve, I'll try to adjust. We may not be in full agreement, but we can get closer. It's all a work in progress. Other Post-Modernist theories granted at least a little wiggle-room. You could go part way down that road and allow yourself to be influenced, and hoped you might influence others in return. I have long suspected on the basis of my reading that there was not very much wiggle room offered, but I deferred in judgement to liberals who seemed to be moderately reasonable that such things were possible. They knew these people, worked with them and went to conferences with them and thought you could work with them. "We can do business together," as Margaret Thatcher said of Mikhail Gorbachev, with whom she strongly disagreed on many matters of grave importance.
Foucault himself never gave the least indication that he felt that way. (I am not that familiar with his work. Please correct me with something resembling citations if I have gotten this wrong. My whole premise may be in ruins, but I have gotten in deep enough to risk that.) He was all-or-nothing, and his more recent CRT followers - or Theory in general - do not seem to grant this.
My thought over the last few years, maybe even a decade, had been that Foucault is merely a fundamentalist on this idea. Bible literalists will likewise declare that those other people who claim to be Christians are not really so. They haven't been baptised correctly, they don't get Creation right, their women speak in churches. Reasonable Christians work around this, and I thought reasonable post-modernists did as well. While I believe many people who work in academia, and publishing, and conferences for nonprofits still have power and influence and are trying to hold to this vision of postmodernism, that battle has been lost. They are fighting a rearguard action, convinced, as conservatives still were in the 1960s, that their ultimate reasonableness will eventually prevail and this will blow away, having mildly influenced a generation.
The new generation is actually reading Foucault with some accuracy. Power is not a method of looking at the structure of society, it is not merely the main method of looking at society, it is the only one. It does not allow for modification. Nice people in churches and those who put rainbow sermons up on their lawn think that they can accomplish much by listening. If it were listening to actual black people, gay people, Hispanics, or women I would merely shrug and praise them for at least acting in good faith. But that is no longer who they are commanded to listen to. They can only listen to a selected group of Theory fundamentalists now.
I overstate that, yes. But not by much anymore. Colleges are obeying the fundamentalists now, issue after issue, as the controversy about the rock at Madison shows. The CRT fundamentalist have no rational argument, yet are winning the day. It's a small thing, but bigger things are coming. Liberal professors might ask the conservatives they know if any of this looks familiar.