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A COMMON WORLD?

ARENDT, CASTORIADIS AND POLITICAL CREATION
Ingerid S. Straume

Abstract Among the many parallels between Hannah Arendt and Cornelius Castoriadis is their shared interest in the kind of politics that is characteristic of the council movements, revolutionary moments and the political democracy of ancient Greece. The essay seeks to elucidate how the two thinkers fill out and complement each other‘s thought, with special attention to political creation. While Hannah Arendt was critical of the notion of ‗making‘ in the political field, her political thought also emphasizes the importance of building institutions. To take this dimension seriously means that some of her analyses of the nature of politics must be modified. In this respect, Castoriadis‘s thought allows for a better understanding of political struggles. On the other hand, Arendt‘s concept of ‗plurality‘ in the public sphere represents a level of political analysis that is underdeveloped in the work of Castoriadis. Taken together, their thought highlights many important aspects of political creation in a radical sense.

Keywords: politics – creation – revolutionary movements – Castoriadis – Arendt

Hannah Arendt and Cornelius Castoriadis, arguably two of the most original thinkers of the 20th century, shared a deep interest in political action and the possibility for something new to appear in the sphere of politics. The parallels in their works become all the more intriguing in view of the difficulties with which their respective oeuvres combine with those of other thinkers. 1 Due to their idiosyncrasies, attempts to discuss their arguments tend to become enveloped in their respective philosophical universes. Of course, this may not have been entirely to their dismay, since both were deeply critical towards traditional ways of doing philosophy (as exemplified by Plato), and, while claiming not to be ‗theory builders‘, they both, more or less explicitly, asserted their own (antifoundationalist) alternatives. The challenge in the case of Hannah Arendt is connected to style as well as substance. Her work is phenomenological at times, categorical at others; her style of prose essayistic rather than systematic. She would sometimes pursue her themes longer than what would seem necessary or productive, and cared little whether she was correctly understood (Canovan 1994: 3). For these and other reasons, she is often misunderstood (Canovan 1994; Pitkin 1998). In the case of Castoriadis, the challenges are mostly connected to his mode of philosophizing, termed elucidation. Elucidation can be contrasted to definition aimed at determinacy: Where the latter strives toward pinpointing a phenomenon in a more or less unequivocal manner, elucidation means to explore the way phenomena operate in the world in
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Finally. POLITICS AND POIESIS There is no doubt that Castoriadis has studied the works of Hannah Arendt.2 A common ground is their deep fascination for the notion of politics that first emerged with the ‗twin birth‘ of politics and philosophy around the fifth century BCE (Arendt 1989. which meant the loss not only of a mother tongue as a working language. A special status was given to various historical initiatives of self-organization. there is always an undetermined surplus of meaning. I am particularly interested in the challenges they pose for each other. For large parts of their lives. which inspired both of them (Arendt 1990. this poses a considerable challenge to those who seek to present Castoriadis‘s work and discuss it in a systematic – conceptually distinct – way. as we shall see. such as the Hungarian workers‘ councils. There are also important biographical parallels between Arendt and Castoriadis. I turn to the contemporary global scene. totalitarianism. Like the Greek polis. whether Castoriadis‘s notion of politics can inform Arendt‘s. When Castoriadis works out his thought in chains of (often selfmade) concepts. which crystallised in political analyses of the USSR. such as whether Arendt‘s critique of the notion of poiesis in political matters applies to Castoriadis‘s project of autonomy. where one is elucidated. 2 . they saw the councils as rare instances of ‗genuine politics‘. Elucidation thus echoes the ‗magmatic‘ nature of thought and of the social-historical. I also discuss Arendt‘s concept of ‗plurality‘. revolutions. While emphasising different aspects of the political impulses of the Athenian polis. Whitebook 1985). but rather to highlight a specific theme where Arendt and Castoriadis complement each other. which has been strongly criticized. The ontological premise is that the social reality is not describable in an exhaustive manner. and argue that it represents a missing level in Castoriadis‘s philosophy. both were more engaged in the public sphere than in mainstream academia. A further parallel is their active engagement with the political events of their time. to make comparisons per se. A guiding idea of this essay is to show how the weaker points of one thinker can be used to elucidate the strengths of the other. with its ongoing social revolts and financial and political crises. Both spent their adult life in exile. whereas it is unlikely that Arendt ever read Castoriadis. and consider in what sense the thought of Arendt and Castoriadis can elucidate these sociopolitical phenomena. Castoriadis 1988). explained and understood through the introduction of another. The task of the present essay is not.their various modes of existence (Castoriadis 1984. Castoriadis 1991. while for Arendt they signified moments of power and spontaneous action. 1987. In the following sections I first outline what politics means for Arendt and Castoriadis respectively. There are. which for Castoriadis would be manifestations of the project of autonomy. 1997a). namely the nature of political creation. and conversely. however. also major differences between the two thinkers. but also a referential world wherein thoughts can be expressed. but where productive tensions also lie. both made active use of the Greek case to further their own political thought. of course. the Cold War and the growth of modern bureaucracy.

but Castoriadis and Arendt are fascinated by similar phenomena. but there are also great differences. however. It is true that the resemblances are striking. This becomes clear when we consider the concept of political creation: the process whereby a specific society is created – or creates itself – with its specific institutions. and reborn in modern revolutionary moments. But even more important is self-organization: when people take it upon themselves to create institutions that regulate their own active participation in the running of society. I have presented the common ground between Castoriadis and Arendt in their respective views on politics. questioning. Castoriadis 1991). politics is a delicate matter that needs to be continually exercised and kept alive through vital public discussion. Castoriadis‘s notion of political doing and Arendt‘s understanding of action are not reducible to each other. a point elucidated by Arendt (1989) and acclaimed by Castoriadis (1991: 112). When the subject is probed further. general political participation was made possible by the creation of the public sphere. In order to explore these differences. which refers to the political field. the question of political praxis becomes crucial. and Arendt. What Arendt calls ‗politics proper‘ (as well as ‗genuine‘ or ‗authentic‘ politics). deliberation and debate: the communicative aspects of politics.3 Failing to distinguish between the political field and politics proper means to cover up the radical potential of politics. Above all. Castoriadis sees ‗politics‘ as distinct from ‗the political‘ (le politique). Exactly because it is an embodiment of freedom. the notion becomes rather problematic for Arendt. This shared notion of politics is underpinned by what Castoriadis (1987) calls an ontology of doing. 3 . A vital public sphere is characterized by ongoing discussion of questions of collective interest. whilst Castoriadis tells us that ―The objective of politics is not happiness but freedom‖ (1997b: 5). for instance.4 They reject the widespread tendency to regard politics as a defined set of practices that can be organized and managed in a bureaucratic fashion once the proper institutions are in place. it is the latter notion that is most often elaborated under the term of ‗politics‘. Arendt argues that: ―The raison d’être of politics is freedom. some of which concern the very nature of politics itself. For Arendt and Castoriadis. If by political creation we mean a politics that aims at making political institutions.What is the nature of the politics that was born in ancient Greece. for example. politics is one of the first things to disappear from a society when. while Castoriadis‘s politics is quite attached to such ideas. such as Hungary (in 1956)? One central characteristic is public discussion. and its field of experience is action‖ (2006a: 145). action. its inhabitants stop caring about their common world or cease to question society‘s institutions. or just ‗politics‘ (la politique). politics signifies freedom. The terminology varies. but steer the discussion in rather different directions. spontaneity (Arendt) and creativity (Castoriadis) can take place. laws and foundations (Arendt 2004. is seen to have very little political potential. In the case of Greece. especially in his emphasis of ‗the project of autonomy‘. So far. In mainstream political theory. Castoriadis calls ‗true politics‘. As we will see. where ‗politics‘ emerged for the first time. we will make a brief visit to ancient Greece. the active life: vita activa. where practices of freedom. such as institutions of explicit and regulative power. deliberation and dissent. however. norms and significations. Representative democracy.

effective self-rule (autogestion). means to posit one‘s own laws. ‗instituting society‘. It is important for Castoriadis to conceptualise society‘s capacity to create. and that which is created in each case. it cannot be practiced by individuals unless it is collectively instituted. But there is more: Autonomy is always individual and collective. in of many formulations. Within the project of autonomy. deliberate and question the instituted laws and norms.. but as explicit and ‗lucid‘ it is also necessarily self-limiting. conscious way. In The Human Condition. It pertains to everything in society that is participable and shareable‖ (Castoriadis 1991: 169). but more importantly. But whereas all societies – including heteronomous societies – do posit their own laws. the co-birth of politics and philosophy made possible the creation of democracy. that is. she sets forth a strong critique of the modern idea that human beings make their history. ―the project that aims . which means that there is a collective awareness that society posits and creates its own laws. reconstruction and interpretation. only sums up the conviction of the whole modern age and draws the consequences of its innermost conviction that history is ‗made‘ by men as nature is ‗made‘ by God (Arendt 1989: 228). Autonomy.. since there are no ‗external‘ limitations to the project of autonomy. which for Castoriadis is an embodiment of the project of autonomy. of all change in history and politics. as opposed to the instituted society‖ (1991: 84). 5 Hannah Arendt took a different approach to the problem of determinism (or more fundamentally. ‘That which‘ creates society and history is the instituting society. Autonomy means to be aware of this relationship. As Castoriadis tells us. in short. which Castoriadis (1987) saw as expressions of a reductionist ontology that regarded ‗being‘ as ‗being-determined‘ and hence not creative. only autonomous societies do this in an explicit. which was brought to its full expression with Marx. political ‗doing‘ is the creation of societal forms. Autonomy is. According to Castoriadis. According to Arendt. while heteronomy means to cover it up. ―Society is selfcreation.In Greece. the Greeks were the first to realise that their laws were entirely their own creation. Politics is of the utmost importance here. in other words. individual-based independence from others – but a participatory. The autonomy in question here is not of the Kantian or liberal kind – that is. with no external foundations. It means not only to debate. ‗instituted society‘. doing (faire) is an alternative to repetition. ‗Society‘ here consists of two aspects: that which creates itself as society. at bringing light to society‘s instituting power and at rendering it explicit in reflection‖ (Castoriadis 1991: 174). while in philosophical terms. foundationalism) with her concept of ‗action‘. but whose origin lies with Plato‘s political theory: Marx‘s dictum [in Capital] that ‗violence is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one‘. the idea that history is made rests on a conflation of action with fabrication. the occultation of action altogether: an operation that has set its mark on the ―whole terminology of political theory and political thought‖ that ―indeed makes it almost impossible to discuss these matters [politics and history] without using the category of means 4 . to create new laws and institutions. or rather. Autonomy is political freedom. Political activity thus concerns the institution of society itself: ―Politics is the lucid and reflective collective activity that aims at the overall institution of society. collective activity: a strong version of what in contemporary parlance is called ‗active citizenship‘.

Pitkin 1998). One of her most disputed points was her critique of bringing ‗the social question‘ into politics. The general meaning of ‗action‘ is to begin. Action is meaningful in itself. 1990). the everyday tasks. that can neither be abandoned nor terminated. The next activity is work. This common world is necessary for the exercise of politics. which he shares with everything alive. and distinctness. In fact. Its ‗logic‘ is poiesis. This disclosure of who. men show who they are. become uniqueness. it is the beginning of ―somebody. a ‗human artifice‘ which constitutes a common world for inhabiting and living together. and means are chosen as the best way to realize it. but it is not in itself political. Speech and action reveal this uniqueness‖ (Arendt 1989: 176). which. were operative in the polis of ancient Greece. coming together. and as such. year after year. To understand the depth of her argument – which underpins a comprehensive critique of the organization of modern societies. but which repeat themselves. Arendt only speaks of action in connection with a ‗who‘. such as more or less durable artefacts.‖ For ―[i]n acting and speaking. The guiding principle of fabrication is the ‗means—end‘ category. work and action as the three modes of the vita activa. ‗social‘ matters such as material needs and poverty were destructive to political life – they should be regarded as technical matters and kept outside of politics proper (Villa 1996. The third activity – which needs a public space to occur – is what Arendt calls action. such as the production and consumption of food. the most primitive of the three activities is labour. the doer or actor who comes forth as a speaker of words: ―though his deed can be perceived in its brute physical appearance without verbal accompaniment. The process of fabrication starts from the idea of the end product.and ends and thinking in terms of instrumentality― (Arendt 1989: 229).6 For Arendt (1989). day after day. and intends to do. These processes and activities are of no (political) interest for Arendt: they belong to the oikos. had done. the active life. she claims. beginning – but beginnings whose ‗ends‘ or ‗products‘ are unforeseeable. by the cyclical logic of necessity. announcing what he does. the household and the economy. nor are they mere (life) processes. the private sphere. a manipulative use of the material out of which the product is fabricated. For Arendt (1989. The term denotes human affairs that have no ends. the only activity that can make human beings into unique and distinct beings: ―In man. otherness. Fabrication always implies a certain ‗violence‘. who is a beginner himself‖ (Arendt 1989: 177). but in Arendt‘s sense ‗action‘ is not the beginning of something. She understands labour as the activity of the life processes (bios). in contradistinction to what someone is. to set something into motion. which for Arendt characterizes the making of a world of objects and things. the social sciences and political-administrative thought – we need to briefly recapitulate her theory of labour. Action designates spontaneity. reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world‖ (Arendt 1989: 179).7 I will return to this below. that is. which is concerned with making and fabricating objects. The main activity of action is speech and its ‗logic‘ is spontaneity. is of great political importance to Arendt. it becomes relevant only through the spoken word in which he identifies himself as the actor. who is deeply critical of political 5 . and therefore not ends or products at all. which he shares with everything that is.

Thus the frailty of singular individuals is contained by worldly relationships and institutions. consciously or unconsciously. this always implies speaking. and thus show ‗who we are‘. to eradicate plurality also means to veil or forget history and temporality (Forti 2006). When we speak and act. such veiling of the actor characterizes the construction of all utopias and political theories that are supposed to be implemented. classless society. or politics understood as the making or fabrication of new societal forms. And even though other readings of Marx are valid. 6 . that they make themselves recognized as equals. On Arendt‘s account. work and action. meaning that individuals that are different from each other relate to each other in a free and acknowledging manner. the extreme case being totalitarianism. is what Arendt calls plurality. Besides the rejection of instrumentalism – which clearly rules out all deliberation. And when actions are set into motion. action: the only activity whereby agents become humanized as unique individuals (persons). Such thoughts have been ―among the most effective vehicles to conserve and develop a tradition of political thinking in which. as acts work upon acts in the complex web of beginners. and it will disappear when.regimes that are only able to conceptualise anonymous (life) processes. Thus. Their uniqueness and distinctness makes individuals relate to each other as subjects that form a ‗common world‘. In one of her most quoted phrases. they will disperse and desert one another‖ (Arendt 1990: 175). the condition of plurality makes the results of action unforeseeable. ―[P]ower comes into being only if and when men join themselves together for the purpose of action. and he certainly inherits a lot of these problems from Hegel (as Arendt also points out. and hence (for MarxismLeninism at least). the Marxian idea of history as mere realization of historical laws. acting and appearing for someone else. but more importantly. Marx‘s thought does offer itself as a prime example of such instrumentalism. there is an occultation of the most fragile of the three activities. conflates the politically important distinctions between labour. Forti 2006). based on plurality. cf. This does not necessarily imply that they agree. therefore. A defining condition for action. someone who is different from oneself. administered and realized on the basis of principles thought out in advance. any means that were seen to approach the end state were deemed necessary. Arendt notes that: ―The hope for man in his singularity lay in the fact that not man but men inhabit the earth and form a world between them‖ (1990: 175). Or perhaps more precisely. Not only did Marxism contain an end product. which for Arendt is a collective matter. but it aimed at figuring out (by ‗logical‘ deduction) the necessary means to achieve this state. Closely related to the condition of plurality is the notion of human power. problematization and questioning in the strong sense – there is also another reason why politics as non-instrumental action is so important for Arendt. some of which were violent. for whatever reason. the origin of The Human Condition. logical.8 According to Arendt. especially the mainstream Marxism that was prevalent around the 1950s. As a result. the concept of action was interpreted in terms of making and fabrication‖ (Arendt 1989: 228).

to stand out as unique individuals for each other. Arendt‘s scheme cannot account for the fact that political changes have historically been instigated by agents whose motive was precisely the – for Arendt. Torgerson 1999). but she treats it as part of a different context. It means. of course. but rather. stressing the emergence of the actor who appears to others and reveals who he is. where the point of the activity is not to create something. 59ff. And even if it can be objected that Hitler and Stalin do not fill Arendt‘s prerequisites of appearing before equals in a public space. Moreover. She is not opposed to such institutionalisation. But her use of sharp distinctions – where the sphere of necessity (labour) excludes freedom (action). and the content of utterances. in discussions of what she calls moments of constitution and foundation. Nor is it granted that to treat social questions politically necessarily leads to the instrumentalization of politics. as Arendt claims (1990: 57. phenomenological and agent-oriented notion of political action. Arendt thus frames the discussion in an expressivist. In The Human Condition especially. and where ‗the social question‘ is excluded from politics proper – have deep consequences for her political thought. issues and causes should also qualify as political or apolitical (Castoriadis 1991. when describing and judging political matters. temporality. when Arendt denies that politics can have goals beyond itself. after all. Arendt uses aesthetic rather than moral arguments (Kateb 2006: 140ff). Arendt‘s great achievement is to elucidate the importance of an autonomous public sphere for modern societies where public administration. ‗authentic politics‘ is seen as the antithesis to poiesis. Questions about different ways to organize oneself as society. the political question par excellence for Castoriadis (1991: 101). unpolitical – ‗social question‘. among other things. since ―surely Hitler and Stalin and their infamous companions have revealed who they were through deeds and speech‖ (Castoriadis 1991: 122) – yet they destroyed politics. Thus. whose logic is ‗covenanting‘ and ‗the making and keeping of promises‘ (see especially Arendt 1990). as opposed to philosophical or theoretical. they could (and should) still be treated and decided upon in political processes. In ―The Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy‖ (1991). Castoriadis rightly points out that even though ‗social‘ questions about economic distribution and material conditions may not be political in themselves. that her conceptualization of authentic politics does not include institutionalisation. for example that it is very hard to defend democracy on the basis of her conception of the Greek polis. finitude. technocracy.Politics for Arendt is contingency. 9 In a less generous remark. Castoriadis addresses some of the problems that emerge from Arendt‘s analyses. he points out that her criteria are not enough to distinguish politics from other activities. and where political liberalism confuses the political framework with politics itself. Villa 1996. ―judging and choosing between different institutions of society‖ is. plurality and difference (Forti 2006: 116). defining all social and economic questions as belonging to the outside of 7 . such as the positing of laws. the point still remains that Arendt‘s notion of politics at this point is both too narrow and too unspecific. Politics must also be about something. economism and scientism threaten to occult politics. I will return to this below. A significant portion of the literature on Arendt is devoted to saving her political thought from its weaknesses and blind spots. It is worldly. 112).

like housing – this is simply ―misleading for communities whose constitutionbuilding was part of their own politics and no less political than any of the actions it was supposed to house and regulate‖ (Waldron 2000: 204). But let us not forget that there are other strands in Arendt‘s work than the rigid distinctions worked out in The Human Condition that have been the focus so far. or erected. The public realm. pointing out that Aristotle counts thirteen ‗revolutions‘ in Athens. is an obvious case of genuine politics for Castoriadis – but not for Arendt. separating them and at the same time holding them together: To live together in the world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it in common. To describe this dimension. poverty included. When Arendt (1989) claims that the Greek political framework and legislature were something that was constructed before the political activity itself took place – i. The common world consists of ‗words and deeds‘. for example. In his comments to Arendt. so to speak (Arendt 1989: 52). 2006). that is. Even though she does not see institutions as the product of ‗politics proper‘. changes in the fundamental (‗constitutional‘) legislation (Castoriadis 1991: 102). ‗instituted society‘ (to use the Castoriadian term) is of the utmost importance to Arendt: It needs protection for the sake of protecting our humanity. the relation between them is made explicit: The grammar of action: that action is the only human faculty that demands a plurality of men. like every in-between. who would exclude from ‗politics‘ all kinds of struggles on behalf of particular ‗interests‘. but of course also institutions in a wide sense of the term. possible (1989. although in other texts he also stresses the open-ended character of political activities (Castoriadis 1997c: 125-36. she uses terms such as ‗tradition‘. as the common world. relates and separates men at the same time. 1987: 71-114). performative politics laid out in the above discussion and the political framework. It thus seems clear to me that there are two essential aspects in Arendt‘s political thought: the expressivist. the world. for example constitutions and councils. gathers us together and yet prevents our falling over each other. 11 Castoriadis also disagrees with Arendt‘s thesis that legislative activity was a secondary aspect of politics in ancient Greece. as a table is located between those who sit around it. The existence of institutions is of the utmost importance for Arendt by making action.e. in the realm of politics. it is hard to see why 8 . A common world is that which lies between people. ‗authority‘ and the ‗making of promises‘ in order to constitute ‗a common world‘. emphasis added).genuine politics. 1990. combine in the act of foundation by virtue of the making and the keeping of promises. Waldron 2000). may well be the highest human faculty (Arendt 1990: 175. even revolutions. In fact. which. fabricated. I am thinking of the insistence throughout her work on the importance of institutions.10 The struggle for influence by the working class. her account of historical events simply becomes unacceptable to professional historians (Hobsbawm 2006. and the syntax of power: that power is the only human attribute which applies solely to the worldly in-between space by which men are mutually related. politics. Castoriadis clearly thinks that politics can have goals. In the following passage.

Castoriadis‘s notion of politics combines rationality with antifoundationalism and lucidity with radical creation (creation ex nihilo). there can be no political expert-knowledge. called ―Marxism and Revolutionary Theory‖. praxis is a conscious activity and can only exist as lucid activity. On his account. should not be a political matter. Not only is creation for this ontology and logic a dirty word (except in a theological context […]) but also this ontology is inevitably driven to ask. thus he has a certain ‗vision‘ for politics. since. but this knowledge is always fragmentary and provisional. Castoriadis is critical of theorizing not only politics. irreducible forms that do not accord to laws or principles. it is provisional because praxis itself constantly gives rise to new knowledge [. History is the creation of social forms: complex. inherited ontology and logic are helpless: they are bound to ignore the proper being of the social-historical. as we have seen. especially constitutions. This critique resembles and expands Arendt‘s critique of Marx.12 He writes: To be sure.. It is based on knowledge. but it is something quite different from the application of prior knowledge [. It is fragmentary because there can be no exhaustive theory of humanity and of history.]..] The theory can never be given beforehand. and he also thinks that autonomous societies are preferable to heteronomous ones. Instead of theory and certain knowledge Castoriadis sees the history of human societies as a matter of creation: ‗self-creation deployed as history‘ (1997c: 13). but ‗society‘ and ‗history‘ as well. philosophy has been unable to conceptualize the true nature of the social-historical. although the contents of a constitution may not all be political ‗in essence‘... politics for him is mainly about creating institutions. Castoriadis criticizes both the idea of founding praxis upon a theory. economic and so forth. praxis must be blind (Castoriadis 1987: 71ff). A question yet to be addressed is whether this critique can also be aimed at Castoriadis‘s project of autonomy. On the one hand. DICHOTOMY AND PLURALITY The previous section began by considering Arendt‘s critique of Marx and the modern tradition. On the other hand he clearly thinks that political activities can (and should) have goals.the creation of institutions. 9 . But since traditional thought is by and large oblivious towards notions such as ‗the imagination‘ and ‗creation‘. politics would immediately come to an end. The clarification and transformation of reality progress together in praxis. like Arendt. In the first part of The Imaginary Institution of Society. but also social. The question merits some consideration. and democracy would be both impossible and absurd: democracy implies that all citizens have the possibility of attaining a correct doxa and that nobody possesses an episteme of things political (Castoriadis 1991: 104). since: If a full and certain knowledge (episteme) of the human domain were possible. according to Castoriadis: Here. because it constantly emerges out of the activity itself. each conditioning the other (Castoriadis 1987: 76). and the idea that since a theory of the social is impossible.

Society is self-creation deployed as history. or telos grounded in something else. i. to restrict our political activities to just one side out of fear of being captive to the other means. since to abstain from doing so means to abstain from political power. In ordinary discourse. To theorize the social-historical. it signifies bureaucracy and non-creativity (well illustrated by Jacques Rancière‘s (1995) concept of la police). 14 In his view. This warning is worthy of some consideration as it also applies to Arendt‘s conception of ‗authentic politics‘ which halts before the act of making. is therefore a way to cover up these disturbing notions. end or telos (Castoriadis 1987: 167). as a disturbance in relation to a given norm or as an organic or dialectical development towards this norm. In a text published in the midst of the uprisings of May. non-real. whereas the other becomes purely imaginary in the sense of fictional. It also means saying that only one part of the dichotomy can be real. of the instituting society […]. when there is either the imagination or the organization. such as happenings. To recognize this and to stop asking meaningless questions about ‗subjects‘ and ‗substances‘ or ‗causes‘ requires. for Castoriadis. to submit to the (hierarchical) structures of the society in question. to be sure. a radical ontological conversion (Castoriadis 1997c: 13-14). the imagination. is the mode of being of the social-historical field.‗Creation by whom?‘ Yet creation. is not something that happens to a given society. as the work of the social imaginary. To accept the dichotomy. for instance. But Castoriadis is not an advocate of ‗the unpredictable‘ as pure contingency.13 History. This is a problem for traditional philosophy. between truth of act and coherence of speech. He especially warns the students against existing dichotomies posed as mutually exclusive options. 1968. Castoriadis names the challenges for what he sees as a possibly revolutionary movement. One thing must be made clear at this point.e. by means of which this field is. between imagination and project. the non-eligible. creativity or reality. and a history. politics is often perceived as something dull. as Marx did. correspondingly. to comply‖. nor is a society a kind of embodiment of something outside of itself. for Castoriadis. As Castoriadis also recognizes. This object has almost always been split into a society. considered as something that happens to this society. the political repertoire of actions and ideas is limited to the other side of the dichotomy. end. to a norm. we are actually feeding into the existing political system. related to something other than itself and. Political institutions and their keepers seem ―real‖ in a commanding way: ―You can play all you like. that which in the end must have a final say. a movement should posit itself and declare its intentions.. The ideological dichotomy is set between reality and the imaginary: ―The revolutionary students feel an antinomy between action and reflection: between spontaneity and organization. there are good reasons to fear that a new initiative can be co-opted (récuperée) by already existing 10 . since: … the inherited way of thinking has never been able to separate out the true object of [the question of the social-historical] and to consider it for itself. generally. If. Their perception of this antinomy is what consciously or unconsciously lies behind their hesitations‖ (Castoriadis 1993: 130). But it also signifies: hard reality. and hence. but in the end we all have to grow up and face reality. ―La revolution anticipée‖. hardened or set. the event. the carnivalesque or ‗showing who one is‘ (Arendt 1989).

one is already playing the game of the instituted power. Where the basic unit of Arendt‘s socio-political analyses is ultimately the individual. Castoriadis remarks that those who fear such recuperation are still on the ‗old ground‘. if one accepts the dichotomies offered by the social order. they are talking from within the existing power structures. and certainly not from intersubjectivity. It is therefore imperative. and choose one side against the other. created and defined by the new movement: To accept this antinomy as valid. The point to remember is that it will always be in the interest of the powers that be to facilitate change in order to swallow it. collective subjectivity in terms of plurality. Castoriadis‘s notion of elucidation comes forth as the most politicized alternative. The students had indeed reasons to be sceptical of the leaders of the existing left-wing organizations.15 The answer is no. of course. to create institutions in a conscious. such self-positing is the only way to transgress hierarchies and divisions in society that tend to reproduce themselves in ever new versions. This will also make the movement immune to cooptation. particularly when it comes to conceptualizing political. which means that her notion of politics in The Human Condition is insufficient. says Castoriadis (1993). left-wing organizations turned bureaucratic and routine-driven. Secondly. is it their simple ‗product‘‖ (1987: 108). By giving itself a new form. the revolutionary movement leaves the old ground with its definitions. Furthermore. Castoriadis insists that all analyses of political and social phenomena must depart from the social-historical ‗level‘. projects replaced by rigid programme and political discourse having been mystified (Castoriadis 1993). 16 For Castoriadis. that is. It is to integrate the revolution into the established historical order (Castoriadis 1993: 130). albeit temporarily. dichotomies and dilemmas. this does not imply that political creation equals transparent or exhaustively planned actions. explicit and lucid manner. Firstly. Castoriadis emphasises the limited capacity of intersubjective 11 . give itself a ‗face‘ and articulate something to which it is willing to commit itself (a ‗programme‘). It must organize itself. This advice to the would-be revolutionaries tells us that ‗genuine‘ politics for Castoriadis here means poiesis. his political thought seems more orientated toward praxis. even if the project of autonomy involves elucidation. The question is whether his project resembles that of Marx (or Marxism) in such a way that Arendt‘s critique of ‗work‘ (poiesis) replacing ‗action‘ (praxis) can also be turned against Castoriadis. that is. Other aspects of Arendt‘s thought. final. having experienced how revolutionary talk had been turned into sterile dogma. of which Arendt‘s plurality is an instance. Compared to Arendt‘s political expressivism. at least for some time. ―[t]he social-historical is neither the unending addition of intersubjective networks (although it is this too). Interestingly enough. however. and insurmountable is to accept the very essence of bureaucratic-capitalist ideology. that the would-be revolutionary movement gives itself form. It is to accept the existing philosophy and reality. or use it to renew and refine the existing power structures. as we have seen.organizations. nor. By naming and de-masking power relations and taking ‗social‘ matters seriously in a theoretical context. It is to reject a real attempt at transforming the world. whereas the ground for a revolutionary movement must be defined anew. Arendt herself recognizes the importance of institutionalization. Hence. pose more of a challenge to Castoriadis.

dissent and disagreements constitute productive tensions. validity – a question that was of great interest to Castoriadis. This could be a coincidence rather than a systematic flaw. These concerns also affects his concept of autonomy. not the inbetween levels. In his later years (after the Socialisme ou Barbarie period). and ‗the psyche‘. since for him social imaginary significations and socially instituted meaning are always primary to the constitution of individuals. 1990). But Arendt makes a good case for using the imagination on the level of political intersubjectivity. Even though Castoriadis could probably agree with many of these points. the social-historical. they are connected. Thus Arendt‘s concept of plurality represents an important dimension of the politically active. he displayed little interest in discussing philosophy at the intersubjective. In this respect.17 Plurality can thus be seen as a precondition for creativity and creation. but the fact remains that he did not work out an adequate conceptual apparatus for dealing with the political condition of plurality. the ‗whos‘ that create a ‗world between them‘ through ‗words and deeds‘ (Arendt 1989. This ‗opening‘ belongs to the faculty of the imagination. their contributions in the political sphere (Ringvej 2011). her work has several openings towards creation and newness.relations in establishing the social level. Plurality asserts that while the subjects occupy different places in the world. The idea that one could ‗go visiting‘ by using the imagination was rather brusquely dismissed by Castoriadis (1991). subjectivity is usually related to micro and macro levels. too abstract for practical purposes. The capacity to create something radically new is also inherent in the faculty of ‗natality‘. On another level. collective subject (like the demos of antiquity). Since people occupy different places in the instituted world. for instance. The notion of creation can be found in the spontaneous ‗acting in concert‘ that characterizes revolutions (Arendt 1990). the concepts Castoriadis uses to denote collective agency in his later works – the anonymous collective. not only for remaining open to and interested in other viewpoints. In comparison. which in his later works consists of philosophical inquiry and 12 . already socialized-qua-instituted level. including ‗intersubjectivity‘. she notes how thoughts are forced out of their tendency towards closure when people ‗go visiting‘ other people whose position in the world is different from their own (another aspect of plurality). he has not elaborated on them. they also hold different viewpoints and different views from each other. which is always socialized. His emphasis is on ontology. and his preoccupation is irreducibility and anti-reductionism as exemplified in the relationship between the social-historical and the psyche. Even though Arendt does not think of politics as making (something). and in fact circumscribes what can be seen as meaningful activities. Arendt‘s thought can elucidate a lacuna in Castoriadis‘s thought by bringing attention to the ‗who‘ of political creation – or better. which is the irreducible counterpart of the social-historical. but in order to position ourselves politically and pass judgments on questions of. In his philosophical writings. a dimension that is lacking in (the later) Castoriadis. where every person is a new beginning (Arendt 2006: 170-93). who claimed that in order to put oneself in another‘s position one would simply have to become somebody else. since a plurality of viewpoints between people. the instituting social imaginary and the instituting society – are. Castoriadis makes a conceptual distinction between ‗the individual‘. It does not so much pertain to what people are – their identities – as to what they do. in my opinion.

At the start of a revolution. Alain Touraine (2000). THE IMPORT OF POLITICS PROPER Both Arendt and Castoriadis are attracting increasing scholarly interest. their similarities taken into account – and vice versa. the institutions of explicit power immediately fail. between what Touraine calls ‗social‘ and ‗societal‘ movements.problematization. in what way can their ideas about politics proper. To round off. but without the intersubjective emphasis that can be found in Arendt‘s notion of a common world. To modify her scheme. elucidation and autogestion. there are parallels between the demise of the North African regimes and the very rapid crumbling of the Eastern European block (notably the Berlin Wall and Ceauşescu‘s Romania). such as Arendt‘s concepts of plurality and action. While social movements struggle for their (particular) interests. such as her warning against a situation where interest groups (alone) define the political field. In such a reconstruction. to make it more applicable to empirical analyses of social phenomena – could not include a concept like ‗plurality‘. societal groups become (part of) political movements whose concern is society as a whole. not just their own interests. for example. When people suddenly cease to fear for their own lives. Arendt asserts that people ‗acting in concert‘ represents a greater power than the force of violence and weapons (Arendt 1990). In On Revolution. however. and argue that the relevant demarcation is not between social and political questions as such. There are many examples that such groups have tried to destroy the political openness of modern forms of democracy. we could look to another influential political thinker. I see no reason why further work on Castoriadis‘s conceptual apparatus – for example. For example. However. but rather. democracy and revolutions elucidate the uprisings in Europe and the Arab countries that followed the financial crisis from 2008? Just a few general remarks are possible here. hardly anyone could have foreseen the speed and efficiency with which the people of Tunisia and Egypt forced their leaders to resign from power in the spring of 2011. With the withdrawal of popular consent. as I have already argued. notably lobby groups and corporations. There are also relevant applications for her critique of ‗the social‘. as did the Tunisian vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself on fire in a desperate protest against the authorities – the beginning if not the cause of the Tunisian revolution – tyranny loses much of its grip. This is partly due to their inspiring modes of doing philosophy. but there can be little doubt that their works are also seen as relevant in understanding contemporary issues. by no means exhausted. Thus Castoriadis‘s later works become curiously void of subjects. everything happens very fast. albeit in a tempered form. the work of Arendt could be helpful. It seems clear that political action of the revolutionary kind is not something planned in advance. The typically modern tendencies of depoliticization that were identified by Arendt in The Human Condition are. This was indeed demonstrated by the 13 . For instance. In this respect. leaving two paths possible: escalating violence or resignation. A methodology of elucidation would ‗logically‘ imply worldliness. a brief discussion of the actuality of the two thinkers‘ political ideas seems fitting.

there are major demonstrations in regions that have a long tradition of popular manifestations such as Greece and Spain. Chicago: Chicago University Press (1990) [1963] On Revolution. and therefore effective. New York: Penguin Arnason. However. Thesis Eleven Vol 29 (1). our hope is for a new ‗constitution‘. 142-69 (2006) Between Past and Future. Let us therefore hope that ‗the founding moment‘ will be kept open for an extended period of time to allow for reflective discussion about what constitutes fair and just institutions. Wall Street. has similarly been proven true by the Western invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. 18 The question is. New York: Penguin. new forms will emerge. As long as there is politics. 63-81. in a wide sense of the term. There are also reasons to fear a political backlash. Her accompanying claim that brute force does not bring about any real societal change. even though they can be hard to recognize at first. and most recently in the USA with occupation of the financial centre. As Castoriadis (1987) has argued. Eight Exercises in Political Thought. there can be no theory of revolutions as such. London: Penguin (2004) [1948/51] The Origins of Totalitarianism. We Are The 99%). References Arendt.relatively peaceful revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. Their indignation is aimed at political structures that favour finance capital over people‘s work and welfare. In other words. New York: Shocken (2006a) [1960] ―What is Freedom?‖ in Between Past and Future. inspired by the so-called Arab Spring of 2011. Johann P. Eight Exercises in Political Thought. as economic and military forces are more than ready to fill the power vacuums as they emerge. 14 . Real Democracy NOW!. The open-endedness of the ongoing revolts and the inadequacy of theory to guide analyses seem to point in favour of the perspectives of Arendt and Castoriadis. These initiatives have no appointed leaders and a rather thin agenda. in the strong and explicit sense. Hannah (1989) [1958] The Human Condition. history is full of forms that are other (not merely different) to those already in existence. At the time of writing. (1991) ―Praxis and Action – Mainstream Theories and Marxian Correctives‖. But it is still doubtful whether these processes of ‗autonomy‘ and ‗action‘ will result in something entirely new. Revolutions and revolts are often expressions of the unexpected will of a people: spontaneously enacted. and there are worldwide campaigns of solidarity and protest (for example Indignad@s. New initiatives are born every day. 19 If the people in revolt should manage to name themselves and create new institutions – beyond corporate capitalism – great efforts are required. once again. which will not look too much like the recipes of ‗capitalist democracy‘ that we already know too well. whether these spontaneous protests can turn into organized form without losing their political momentum. even though there are similarities in various historical cases.

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Straume is a philosopher of education based at the University of Oslo. but did not clarify. The subject of her PhD thesis is Castoriadis‘s thoughts on democracy and paideia. I will use the term ‗the political field‘ to designate what Castoriadis calls ‗the political‘. and edited the anthology Depoliticization: The Political Imaginary of Global Capitalism (with J. and in abbreviated form. 15 More precisely. Equality and Fraternity. Technē and praxis would then meet in poiēsis. The two points are in essence the same: the covering of political creation. her point is that they should be dealt with in a different context. 18 The Indignad@s movement in Spain begun by occupations of squares and camps in large cities in May. 2011. censorship and distrust was unleashed in the name of Liberty. 9 Arendt is a rather ambiguous democrat. and then spread to suburban areas and towns. thus dividing work from politics (Castoriadis 1984: 22959). Castoriadis set forth to create a philosophy of doing. a wave of mass slaughtering. 7 The critique of ‗the social‘. A further benefit is to stay clear of Carl Schmitt‘s notion of ‗the political‘. that is. Nietzsche. Humphrey.php?article2194. technē was reduced to imitation (mimēsis). 13 Where Arendt sees a covering of the agent. Autonomy is for him a Graeco-Western invention. imitation. but also the increasing bureaucratization and technocratic regimes of the 1950s. In the French Revolution. 19 Castoriadis saw very little potential for autonomy in monotheistic and traditional societies of Eastern or Muslim origin. She has published articles on environmental politics. Whitebook 1998 and Zerilli 2002). This fear made a significant mark on her political thought (Canovan 1994. Castoriadis 1997a: 267-89). and through this connection Plato and Aristotle could co-think work (as technē) and action (as praxis). Heidegger and Homeric ideals attest to this. 8 From her analyses in The Origins of Totalitarianism. set forth in On Revolution. and poiēsis. 11 This does not mean that Arendt does not care for problems such as poverty. Coordinated assemblies are established in towns and neighbourhoods. which for her denotes the ‗mass individual‘ of the social sciences (Arendt 1989). a theory (Arendt 1990). 5 In The Imaginary Institution of Society. which cannot be pursued here. May 68 (1968. freedom itself was sacrificed for the idea of freedom. 1990 and in the essay ―What is Freedom?‖ (Arendt 2006a). NSU Press. as both mimēsis. Politics was destroyed for an allegedly higher purpose. 12 This paper was first published in Socialisme ou Barbarie. Machiavelli. moral philosophy. 1 Their common interests and philosophical parallels have been noted by several scholars (see Poizat 2007. 14 First edition in La Brèche. 10 Castoriadis points out that the Greek term technē had a double meaning that Aristotle knew. Castoriadis 1997a: 361-417. and then a further occultation of action. 3 ‗The political‘ is for Arendt synonymous to Castoriadis‘s ‗politics‘. Paris: Fayard): a collection of essays together with Claude Lefort and Edgar Morin.Author Note: Ingerid S. Castoriadis sees a covering of creation. But already with Plato. Her sources of inspiration such as Burckhardt. Arendt was deeply concerned with the loss of a common world and individuality that characterized Nazism and Stalinism. 1964-65.org/spip. To prevent misunderstandings. See Dana Villa (1996) on how Heidegger served as a (negative and positive) prerequisite for Arendt‘s philosophy of political action. Another important source is the existentialist Karl Jaspers. 16 Arendt does not use the term ‘individual‘ in this connection. political philosophy and education. 17 ―Done and To Be Done‖. thus. which would probably mean. 17 . is the influence of the early Heidegger that looms in the background of both thinkers. but he never really carried through his intention (Arnason 1991). 6 The distinctions are operative in Arendt 1989.F. technocratically. in Marxism Arendt (1989) saw first a conflation of work and labour. This occultation could be an important premise for Arendt‘s reading of Aristotle in The Human Condition. creation. 4 An appropriate question. See http://www. at best. was largely associated with the Jacobin terror following the French Revolution. which has a third meaning. 2 Castoriadis discusses their shared interests in a talk at an Arendt memorial symposium in 1982 (―The Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy‖ in Castoriadis 1991: 81-123. where an important part was played by the social sciences. Villa 1996). 2011).internationalviewpoint. Ramsay 2003.