A truly invisible hand: The critical value of Foucauldian irony

Critical Times 4 (1):48-72 (2021)
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Abstract

Critical theory has long resisted the notion that an “invisible hand” can operate within the real social dynamics of a free market. But despite the most radical desires of the socially critical imagination, the optimization of that “spontaneous order” or depersonalized way of ordering things known as “the economy” has become the dominant playing field and decisive electoral issue of modern politics. Within this broad contemporary context, Michel Foucault made a strange theoretical intervention that, to this day, continues to baffle readers. During a lecture, he argued that Adam Smith’s invisible hand was, after all, truly and purposively, that is, for technical rather than ideological reasons, “invisible.” This article argues that there is a counter-positivism or tactical irony contained within the logic of such a controversial thesis; namely, that when one acknowledges that the principle of economic competition encourages an efficient self-organizing effect at all times, regardless of context, one is also immediately in a position to appreciate why the art of government should always maintain its political primacy over the spontaneous order of the market.

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Carlos Palacios
Macquarie University

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