In Tuesday's installment in his Philo Economics series, Eric discusses Foucault's analysis in Birth of Biopolitics of Adam Smith. (Jeff has a post from February 2012 on BB as well; [update, 17 Jan 12:30 pm: Eric has one on "regimes of truth" in Spinoza here.]) Common to both is the notion of non-totalizable multiplicity so that economics is "atheist." I thought I should put in my two cents, with an extract from this piece on "Foucault's Deleuzean Methodology of the late 1970s." (See also this earlier post on Foucault's notion of "statification" as integration of a multiplicity.)
With Naissance, Foucault enriches his discussion of novelty in history with a more explicit focus on the notion of "regimes of truth." Identifying the novelty of liberalism and neoliberalism entails using as a grid of intelligibility the institution of "regimes of truth," which are defined in terms reminiscent of those for "episteme" in earlier works: "the set of rules enabling one to establish which statements in a given discourse can be described as true or false" (NB 37F / 35E; SD 145F / 163-64E). For instance, the question of liberalism is that of a new "regime of truth as the principle of the self-limitation of government" (NB 21F / 19E). Compared to raison d'Etat, classical liberalism constitutes a new question, the self-limitation of the government to allow the natural mechanisms of exchange markets to operate, just as raison d'Etat asked about the "intensity, depth, and attention to detail" of governing for the sake of the maximum growth of power of the state (NB 21F / 19E).
Concerning the establishment of the market as the site of veridiction for liberalism as a governmental practice, Foucault insists that we not look for "the cause" of this novel constitution. Instead, if we are to understand this historical novelty we have to understand the "polygonal or polyhedral relationship" between multiple elements which are themselves changing rates of change of heterogeneous processes: "a new influx of gold … a continuous economic and demographic growth … an intensification of agricultural production" (35F / 33E). This is a clear example of a Deleuzean multiplicity: a system of processes whose changing rates of change are linked. Foucault follows up by claiming that in order to "establish the intelligibility [effectuer … la mise en intelligibilité]" of the process by which the market became a site of veridiction one must "put into relation the different phenomena [of "influx of gold," "continuous economic and demographic growth," and "an intensification of agricultural production"] [la mise en relation de ces différent phénomènes]" (35F / 33E; translation modified ).
So far so good; rendering something intelligible comes from the integration of a multiplicity that preserves the heterogeneity of the processual elements. Foucault continues on with an odd bit of quasi-ontological modal analysis that is the key for our understanding of the realist ontological status of the regime of truth as that which is revealed by a grid of intelligibility (as opposed to the interactively real status of the objects of a regime of truth).* Establishing the intelligibility of the process by which the market became a site of veridiction is a matter of "showing how it was possible [Montrer en quoi il a été possible]." We do not have to show that the establishment of such a site of veridiction "would have been necessary [qu'il aurait été nécessaire]"; this would be a "futile task." Here is the key: neither do we have to show of the process that "it is a possibility [un possible], one possibility in a determinate field of possibilities [un des possibles dans un champ déterminé des possibles]." Rather, to establish the intelligibility of a historical novelty consists in "simply showing it to be possible [Que le réel soit possible, c’est ça sa mise en intelligibilité]" (35F / 34E; translation modified at several points).
This is difficult to reconcile with Deleuze, given his well-known adoption of the Bergsonian critique of the possible-real relation as opposed to the virtual-actual relation (Bergsonisme 99-101F / 96-98E; DR 272-74F / 211-212E). Nonetheless, we might be able to salvage something by focusing on Foucault's denial that the establishment of the intelligibility of a historical novelty consists in showing it is one possibility in a determinate field of possibilities. For that's Deleuze's main target in adopting Bergson. The virtual as differential field gives rise to actual entities – its differentiated state passes through individuation and dramatization on the way to differenciation – but is not itself composed of actual individuated / differenciated entities; at most it consists in potentials for individuation processes that are triggered at critical points in the relations of other processes – hurricanes are individuated at critical points in the relations of wind and water currents provoked by temperature and pressure differences.
This seems to resonate with Foucault's denial of a "determinate field of possibilities" in which the novelty under consideration was an individuated member. So as long as Foucault insists that intelligibility entails the putting into relation of multiple processes we can see the phrase "showing it was possible" in terms of establishing the differential field of processes (influx of gold, economic and demographic growth, etc.) out of which the market as site of veridiction was actualized. What we can say is that Foucault's showing a regime of truth as an immanent historical reality meets Deleuze's requirement that one show the conditions of genesis of "real experience" (DR 200F / 154E) in the integration, resolution or actualization of a differential field.
* It's important not to confuse his historical realism with Foucault's celebrated genealogical analysis of the constitution of the objects of the human sciences, to which he compares his analysis of the constitution of the objects of the liberal and neoliberal power-knowledge dispositifs and their regimes of truth (e.g., various forms of homo economicus). I qualify the ontological status of these objects as "interactively realist" in the sense that they are not dependent on a human subject or intersubjective community, but are, in Foucault's terms, "marked out in reality" as a result of the dispositif of practices that constitute them (NB 21-22F / 19E). "Interactive realism" is basically the same as what Ian Hacking calls, in an update to his important essay "Making Up People," the "looping effect" of a "dynamic nominalism."[i] That is to say, the interaction of the constituting practices and the constituted objects is extended in time and is structured by feedback loops, so that the expectation of an action increases the probability of that action. We also know this phenomenon by two other terms: "self-fulfilling prophecy" and "methodology becomes metaphysics," as when a policy based on an assumption creates the conditions that produce behavior conforming to that assumption.
For an article examining just such a looping effect in contemporary practices based on the assumptions of Rational Choice Theory producing the neoliberal homo economicus, see Elinor Ostrom, "Policies that Crowd out Reciprocity and Collective Action." In Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, and Ernst Fehr, Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: The Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2005: 253-275. (My notes on the article are here; Eric has a post on Ostrom here.)
[i] Ian Hacking, "Making Up People," in Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought, ed. by Weller, Sosna, and Wellberry, Stanford University Press, 1986. The updated version to which I refer was published in the London Review of Books 28.16 (17 August 2006); only this version contains the phrase "looping effect."