Issue #52 The New Way of the World, Part II: The Performance/Pleasure Apparatus

The New Way of the World, Part II: The Performance/Pleasure Apparatus

Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval

Issue #52
February 2014

Risk: A Dimension of Existence and an Imposed Lifestyle

The new subject is regarded as the possessor of a “human capital”—a capital to be accumulated through enlightened choices that are the fruit of responsible calculation of costs and benefits. The results achieved in life are the result of a series of decisions and efforts that come down exclusively to the individual and require no special compensation in the event of failure, other than that provided for by voluntary private insurance contracts. The distribution of economic resources and social positions is exclusively regarded as the consequence of trajectories, successful or otherwise, of personal realization. The entrepreneurial subject is exposed in all areas of life to vital risks from which she or he cannot extricate herself or himself, their management being a matter of strictly private decisions. To be a personal enterprise assumes living entirely in risk. Aubrey establishes a close relationship between the two: “Risk forms part of the notion of personal enterprise”; “personal enterprise is reactivity and creativity in a world where one does not know what tomorrow will bring.”1

This dimension is not new. Market logic has long been associated with the dangers of slump, loss, and bankruptcy. The problematic of risk is inseparable from “market risks,” which have had to be protected against by resort to insurance techniques since the end of the Middle Ages. The novelty attaches to the universalization of a style of economic existence hitherto reserved for entrepreneurs. In the eighteenth century, the financier and physiocrat Richard Cantillon established as an “anthropological” principle that a distinction was to be made between those “on fixed wages” and those “on unfixed wages”—that is, entrepreneurs:

By all these inductions, and an infinity of others that could be made to extend this matter to the entire population of the state, it may be established that, except for the prince and the property owners, all the inhabitants of a state are dependent. They can be divided into two classes, entrepreneurs and hired workers. The entrepreneurs are on unfixed wages while the others are on fixed wages while there is work, although their functions and ranks may be very unequal. The general who has his pay, the courtier his pension and the domestic servant who has wages, all fall into this last class. All the others are entrepreneurs, whether they are set up with capital to conduct their enterprise, or are entrepreneurs of their own labor without capital, and they may be regarded as living under uncertainty; even the beggars and robbers are entrepreneurs of this class.2

Josephine Pryde, Adoption (6), 2009. C-print. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen. Courtesy of Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles.

Henceforth every individual should be on “unfixed wages,” “beggars and robbers” included. This is precisely the content of the political strategies actively encouraged by employers. The contrast between two sorts of human beings—the “risk-loving,” who are courageous and dominant, and the “risk-averse,” who are timid and dominated—was consecrated by two theoreticians connected to French employers, François Ewald and Denis Kessler. They maintained that any “social reformation” presupposed the transformation of the maximum number of individuals into “risk-lovers.” In his turn, a few years later, Laurence Parisot, the French employers’ leader, would put it more directly: “Life, health, and love are precarious; why should work escape this law?”3 By this we are to understand that legislation should conform to the new “natural law” of precariousness. In this discourse, risk is projected as an ontological dimension that is the twin of the desire driving everyone. To follow one’s desires is to run risks.4], 74). On the other hand, he is certainly right to emphasize the current stress on this obsession with “risk” as danger or consciousness of danger. But is it thereby necessary to relate it, as he does, to major changes in the technical domination of nature, now integrated into society (p. 81)? Should it not also, and perhaps above all, be related to the new norm of generalized competition? Indeed, that is precisely what the second part of his book tends to highlight.]

However, if, from this standpoint, “living in uncertainty” appears to be a natural condition, things look quite different as soon as we situate ourselves on the terrain of actual practices. When reference is made to the “risk society,” we must be clear about the claim. The social state dealt with a number of professional risks bound up with the condition of wage-labor through compulsory social insurance. The production and management of risk now follow a quite different logic. In reality, what is involved is the social and political manufacture of individualized risks, such that they can be managed not by the social state, but by those increasingly numerous and powerful enterprises which offer strictly individual “risk management” services. “Risk” has become a full-fledged market sector, to the extent that it involves producing individuals who will decreasingly be able to count on forms of mutual aid from their local milieus or public mechanisms of solidarity. In the same way and by the same stroke as the subject of risk is created, the subject of private insurance is created. The way that governments reduce socialized cover of health expenses or retirement pensions, transferring their management to private insurance firms, unit trusts, or mutual funds required to operate in accordance with an individualized logic, makes it possible to establish that we are dealing with a genuine strategy.

In our view, this is what should be concluded from Ulrich Beck’s work and his book The Risk Society. What Beck calls “agents of their own subsistence mediated through the market” are individuals “liberated” from tradition and collective structures, liberated from the statuses that assigned them a place. Now these “free” beings must “self-reference”—that is, equip themselves with social reference-points and acquire social value at the cost of a social and geographical mobility without any assignable limits. While such individualization through the market is not new, Beck clearly shows that it has become more radical today. The “welfare state” played a highly ambiguous role, aiding the replacement of community structures by the “counters” of social provision. Its apparatuses played a major role in constructing “social risks” whose cover was logically “socialized.” But its methods of financing, like its principles of distribution, made it a reality that these “social risks” derived from the functioning of economy and society, in their causes (unemployment) as in their potential effects (the state of health of manual labor).

The new norm as regards risk is the “individualization of fate.” The extension of “risk” coincides with a change in its nature. It is less and less “social risk” taken care of by some policy of the social state; it is more and more “life risk.” By virtue of the presupposition of the unlimited responsibility of the individual discussed above, the subject is regarded as responsible for this, as for their own choice of cover. For some theoreticians of this new course, like Ewald, the society of individual risk presupposes an “information society”: the role of public authorities and enterprises should consist in providing reliable information on the labor market, the education system, the rights of patients, and so forth.5

Here we find ideological complementarity between the market norm based on the rational subject’s “free choice” and the “transparency” of social functioning, which is the precondition for optimal choice. Above all, however, this establishes a mechanism that identifies the sharing of risk and the bearing of risk. Once it is assumed that the individual is in a position to access the information required for his or her choice, we must assume that he becomes fully responsible for the risks run.

Philippe Halsman, Aquacade, 1953. Copyright: Philippe Halsman/Magnum Photos.

The New “Performance/Pleasure” Apparatus

The new subject is the person of competition and performance. The self-entrepreneur is a being made to “succeed,” to “win.” Much more so than the idealized figures of heads of enterprises, competitive sport is the great social theater that displays the modern gods, demigods, and heroes.6 While the cult of sport dates from the early twentieth century, and proved perfectly compatible with fascism and Soviet Communism, as well as Fordism, it experienced a major turning point when it permeated the most diverse practices from within, not only by lending them a vocabulary, but, more decisively, through a logic of performance that transforms its subjective meaning. This is true of the professional world, but also of many other areas—for example, sexuality. In the vast “psychological” discourse that analyzes them, encourages them, and surrounds them with advice of every kind today, sexual practices become exercises in which everyone is encouraged to compare themselves with the socially requisite norm of performance. Number and duration of relationships, quality and intensity of orgasms, variety and attributes of partners, number and types of position, stimulation and maintenance of the libido at all ages—these become the subject of detailed inquiries and precise recommendations. As Alain Ehrenberg has shown, above all since the 1980s, sport has become a “ubiquitous principle of action” and competition a model of social relations.7 “Coaching” is simultaneously an index and means of the constant analogy between sport, sex, and work.8 More so, perhaps, than economic discourse on competitiveness, this model has made it possible to “naturalize” the duty of performance, which has diffused to the masses a normativity centered on generalized competition. In this apparatus, the enterprise readily identifies with winners, whom it sponsors and whose image it uses, while the world of sport, as we know, is becoming an unabashed laboratory of business. Sportsmen and women are perfect embodiments of the self-entrepreneur: they have no hesitation in selling themselves to the highest bidder without any considerations of loyalty and fidelity.

The new subject is no longer that of the production/saving/consumption cycle, typical of an earlier period of capitalism. Not without tensions, the old industrial model combined a Puritan asceticism of work, satisfaction of consumption, and hopes for peaceful enjoyment of accumulated goods. The sacrifices made in work (“disutility”) were balanced against the goods that could be acquired thanks to income (“utility”). Daniel Bell demonstrated the increasingly acute tension between this ascetic tendency and this consumerist hedonism—a tension that according to him reached a peak in the 1960s.9 Without yet being in a position to observe it, this was to glimpse a resolution of the tension in an apparatus equating performance and pleasure, and whose principle is “excess” and “self-transcendence.” For what is involved is not doing what one knows how to do and consuming what one needs, in a kind of balance between disutility and utility. The new subject is requested to produce “ever more” and enjoy “ever more,” and thus to be directly connected to a “surplus-enjoyment” that has become systemic.10], 34–5). While in the 1970s Deleuze stressed the “paranoiac” repressive machines that vainly attempt to master desire’s lines of flight, he later came to emphasize the relationship between this liberation of flows of desire and apparatuses for directing flows in the “society of control,” between the mode of subjectivation by stimulation of “desire” and the generalized evaluation of performance. Cf. Gilles Deleuze, “Control and Becoming” and “Postscript on Control Societies,” in Negotiations 1972–1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).] Life itself, in all its aspects, becomes the object of apparatuses of performance and pleasure.

This is the dual meaning of a managerial discourse that makes performance a duty and an advertising discourse that makes pleasure an imperative. To stress nothing but the tension between the two would be to neglect everything that establishes equivalence between the duty of performance and the duty of pleasure. It would be to underestimate the imperative of “ever more,” which aims to intensify the effectiveness of every subject in all areas—educational and professional, but also relational, sexual, and so forth. “We are the champions”—such is the hymn of the new entrepreneurial subject. From the song’s lyrics, which in their way heralded the new subjective course, the following warning in particular must be retained: “No time for losers.” What is new is precisely that the loser is the ordinary man, the one who in essence loses.

The social norm of the subject has in fact changed. It is no longer balance, the average, but maximum performance that becomes the focal point of the “restructuring” of the self, mandatory for everyone. The subject is no longer required simply to be “conformist,” to slip ungrudgingly into the ordinary garb of agents of economic production and social reproduction. Not only is conformism no longer enough. It even becomes suspect, inasmuch as subjects are enjoined to “surpass themselves,” to “push back the limits,” as managers and trainers say. More than ever, the economic machine cannot work at equilibrium, and still less at loss. It must aim at a “beyond,” a “more,” which Marx identified as “surplus-value.” This exigency peculiar to the regime of capital accumulation had not hitherto exhibited all its effects. This occurs when subjective involvement is such that the quest for a “beyond-the-self ” is the precondition for the functioning of subjects and enterprises alike—hence the interest in identifying the subject as personal enterprise and human capital. The extraction of a “surplus-pleasure” from oneself, from one’s pleasure in living, from the simple fact of being alive, is precisely what makes the new subject and the new system of competition function. “Accountable” subjectivation and “financial” subjectivation ultimately define a form of subjectivation as an excess of self over self, or boundless self-transcendence. In this way, an original figure of subjectivation is delineated. It is not a “trans-subjectivation,” which would involve aiming at a beyond-the-self that establishes a break with the self and self-renunciation. Nor is it a “self-subjectivation” whereby one would seek to attain an ethical relationship to the self independently of any other goal, whether political or economic in kind.11 In a way, it is an “ultra-subjectivation,”12 whose goal is not a final, stable condition of “self-possession,” but a beyond-the-self that is always receding, and which is constitutionally aligned in its very regime with the logic of enterprise and, over and above that, with the “cosmos” of the world market.

From Efficiency to Performance

The new discourse of pleasure and performance obliges people to furnish themselves with a body that can always surpass its current capacities for production and pleasure. The same discourse equalizes everyone in the face of these new obligations: no handicap of birth or environment represents an insurmountable obstacle to personal involvement in the general apparatus. Such a turn only became possible once the “psy” function, supported by “psy” discourse, was identified as the motor of conduct and the target-object of a potential transformation by “psy” techniques. Not that the neoliberal subject is the direct product of this construction. But discourse on the subject has brought together psychological statements and economic statements to the point of fusing them. In reality, this subject is a composite effect, as was the individual of classical liberalism.

In works strongly influenced by Foucault’s research, Nikolas Rose has shown that “psy” discourse, with its power of expertise and scientific legitimacy, made a major contribution to defining the modern governable individual.13 Construed as an “intellectual technology,” “psy” discourse made it possible to conduct individuals on the basis of knowledge of their internal constitution. In so doing, it formed individuals who have learned to conceive of themselves as psychological beings, to judge themselves and alter themselves by working on themselves, at the same time as it supplied institutions and rulers with resources for directing their conduct. The guiding idea was a mutual adjustment of psychological springs and social and economic constraints, which has learned to view the “personality” and the “human factor” as an economic resource to be properly “looked after.”

The psychologization of social relations and the humanization of work long went hand in hand, with the best of intentions. Ergonomists, sociologists, and psychologists sought to respond to workers’ aspirations to live a more rewarding life at work and even find pleasure in it. By the same token, the subjective dimension became as much a reality in itself as an objective tool of the enterprise’s success. “Motivation” in work emerged as the principle of a new way of directing human beings at work, but also pupils in schools, patients in hospitals, and soldiers on the battlefield. Subjectivity, composed of emotions and desires, passions and feelings, beliefs and attitudes, was regarded as the key to the performance of enterprises. Work specifically geared to reconciling desiring subjectivity and the enterprise’s goals was undertaken by human resources departments, recruitment agencies, and training experts. This entrepreneurial “humanism” was supported from without by all well-intentioned reformers, who believed that a secure, flourishing worker was a more motivated, and therefore more efficient, worker. Hence the stress on group harmony, a “sense of belonging,” and “communication,” with its therapeutic virtues and powers of persuasion. As Rose notes, “democracy marched hand in hand with industrial productivity and human satisfaction.”14 Numerous accounts, at the intersection of psychosociology and trade-union and political engagement, even regarded the impact of a “democratic style of leadership” on “collective subjectivity” as a scientific argument in favor of self-managed socialism.

When it coincided with economic discourse, “psy” discourse had other effects in everyday culture by conferring a scientific form on the ideology of choice. In an “open society,” everyone has the right to live as they wish, to choose what they want, and to follow their preferred fashions. Freedom to choose was not initially received as a “right-wing” economic ideology, but as a “left-wing” norm of behavior, according to which no one may oppose the realization of one’s own desires. Economic formulations and “psy” formulations intersected, making the new subject the supreme arbiter between different “products” and styles in the great market of codes and values. This conjunction also gave rise to techniques of the self geared to individual performance through a managerial rationalization of desire. But it was a different modality of this conjunction that made deployment of the performance/pleasure apparatus possible. It consists in asking not to what extent the individual and the enterprise can adapt to one another, but how the psychological subject and the subject of production can identify. To speak in Freudian terms, the issue is no longer that of getting individuals to make the transition from the pleasure principle to the realty principle—the therapeutic goal of supporters of an “adaptive” psychoanalysis promising greater happiness to the best-adapted.15 The issue is getting them to make the transition from the pleasure principle to beyond the pleasure principle. The identification of the two subjects recedes from homeostatic horizons of equilibrium, occurring in a logic of intensification and boundlessness. No doubt it will be said that the illusion of healthy pleasure, of the adaptation of subject and object, in the form of “self-realization” and “self-mastery,” is maintained.

But that is not the main thing. In this respect, while Rose is right to argue that “psy” techniques and the governmentality peculiar to liberal democracies belong together, he does not sufficiently appreciate that the ideal of self-mastery no longer characterizes the specifically neoliberal subjectivity.16 Freedom has become an obligation of performance. Normality no longer consists in mastery and regulation of drives, but in their intensive stimulation as the primary source of energy. For it is around the norm of competition between personal enterprises that the fusion of “psy” discourse and economic discourse occurs, that individual aspirations and the enterprise’s aim to excel become identified—in short, that “microcosm” and “macrocosm” are harmonized.

Claire Fontaine, Orgasm Neon (female), 2009. Courtesy Gabriele Senn Galerie.

Clinical Diagnoses of the Neo-Subject

The paradox around which clinical diagnosis revolves is that the institutions which allocate places, fix identities, stabilize relations, and impose limits are increasingly governed by a principle of continuous transcendence of limits—a principle that neo-management precisely has the task of implementing. The “unbounded world” does not pertain to some return to “nature,” but is the effect of a particular institutional regime that regards any limit as potentially already outmoded. Far removed from the model of a central power directly controlling subjects, the performance/pleasure apparatus is apportioned into diversified mechanisms of control, evaluation, and incentivization and pertains to all the cogs of production, all modes of consumption, and all forms of social relations.

According to some, the erosion of any ideal embodied by institutions—the “de-symbolization” to which psychoanalysts refer—has given rise to a “new psychic economy” that has less and less to do with the clinical diagnosis of Freud’s time.17 The formation of the new subject no longer follows the normative paths of the Oedipal family. The father is often no more than a stranger, disavowed for not being up to date with the latest market trend or for not earning enough money. The crux for psychoanalysts remains the unavailable character of a figure of the Other—the symbolic level—to detach the little human being from desire for the mother and help him accede via the Name of the Father to the status of a subject of law and desire. But with the breakdown of religious and political instances, the social no longer contains shared references other than the market and its promises. In many respects, capitalist discourse brings about mass psychosis by destroying symbolic forms. This was Deleuze and Guattari’s thesis, as we recalled above. But—what is less well known—it was also Lacan’s: “What distinguishes capitalist discourse is this: Verwerfung, foreclosure, foreclosure of all the fields of the symbolic, with the result I have already referred to. Foreclosure of what? Of castration.”18 Is this world of omnipotence, in which the unbounded subject is caught up, already characterized by mass psychosis, with its schizophrenic and paranoiac edges? Or is it still preserved from this drift by modes of defense of another kind—for example, a systemic perversion?19

Marco Anelli, from the series Portraits in the Presence of Marina Abramovic, 2010. This series has been published as a photobook and can be found on the Tumblr site Marina Abramovic Made Me Cry

The Self-Pleasure of the Neo-Subject

Psychoanalysis can help us to consider the way that neo-subjects function in the regime of self-pleasure. If Lacan is to be believed, such self-pleasure, construed as an aspiration to an impossible plenitude—and in this respect very different from mere pleasure—is invariably limited and partial in the social order. In a way, the institution is the agency responsible for limiting it and conferring a meaning on this limit. The enterprise, as the general form of the human institution in Western capitalist societies, is no exception to this rule, but it now performs the task in denegated fashion. It restricts self-pleasure through the constraints of work, discipline, and hierarchy, through all the renunciations that form part of an exacting ascesis. The loss of pleasure is no less marked than in religious societies; but it is differently so. Sacrifices are no longer administered and justified by a law depicted as inherent in the human condition, in its different local and historical varieties, but at the instigation of an individual decision “that owes no one anything.”

A whole social discourse, validating the self-constructed individual to excess,20 and functioning as a disavowal, makes such subjective pretensions possible: loss is not really a loss, since the subject is the one who decided on it. But this social myth, whose effects on familial and institutional education should not be neglected, is only one aspect of the functioning of neo-subjects. They must agree to engage in their work, to conform to the constraints of mundane existence. If they are required to do so, it is as a personal enterprise, so that the ego can sustain itself with plenary imaginary pleasure in a complete world. All are masters or, at any rate, believe themselves to be. Self-pleasure in the order of the imaginary, and the denial of limits thus appears to be the very law of ultra-subjectivation.

In old societies, the sacrifice of an element of pleasure was productive. The major religious and political constructs, their dogmatic and architectural edifices, attested to this. In early capitalism, accumulated capital was still a product of this kind, fruit of the restrictions imposed on the consumption of the popular classes and bourgeoisie alike. Thus, for classical political economy, loss was interpreted as a cost with an eye to a profit. Today, things are different. If loss is denied, boundless pleasure can be mobilized on the imaginary level in the service of the enterprise, which is itself caught up in imaginary logics of infinite expansion and limitless stock-market value-creation. Certainly, it is not possible to avoid a technical rationalization of subjectivity, but this is only for the sake of its “fulfillment.” Work is not exertion; it is self-pleasure through the requisite performance. There is no loss, since one works directly “for oneself.” The object of the denial is therefore the hetero-normed character of ultra-subjectivation—that is, the fact that the boundlessness of pleasure beyond the self is aligned with the boundlessness of market accumulation.

What distinguishes the new normative logic is that it does not demand total renunciation by individuals for the benefit of an invincible collective force and radiant future, but aims to secure a no less total subjection from their participation in a “win-win” game, in the eloquent formula that is supposed to describe professional and social existence. Whereas, in the old capitalism, everyone lost something—the capitalist, the guaranteed enjoyment of his goods as a result of risk-taking; the proletarian, the free disposal of his time and strength—in the new capitalism, no one loses and everyone wins. The neoliberal subject cannot lose, because he is both the worker who accumulates capital and the shareholder who enjoys it. Being one’s own worker and shareholder, “performing” without limits and enjoying the fruits of one’s accumulation unhindered—such is the imaginary of the neo-subjective condition.

The kind of uncoupling revealed by the clinical diagnosis of neo-subjects—their state of suspension outside symbolic frameworks, their floating relationship to time, their relations with others reduced to one-off transactions—is not dysfunctional for performance imperatives or new network technologies. The main thing to grasp here is that the boundlessness of self-pleasure is the exact opposite in the imaginary order of de-symbolization. The sense of self is supplied in excess, rapidity, the raw sensations supplied by commotion. This unquestionably exposes neo-subjects to depression and dependency. But it also allows them the “connexionist” state from which, for want of a legitimate link to a third instance, they derive fragile support and the anticipated efficacy. Clinical diagnosis of neoliberal subjectivity must never lose sight of the fact that the “pathological” pertains to the same normativity as the “normal.”

Model crypt designed for cryogenated pet.

The Government of the Neoliberal Subject

If we follow the clinical chart of the neo-subject, personal enterprise has two faces: the triumphant face of unabashed success; and the depressed face of failure confronted with uncontrollable processes and techniques of normalization.21 Oscillating between depression and perversion, neo-subjects are condemned to a double life: a master of performances to be admired and an object of enjoyment to be disposed of.

In light of this analysis, the unduly frequent, tedious depictions of a “hedonistic individualism” or “mass narcissism” emerge as a covert way of appealing for the restoration of traditional forms of authority. Yet, nothing is more mistaken than to regard the neo-subject in the manner of conservatives. He or she is not the practitioner of anarchic pleasure “who no longer has any respect for anything.” An equivalent, symmetrical error consists in exclusively denouncing commodity reification and the alienation of mass consumption. Certainly, advertising’s injunction to enjoy forms part of this universe of elective objects which, through the aestheticization-eroticization of the “thing” and magic of the brand, are made into “objects of desire” and promises of pleasure. But we must also consider the way that neo-subjects, far from being left to their own devices, are governed in the performance/pleasure apparatus.

The mutation of Western societies was interpreted as a crisis of traditional forms of authority, which could only be overcome by restoring the values of the ancien régime. This was to ignore the new forms of constraint that hemmed in the subjects of industrial societies, bound up with labor and its technical and social division. In a word, it was to ignore the new moral and political regime of the capitalist societies of the time.

An analogous mistake obtains today, which hampers our understanding of the relationship between the conduct of neo-subjects (including manifestations of deviance and malaise, modes of resistance and escape) and all the forms of control and surveillance exercised over them. It is thus utterly pointless to deplore the crisis of supervisory institutions like the family, schools, trade unions, and political organizations, or to lament the waning of culture and knowledge or the decline of democratic life. It is more worthwhile to seek to grasp how all these institutions, values, and activities are today incorporated and transformed in the performance/pleasure apparatus in the name of their necessary modernization.


“L’entreprise de soi, un nouvel âge,” interview with Bob Aubrey, Autrement 192 (2000): 101.


Richard Cantillon, An Essay on Economic Theory, trans. Mark Thornton and Chantal Saucier (Ludwig von Mises Institute, Alabama, 2010), 76.


Le Figaro, August 30, 2005.


On this precise point, Ulrich Beck is wrong to straightforwardly contrast classical liberalism’s ontology of interests with the ontology of risk of contemporary capitalism, bourgeois society governed by self-interest with modern society governed by risk (The Risk Society, trans. Mark Ritter [London: Sage, 1992


“Entretien avec François Ewald,” Nouveaux regards 21 (Spring 2003).


Cf. Alain Ehrenberg, Le Culte de la performance (Paris: Hachette, 1999).


Ibid., 14. Ehrenberg rightly notes that Max Weber had anticipated this trend: “In the United States, on the very site of its paroxysm, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its ethico-religious meaning, is today tending to become combined with purely agonistic passions—something that invariably endows it with the character of a sport” (quoted on 176).


Cf. Roland Gori and Pierre Le Coz, L’Empire des coachs. Une nouvelle forme de contrôle social (Paris: Albin Michel, 2006), 7ff.


Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 1976).


This intensification and acceleration gave Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari the initial idea for a different political economy—one not separate from libidinal economy—set out in Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. For them, capitalism can only function by liberating desiring flows that exceed the social and political frameworks organized for the reproduction of the system of production. This is the sense in which the process of subjectivation peculiar to capitalism is characterized as “schizophrenic.” However, if capitalism can only function by liberating ever stronger doses of libidinal energy that “decode” and “deterritorialize,” it constantly seeks to reincorporate them into the productive machine: “The more the capitalist machine deterritorializes, decoding and axiomatizing flows in order to extract surplus value from them, the more its ancillary apparatuses, such as government bureaucracies and the forces of law and order, do their utmost to reterritorialize them, absorbing in the process a larger and larger share of surplus value” (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane [New York: Viking Press, 1977


The terms “trans-subjectivation” and “self-subjectivation” are proposed by Foucault to account for the difference between third- and fourth-century Christian asceticism and the Hellenistic era’s “culture of self.” Cf. Foucault, Hermeneutics of the Subject, 214.


In the sense that the Latin ultra means "beyond.” Ultra-subjectivation is therefore not an exaggerated or excessive subjectivation, but one that always aims at a beyond-the-self in the self.


Nikolas Rose, Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self, 2nd ed. (London: Free Association Books, 1999), vii. However, Rose makes an error in his dating. The “psy” turn does not date from the late nineteenth century, but began earlier. Even if it was not detached from physiology at the time, the beginning of “psy” discourse was contemporaneous with the birth of political economy and liberal governmentality. To govern conduct, it was necessary to know how to influence the formation of motives—that is, play on the “psychological dynamic,” in the phrase coined by Bentham.


Ibid., 88.


Let us recall that for Freud adaptation to reality, far from signifying renunciation of any pleasure, itself generates a certain form of pleasure.


See Rose, Inventing Ourselves: Psychology, Power and Personhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).


Cf. on this point Charles Melman’s reflections in L’Homme sans gravité. Jouir à tout prix, interview with Jean-Pierre Lebrun (Paris: Denoël, 2002).


In Lacan, castration is understood as separation from enjoyment of the mother by dint of entry into the symbolic order. Quoted in Dufour, L’Art de réduire les têtes. Sur la nouvelle servitude de l’homme libéré à l’ère du capitalisme total (Paris: Denoël, 2003), 122–3 (“Ou pire” seminar, session of February 3, 1972; seminar at Saint-Anne, “Le savoir du psychanalyse,” session of January 6, 1972).


Some managerial apologias for the creation of paranoid behavior are not without interest. In Only the Paranoid Survive (New York: Doubleday, 1996), Andrew Grove, the president of Intel Corporation, advocates a method of leadership directly linking the norm of competition to a “psychotizing” management of the workforce: “Fear of competition, fear of bankruptcy, fear of being wrong and fear of losing can all be powerful motivators. How do we cultivate fear of losing in our employees? We can only do that if we feel it ourselves” (117).


Olivier Rey, Une folle solitude. Le fantasme de l’homme autoconstruit (Paris: Seuil, 2006).


See Alain Ehrenberg, L’Individu incertain (Paris: Hachette, 1996). Ehrenberg rightly notes that the triumphant individual and the suffering individual are the “two facets of self-government” (18).

Economy, Labor & Work, Capitalism, Psychology & Psychoanalysis
Neoliberalism, Money & Finance
Return to Issue #52

This text is an edited excerpt from The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society by Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, trans. Gregory Elliott, available from Verso in February 2014. The book was originally published in French as La nouvelle raison du monde. Essai sur la société néolibérale (Paris: La Découverte/Poche, 2010).


Pierre Dardot is a philosopher and specialist in Hegel and Marx. His previous books include Sauver Marx?: Empire, multitude, travail immatériel (with Christian Laval and El Mouhoub Mouhoud) and Marx, prénom: Karl (with Christian Laval).

Christian Laval is Professor of Sociology at the Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. His other books include L'Ambition sociologique: Saint-Simon, Comte, Tocqueville, Marx, Durkheim, Weber; Jeremy Bentham, les artifices du capitalism; L'École n'est pas une entreprise: Le néo-libéralisme à l'assaut de l'enseignement public; and L'Homme économique: Essai sur les racines du néolibéralisme.

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