Here’s @DavidGraeber politely entertaining idea of CIA connection to Foucault

David Graeber sneered again today at speculation that he’s a CIA plant, based on his ambiguous support for military interventions in Libya and Syria, and his strange alliance with Freedom House troll Sarah Kendzior and career militarist Josh Foust in their red-baiting smear campaign of a few months ago. He might want to turn down the heat, though, because if the following can be taken at face value, he once politely entertained speculation about a CIA connection to poststructuralism and Foucault:

If I really wanted to make a case that the CIA was behind postmodern, though, I’d look at the moment, right after the great insurrection of May ’68 in France, when the French government whisked Foucault away from Tunisia, where he’d been doing acid in the desert and whatnot, to give him a seat in the College de France – since his poststructuralism was perfect for allowing people to feel very very political while steadfastly avoiding any actual political engagement. Sure, maybe the CIA recommended it, who knows? Though they couldn’t have been happy when he went on to become an advocate of the Iranian revolution.

h/t Todd Marek


Graeber is a conundrum inside an enigma inside an asshole. I think we can at least agree he’s a hypocrite and that that’s among his nicer qualities. Also an intellectual coward highly attuned to the social cost of certain ideas. I like the cut of this Ghost guy’s jib, btw.


Dave now says he was only joking and after suffering the whole thread that excerpt is from, I think it does look something like really unfunny people belaboring a joke. Or floating ideas in a joking way because they’re too chickenshit to own them. It seems kind of beside the point, since this Geertz guy was connected to the CIA, an idea that Graeber doesn’t seem to be scoffing at. The remarks on Foucault seem earnest to me.

I’m remaining agnostic.  One interpretation makes Graebs a hypocrite. The other has him scoffing at the very idea of CIA penetration of the academy. Either way, it smells like disingenuous asshole and that we are once again guessing what he really thinks doesn’t help.


Notes on David Graeber and Conspiracism


David Graeber, Katha Pollitt Fight, Make Up, Put Libeled Marxists Behind Them

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23 Responses to Here’s @DavidGraeber politely entertaining idea of CIA connection to Foucault

  1. srogouski says:

    It’s possible the French ruling class brought Foucault into the academy to coopt the left, but why the CIA? France is a grown up country. I’m sure DeGaulle knew more about coopting dissident French intellectuals than Johnson or Nixon.

    • Tarzie says:

      why the CIA?

      I guess for reasons similar to CIA involvement in modern art or writer’s workshops. The CIA meddles whether they need to or not. None of these parties is omniscient or omnipotent.

      The meaning of ‘France is a grownup country’ eludes me. The CIA interferes everywhere the US ruling class has interests. As to Nixon and Johnson, I don’t think presidents micro-manage the CIA, so whether or not they know their theory doesn’t seem particularly relevant.

      But my point wasnt to open discussion on merit of the theory — though I’m not opposed. It was just to highlight how not ridiculous Graeber finds this kind of speculation when it’s about someone else.

      • srogouski says:

        But it was probably in the US ruling class’s interests to get rid of DeGaulle. He was a bit too anti-American. The May 68 protests got rid of DeGaulle and it was the creaky old French Communist Party, not anybody connected with Post-Modernism, that stopped them before they got more radical or spread further.

        What it proves is that Graeber, like any Stalinist, just sees the CIA as a lot more powerful and influential than it really is. It actually makes your original point even stronger. Graeber’s not only open to conspiracy theory. He’s angling for a staff writing job at Global Research.

      • Tarzie says:

        I don’t find your either/or-ing here particularly nutritious. You’re assuming that the end goal of influencing left intellectuals was to topple DeGaulle. Can you fathom other reasons why the CIA might want to move the academy away from traditional Marxism? Graeber has provided one. I don’t think the idea that the CIA meddles in intellectual affairs over-credits it with influence, since they have in the past. They’ve toppled governments so I don’t find interest or influence in left intellectual trends at all outlandish.

        I much prefer this Graeber to the one that was sneering on Twitter today TBH.

  2. pnuwb says:

    He’s now claiming he was being sarcastic, part of the usual tactic, right next to the denials that he has supported intervention:

    • pnuwb says:

      I read this before I read his tweets and assumed he was merely sneering at the idea that HE could be a CIA agent, not calling such theories insane in general, but it appears that his tactic is now exactly that — consistent sneering at hypothetical dissent — which makes him even worse that I thought.

      • pnuwb says:

        It’s quite brazen when the very statements he is denying the existence of are so close for any of his fans who are skeptical enough to check. He seems to be stressing the sarcasm line specifically on the claim about the Beatles (which I don’t understand cos I haven’t been bothered with the context) to prove that his credible and completely intelligible claim about Foucault was also sarcastic:

      • pnuwb says:

        Out of context, the comment on Foucault doesn’t read as sarcastic at all. This unfunny statement could only be an “obvious joke” to group trying to marginalise any speculation about CIA activity, which (at least recently) Graeber does consistently.

    • Tarzie says:

      Thanks for this. It doesn’t get more disingenuous.

  3. Peter says:

    “… an intellectual coward highly attuned to the social cost of certain ideas.” — Tarzie

    An important concept that deserves its own word, in the manner of the German “schadenfreude” for “a harming joy.” I say this as certain events of the last decade have propelled me to read deeply on certain subjects – highly contentious – and one thing I’ve noticed is that some people, usually of better than average intelligence, seem to have a preternatural sense of social danger and immediately escape a serious evaluation of the possible merits.

    Touche’. Tarzie, if you or some lurking linguist has a suggestion, I’d be much obliged.

  4. Pingback: The Agency | 100 Flamingos

  5. Robert Stahl says:

    Evolution is drift, or tendency (and history, time). Nice find, Tarzie. This evolved [sic] one was drifting toward The Hole. Hopefully, for what it is worth, Arthur Silber stays away from it. Also, Chris Floyd may have other issues staying away from it, being that the CIA is getting any of this PR, at all! I hope I am, just, being paranoid. Those guys, and you, truly, are some of my favorites, all-too-many missing now, and, it turns out Arthur Silber is fighting way too hard, again, .

  6. Dirty says:

    Sorry to sidetrack, the above was interesting, but felt I had to share an exchange I had with Kevin Gosztola about Snowden on Facebook over Snowden’s naive comment that “Occupy Wall Street changed things”:

    Anatole David: Most of us are left wondering what “change” Occupy Wall Street brought about. Wall Street reigns supreme. Banks are bigger than ever. The naivety of such a statement belies the cottage industry “responsible dissent” Snowden is pushing.
    2 hrs · Like

    Kevin Gosztola: Did you read what he said, Anatole David? He considers “change” to be the shift in consciousness. Many, many more people are very aware of the issue of inequality. He admits there is much Occupy Wall Street did not change.
    2 hrs · Edited · Like · 3

    Anatole David: Walking about in the real world, I have yet to see a shift in consciousness. People have been aware of inequality since I can remember. In a videotaped statement at a meet up in New Zealand Snowden stated that if a majority of citizens in the US supported mass surveillance and suppression it’d be fine.
    2 hrs · Like

    Kevin Gosztola 1. That statement about if a majority of citizens in the US supported widespread surveillance after “vigorous debate” is made with the presumption that prior to his act the citizens of this country had not consented to the government engaging in dragnets.

    Timeline of Edward Snowden’s revelations | Al Jazeera America
    Al Jazeera’s in-depth look back at a year of leaks by…
    1 hr · Edited · Like · 1

    Anatole David Yeah, Google and Co are much more transparent! What a hoot. To state that the issue of leaks and the manner in which they are made is purely an “empirical” and not “political” issue is the hallmark of mush mouthed reformist Liberalism.
    1 hr · Like

    Kevin Gosztola No, no, no, you’re not going to take my words out of context:

    “I am not going to get into a pitiful debate with you over whether Manning or Snowden is a better radical whistleblower. It is destructive to discourse on encouraging change and I am going to outright ignore your arguments. Moreover, they are wholly political and not empirical.”

    Thank you for appreciating my work. In this debate, however, I do not think it is valuable to anything in our society to argue over whether Manning or Snowden has done better in their efforts.
    17 mins · Like · 2

    Anatole David I think it is crucial to note and identify that Snowden wishes to reform an awful institution from within to make it “better” whereas Manning chose to expose the criminal activity of those in power wholesale without any vetting or worries of “damaging” the criminals. That’s an incredibly important distinction, IMO.
    Just now · Like

    • Tarzie says:

      Excellent. Thanks!

      • Dirty says:

        Had to post his final riposte, a gilded turd of half truths and outright omissions:

        Kevin Gosztola: Manning tried the New York Times and the Washington Post. Even considered POLITICO. But ultimately Manning settled on WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks was curating the disclosures like Greenwald and others have done. In fact, there is material that Manning provided to WikiLeaks on Iraqi military torturing detainees that has not been released.

        Snowden was not deployed in Iraq like Manning. Manning had limited options. You don’t know that Manning would not have sought someone like Greenwald if she could have spent more time seeking out media outlets and reporters. So, I think you’re making a distinction that is insignificant to the importance of the act of whistleblowing. I recognize that is because of your view of the value of the work done by journalists so far.

        (***Wikileaks ATTEMPTED to curate the dumped material with authorities(noticed he sidestepped that issue and just mentions journalist outlets), the authorities refused. Only material the NYT and other journalist outlets published withheld information. So, by eliding that difference, Gosztola sees no distinction and implies Greenwald might have been a good source to share the info with(after he had contrasted Manning’s leaks as less responsible and sloppy to the more responsible leaks of Snowden[which he had oversight of, convenient]. Also the canard about Snowden not being in Iraq, as if he wasn’t inside NSA and had tons of info on them. The contortions soi disant “responsible” journalists go through to uphold and defend Snowden and Greenwald would make Cirque du Soleil green with envy.)

  7. Jan says:

    Graeber is just dreadful. Hypocritical, disingenuous and a sophist to boot. Fuck him.

    That being said, the idea that the CIA had a hand in promoting Foucault (and other postmodernists) for political purposes seems entirely plausible to me.

    Here are some excerpts from an interesting book on the subject:

    Click to access TIOT-TC-Preface.pdf

    Click to access TIOT-1.pdf

    Click to access TIOT-5.pdf

    Click to access TIOT-7.pdf

    Click to access TIOT-9.pdf

  8. Hieroglyph says:

    If someone accuses you of being a CIA asset, you just have to politely say that this is not the case. And, being fair, you might also add that it is a not unreasonable assertion, in general, because that’s the way the CIA operates. No need for sneering. You could ask the accuser for evidence, but this is a bit pointless, because it’s not as though anyone can email the CIA and ask.

    Apropros of nothing, I once jokingly described Derrida as a ‘Fifth Columnist’. This stemmed from my brief time studying his writings. I had concluded that either a) He was very clever, and I didn’t understand, b) He was very clever, I didn’t understand, but this was forgiveable because of his tendency to obscuratanism, c) He was a bullshit artist. My guess is still a). However, this certainly doesn’t mean that I sneer at the idea that intellectual circles, too, were ‘influenced’ by dubious intelligence types. To dismiss this idea strikes me as curiously A-Historical. It’s not even revisionism, it’s just wilful ignorandce. I don’t know, perhaps The Manhattan Project is a good example of how this works.

    • Tarzie says:

      Well said, as ever. But then, if Graeber were reasonable about it in the manner you suggest, he would lose all that juicy social capital that comes from pretending the CIA doesnt do any of the things it’s intended to do and has always done.

      That’s why he regarded my simple Yes/No question as a provocation unworthy of an answer.

      • Along those lines, I thought it was telling that when he argued against throwing out accusations of CIA complicity he chose to use “psycho behavior” as his rationale rather than bad-jacketing. It would have been a perfectly reasonable argument for a radical to make. But, as you say, he would lose social capital. Once you cite actual, historical things that the government really did as your rationale, you become one of the conspiracy theorists (which is presumably the form of mental illness Graeber was referencing when he called others psycho) who can’t be taken seriously as a mainstream friendly voice of radicalism. Plus, the government probably won’t fall for your tricksy pro-intervention op eds if they know you are on to them.

        Also, is there a Graeber meme or something? If not there should be. Something like this:

  9. Goldfish Training Institute says:

    I’m sorry to interrupt the regular programming here, but after following your tweets, I really hope this whole Intercept/First Look shit implodes in on Greenwald and turns him into kryptonite.

    Happy Halloween and carry on!

  10. Hieroglyph says:

    Thoughts on Taibbi anyone? Personally, I thought he was a bad fit for The Intercept. Bit too independent, dare I say it a bit too smart. Taibbi is a talented chap, odd libertarian views aside, and his moving to The Intercept struck me as strange at the time. I’m now reading this:

    It’s very long. It’s on The Intercept. And it may be laced with bullshit. But it does paint an interesting portrait of the Oligarch Comptroller. I almost feel sorry for the staff on The Intercept; Pierrre appears to be playing with them, like a cat with a mouse. Still, not that sorry. These are intelligent people, if they choose to believe Pierre that’s up to them …

    • Tarzie says:

      I can’t imagine anyone who’s ever labored at the lower end of the corporate food chain feeling sorry for any of these people. Spoiled, privileged unprincipled shitstains all down the line. A pox on all.

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