Requiem for a Selbstdenker: Cornelius Castoriadis (1922–1997

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Joel Whitebook
What concatenation of factors produces a resolutely independent thinker? This is a question which immediately suggests itself when considering the unparalleled life and work of Cornelius Castoriadis, who died in Paris on December 24th at the age of seventy-five. Indeed, Castoriadis, along with Hannah Arendt – with whom he invites comparison in many other ways as well – may represent the two preeminent Selbstdenker of the postwar era. Before returning to our question, however, let us survey the accomplishments of his remarkable career. Living in the most fashion-afflicted town of all, Castoriadis remained impervious to the intellectual vogues that have regularly cycled through Paris over the past fifty years. He was able to steer a course which remained focused on fundamental theoretical and political issues and which – we can now see in retrospect – followed its own internal logic and achieved a remarkable degree of overall coherence. When, after the war, the French intelligentsia were, almost without exception, in the thrall of the Communist Party and defenders of the Soviet Union, Castoriadis was not only a member of the Fourth International, but went on to reject the Trotskyist position itself. He argued that the Soviet Union did not constitute a degenerate worker’s state, as the Trotskyists maintained, but a new form of class oppression, and that this fact stripped it of all revolutionary status. In what was to become a well-known line, Castoriadis quipped, “ ‘USSR’: four letters, four misnomers” – it was neither a union, soviet, socialist nor a republic. It was during this period that Castoriadis met Claude Lefort, with whom he formed the ultra-leftist grouplet Socialisme ou Barbarie and published a journal under the same name. To grasp the independence of the undertaking, it is necessary to transport oneself into the Manichean world of Cold War France, where one was either for the Soviet Union or for the American-led capitalist powers. A group dedicated to criticizing the official left position from the left and rethinking the revolutionary project necessarily condemned itself to be small in membership and marginal in influence.1 The perseverance, however, paid off in the long run. After years of isolation – indeed after the group had split up – Socialisme ou Barbarie’s ideas exerted a major influence in the May–June events of 1968. Dany CohnBendit himself acknowledged that many of the positions that he and his brother Gabriel popularized in Obsolete Communism: The Left-wing Alternative, a major text of ’68, were taken from Socialisme ou Barbarie.
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In 1959 friction developed between Castoriadis and the other members of Socialisme ou Barabarie over his article “Le mouvement révolutionnaire sous le capitalisme modern.”2 The controversy it generated contributed substantially to the eventual disbandment of the group in 1966. Despite internal attempts to block its publication, the article appeared – under an editorial disclaimer – in 1960. The thesis that sent feathers flying was that the difficulty with contemporary left-wing theory and practice did not lie with vulgar Marxism – as true believers maintained – but with Marxism as such. The old idea that the proletariat would be led to revolution because of economic misery was no longer valid. In an analysis similar to the Frankfurt School’s diagnosis of organized capitalism, Castoriadis argued that capitalism had entered a new modernized phase – de Gaulle was the agent of capitalist modernization in France – through which it could manage economic crises and provide the increasingly depoliticized and privatized population with a steadily increasing standard of living. Rather than the economistic issues of the past, Castoriadis saw alienation – which, he argued, was engendered by capitalist modernization and which could only be eliminated through the self-management of society – as a potential source of radical politics. While he continued to anchor his analysis in the dynamics of capitalist development, he came to view what were to be called the new social movements – youth, women, gays, ecologists and so on – as more politically significant than the traditional industrial proletariat. And, on a more fundamental theoretical level, he argued that the Marxian approach was irreparably flawed insofar as its scientism and economism in principle precluded individual and collective creativity, action and self-management.3 That his comrades in Socialisme ou Barbarie were reduced to dismissing Castoriadis as an “existentialist” only attests to how entrapped even the best Marxists of the day were in their calcified assumptions. The charge is, of course, ludicrous, but we can use it as an opportunity to take up questions raised by the erratic swings that have characterized French intellectual life in general. This will in fact lead us to a consideration of pressing theoretical problems that are still with us today. The history of French thought since the Second World War has been radically antipodal – seesawing between Cartesian existentialism and antiCartesian structuralism, humanism and anti-humanism, surrealism and scientism, voluntarism and determinism, and, more recently, militant Third Worldism and self-congratulatory Europhilia, Maoism and neoliberalism4 – with little attempt at synthesis or mediation, indeed, with little cognizance that the lack of synthesis or mediation was a problem. There are two strong reasons why Castoriadis could never have been an existentialist. First, like Hegel, Marx and Weber, and unlike the existentialists, he knew that the individual was not an ultimate datum, but “a product of history.” Indeed, he argued that, viewed from the long perspective, the individual was an exception which had made its appearance only twice in history and only incompletely, in ancient Greek and in modern European societies. Second, after his appropriation of psychoanalysis, Castoriadis could never have accepted Sartre’s

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positing of the complete transparency of consciousness (which was a necessary correlate of the latter’s ethical voluntarism). In this regard, Castoriadis was fond of citing Freud’s image of “the navel of the dream,” where all transparency and meaning dissolve into a tangle of opacity. That there exists an ultimate limit to transparency and meaning, however, in no way invalidates the pursuit of selfreflection, as certain post-structuralists argue. It only means that the interrogation of the self is an unendliche task. While Castoriadis was certainly no existentialist, there is nevertheless a sense in which he preserved an essential moment of, if not existentialism, at least Cartesianism. As I have argued elsewhere,5 one of the major philosophical symptoms of our times is the abstract negation of Cartesianism with the rush into intersubjectivity; the truth content of Cartesianism is not aufgehoben, it is simply obliterated. Whether it emanates from Lévi-Strauss and structuralism, or from Wittgenstein and Habermas, the attempt has been to absorb the individual into the transindividual – the subjective into the intersubjective – so thoroughly that the moment of privatisitic individuality drops out almost completely. 6 In direct opposition to this trend, Castoriadis draws on Piera Aulagnier’s research on early development and infantile psychosis to posit a monadic core of the human psyche and a radical imagination. 7 The latter consists in a private counter-world – a kosmos idios as opposed to the kosmos koinos of intersubjectively mediated reality – of an internally wish-generated stream of representations and affects. Indeed, properly speaking, the two cannot even be distinguished at this level. Castoriadis maintains, moreover, that, owing to this monadic core, all socialization comes from the outside and is necessarily violent; there does not appear to be a shred of Hartmannian “preadaptation” of the psyche to the world. 8 And, more recently, in a psychoanalytic examination of racism, he argued that, at the most archaic strata of the psyche, there exists a sheer unmediated hatred of otherness which seeks its destruction. It is important to stress that, for Castoriadis, the monadic core of the psyche and the radical imagination are neither positive nor negative per se. Rather, they are thoroughly ambivalent. The psyche’s uneliminable tendency to deny reality and to attempt omnipotently to remold it according to its wishes are the source of the best and the worst in human life. When this tendency is socialized and sublimated, it can lead to the most exalted accomplishments in the realm of the Objective and Subjective Spirit. Unsocialized and unmediated, however, the omnipotent wish to transform the world can result in the most catastrophic forms of pathology – from individual psychosis in the strict sense to the collective psychosis of totalitarianism. We do not have to get into the debates surrounding Freud’s doctrine of the death drive. At the end of “the century of two world wars, of the Gulag, Auschwitz, Cambodia, Bosnia, Biafra, Chechnia, Rwanda-Burundi, etc.,” 9 the burden of proof is on those who would deny the existence of an inherent destructive force in the human psyche. For Castoriadis, then, creativity and destruction are coequal potentialities of the radical imagination.
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A conception such as this was certain to be an anathema to a compulsively progressivistic – and linguistifying – thinker like Habermas. He raised the objection that for Castoriadis “the socialized individual is produced and, as in Durkheim, remains divided into monad and member of society. . . . Intrapsychic conflicts are not internally linked with social ones; instead, psyche and society stand in a kind of metaphysical opposition to one another.”10 There is, however, something odd about Habermas’s criticism, for its force rests on two problematic assumptions: first, that it is self-evident that we do not live divided between a private psychic world and a public social one; and second, that the existence of an intrinsic opposition between psyche and society is necessarily false. Again, I would say the burden of proof lies with the critic. To begin with, there is nothing self-evident about the first assumption. Habermas’s objections notwithstanding, I think it is safe to say that we live as citizens of these two worlds and constantly have to negotiate their relationship – indeed, even that the conflict between the psychic and the social is increasing as the public world grows more anomic. And if our own experience is not compelling in this regard, we can, as Castoriadis suggests, “reread Remembrance of Things Past, and, given some leisure, the whole of Western poetry, drama and the novel.”11 The rhetoric of Habermas’s criticism exploits the whole post-metaphysical climate in contemporary philosophy. In effect he attempts to dismiss the conflict between psyche and society simply by labelling it “metaphysical.” There is, however, an intrinsic conflict between psyche and society – and this is an admittedly “essentialist” claim – only it is anthropological rather than metaphysical. To be sure, the nature and extent of the conflict may vary from society to society, but it can never be eliminated. Habermas’s entire theoretical construction, however, is designed to show that the social reaches all the way down into the psyche, which would, for all intents and purposes, mean the actual eradication of the psychic. Just because a progressive liberal program demands it, the opposition between psyche and society cannot be wished away with the expedient formula Habermas takes over from Mead, namely, that socialization is simultaneously a process of individuation.12 But, again and more importantly, one should not want the opposition eliminated. For although its existence imparts a tragic dimension to life and places definite limits on the possibilities of social amelioration, it is also one of the most profound sources of the achievements – artistic, theoretical and political – that make us human. If Castoriadis had no truck with Sartrean existentialism, he was no less critical of structuralism when the theoretical pendulum swung in the opposite direction. His diagnosis of structuralism, which he considers a pseudo science, is succinct and accurate: namely, it represents “an abusive extrapolation” from phonology.13 It represents an attempt to extrapolate a comprehensive philosophical system from a highly specialized positive science, to give an exhaustive account of society and history – or the mere appearance thereof – through the combinatory logic of a finite number of elements and the difference between those elements. The

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fallacy in this program is that whereas a philosophical theory is obliged to give an account of the “origins” of its object domain – that is, of the material out of which society is constituted – phonology, “as a positive and limited form of knowledge,” takes its object domain as simply given. Castoriadis is right: “Structuralism’s naivete in this respect is disarming.”14 If existentialism’s extreme voluntarism and insistence on the transparency of consciousness were objectionable to Castoriadis, structuralism’s denial of history and reduction of meaning are no less unacceptable. In reaction to Marxism and the illusion of historical inevitability – with its lethal historical consequences – Castoriadis, like Hannah Arendt, was determined to defend the possibility of novelty in history. Whereas she developed her concept of “natality” to this end, Castoriadis elaborated a theory of creativity and the radical imagination. As he saw it, “the question of history is the question of the emergence of radical otherness or of the absolutely new.”15 If this is the case, then structuralism’s reduction of the apparently new to the old, of the diachronic to the synchronic – which in fact amounts to the elimination of history – must be inadmissible. In this context, I once posed a question to Castoriadis that had perplexed me for some time: “Given its radical ahistoricism, how could leftists find anything congenial in structuralism?” For, especially in the 1970s, certain groups of leftists under the influence of Althusser drew extensively on structuralism. He answered me psychoanalyst to psychoanalyst: “How can a fetishist mistake a shoe for a penis?” Again, this is not to say that Castoriadis, like the existentialists, believed in the transparency of human thought, speech and action. With the structuralists, he maintained that our individual and collective thought, speech and action are embedded in supra-individual configurations that determine us from behind our backs and limit our transparency and autonomy. He refers to this “anonymous collective whole, [this] impersonal-human element that fills every given social formation but which also engulfs it,” which “is neither the unending addition of intersubjective networks (although it is this too), nor . . . their simple ‘product,’ ” as the “social-historical.” However, whereas the supra-individual structures of structuralism are formal, transhistorical and immutable, the social-historical is, to a significant degree, malleable. The social-historical is on the one hand, the “given structures, ‘materialized’ institutions and works, whether these be material or not,” into which every individual is thrown, to use a Heideggarian term. It is, on the other hand, “that which structures, institutes, materializes.” Which is to say, through the appropriation of its resources – for example, language, laws, customs, techniques, arts and so on – individuals and groups can in fact transform the very world into which they have been thrown. Rather than systematically excluding the emergence of the new, the old in fact provides the resources for its creation. As opposed to the inert structures of structuralism, then, the socialhistorical is “the union and the tension of instituting society and of instituted society, of history made and of history in the making.”16 The defense of history is, for him, necessarily connected with the defense of
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meaning. For Castoriadis, the properly human realm, that is to say the realm of history, occupies the vast intermediate domain lying between the “algorithmic and the ineffable”17 – both extremes that deny meaning. The algorithmic – in this case, structuralism – attempts to reduce putative meanings with all their fuzzy edges, to use Wittgenstein’s term, to nugget-like elements that can then be arranged and rearranged in a formalizable system. In other words, it tries to reduce meaning to formal structures. (We will consider the other extreme, the ineffable, when we turn to post-structuralism.) We should be clear here. Unlike many hermeneutical critics of positivism, Castoriadis is no opponent of science. On the contrary, he is an enthusiastic admirer of science, precisely as an extraordinary achievement of human creativity. But, like the best scientists and philosophers of science throughout history, he also recognizes that the foundations of science – and especially of mathematics, upon which the other sciences rested – were thoroughly aporetic. This denies the quantitative sciences the claims of complete strictness or certainty which their more naive defenders often make. Moreover, in contrast to the mainstream of contemporary philosophy of science, Castoriadis’s position rests on an ontological claim: namely, that there exists a broad stratum of being to which, because of its nature, identitary-ensemblist logic – roughly his term for Kant’s Verstand or the Frankfurt School’s “instrumental reason” – properly pertains and in which it has its validity. This stratum not only includes physical nature, but a dimension of society – the economy, for example – insofar as it has been objectified in a nature-like fashion. The point is, however, that this is just one stratum of being, and it is not only illegitimate but pernicious to try to extend identitary-ensemblist logic into other strata where it cannot be validly applied – especially the strata that are mediated by meaning. Castoriadis’s objection, then, is not to science as such, but to the scientistic totalization of identitary-ensemblist logic and, especially, to the attempted reduction of meaning to non-meaning. The analysis of meaning also plays an essential role in Castoriadis’s account of social integration. In this regard, he addresses himself to a perennial philosophical question which assumed new significance after the predicted social revolution failed to materialize in the West: Why do individuals conform, even in the absence of extensive coercion, to the societies in which they live? Or, to put it differently, what is the binding principle of koinonia? Castoriadis answers that individuals conform to societies because, to a large degree, those societies “fabricate” individuals who fit into them. He draws on psychoanalysis – taken precisely as a theory of “embodied meaning” – to explain how this works. Prior to the emergence of the Freudian drives and the repertoire of fantasies connected to them, Castoriadis postulates the existence of a “primary phantasmatization” consisting in “at once the representation and the investment of a Self that is All.”18 (To bring the point home, Cornelius often got a mischievous kick from quoting a line from one of Freud’s late unpublished fragments, “Ich bin die Brust.”) The original monadic position consists in a “unitary subjective circuit” in which

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everything is interconnected and referred back to the monadic subject. Castoriadis maintains this “mode of originary being of the psyche . . . is the first matrix of meaning”: this “proto-meaning realizes by itself [that is, in fantasy] just where meaning obviously cannot yet exist, total meaning, the universal and unbroken bringing into relation which will tend to wish to encompass even that which denies it.”19 After drawing such a strong picture of the monadic core of the psyche, however, Castoriadis is confronted with the daunting theoretical task of explaining how that monad opens up to the world. He is in good company, for Freud had a similar problem. Castoriadis argues that, in the first instance, what the archaic psyche – which always strives to maintain its monadic self-sufficiency and omnipotence – is offered in recompense for relinquishing its plenum-like existence is connection with the nurturing person, most generally the mother. Along with this, the omnipotence of the initial stage is transferred to the mother; to use Kohut’s vocabulary, the “grandiose self” is replaced by the “omnipotent object.”20 The significance of these facts should be stressed, for they mean, in the first instance, that eros and affect – and not some rationalistic learning program – are the primary vehicles of socialization. In the next step of the process, the child must turn from the closed world of the mother-infant dyad to the outside society. To compensate for the erotic attachment to the mother, society offers the child meaning in the form of narratives which bring the chaos of the world into order. And affectually, the child is offered the father (the Phallus in Lacan’s sense), the family, the tribe, party, country and so on, as the new repository for her (partly) relinquished infantile omnipotence. Castoriadis’s psycho-anthropological thesis, then, is that all societies must provide alternative gratifications for the archaic psyche’s relentless demand for “universal cognitive connection” or “universal signification”21 in the form of meaning. In so doing, they not only socialize and sublimate the destructiveness of this original omnipotence, but also “fabricate” individuals who – to a remarkable degree – conform to their requirements. While this is especially true in what Castoriadis call “heteronomous,” which is to say traditional, societies, all societies must provide their members with meaning. This thesis naturally led Castoriadis to oppose the current left-liberal treatment – or avoidance – of the problem of meaning, deriving, in large part, from Rawls and Habermas. For example, as Habermas has steadily moved away from the problematic of Weberian-Marxism – established by Lukacs, Horkheimer and Adorno – and toward the liberalism of Anglo-American philosophy, the question of the “loss of meaning” in modernity was systematically swept into the shadows and replaced by the question of justice. At one point in an uncharacteristic but enormously fertile article on Walter Benjamin in 1972, Habermas addressed the problem at the heart of the Weberian-Marxian tradition: meaning is a “scarce resource” which is being depleted by the process of modernization, that is, by the famous “disenchantment of the world.” In that article, Habermas recognized that the question of meaning and the question of justice followed two relatively independent axes and, therefore, that an increase in justice – also propelled by
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modernization – was thoroughly compatible with an exhaustion of meaning. Indeed, in a passage that I have quoted before, he followed that logic to its conclusion and entertained the possibility that a just society might be a meaningless one: “Is it possible that one day an emancipated human race could encounter itself within an expanded space of discursive formation of will” – that is, an expanded sphere of justice, in Habermas’s communicative conception – “and yet be robbed of the light in which it is capable of interpreting its life as something good?” What is most striking in the 1972 article is the tepidness of Habermas’s praise of the achievements of modernity. He speaks only of the “uncontemptible improvements in life” and the progress “in the products of legality if not in the formal structures of morality,” which admittedly evoke “melancholy” when compared to “what has been missed” and to “moments of happiness that are in the process of being extinguished.”22 As the decade passed, however, and as the Reagan–Thatcher revolution increasingly squelched any hopes of progressive political change on a significant scale in the West, Habermas’s defense of “the project of modernity” actually became more enthusiastic – as well as more juridical.23 A curious thing, however, happened along the way. What had been a central pathology of modernity for the Weberian Marxists, that is, the loss of meaning, now became associated with one of strongest virtues of liberalism. Liberalism’s structural separation of the good and the right, ethics and morality, meaning and justice, came to be celebrated as a bulwark against totalitarianism in a pluralistic world. Totalitarianism is understood in this context as the violent imposition of a substantive notion of the good on everyone and the suppression of all other points of view. In the process, meaning was relegated, if not to the private realm – to the drawingroom, as Max Weber put it – at least to the realm of ethics. It is important to be clear here. What is being contested is not the epochal advances of modern liberalism and the defense of a pluralistic world; indeed, the insight that our world-view is just one among many – that it is a human creation – is at the heart of Castoriadis’s notion of an autonomous society. What is being objected to, rather, is the suppression of the discussion of the loss of meaning by the advocates of deliberative democracy.24 When the problem of the loss of meaning is raised it is often dismissed out of hand because it threatens to destabilize the Habermasian-Rawlsian theoretical division of labor and to trump the problem of justice.25 To be sure, there are good historical and political reasons to be cautious about the problem of meaning. Nevertheless, that all the tempting regressive fundamentalist and totalitarian solutions to the loss of meaning are painfully familiar does not mean that it ceases to be a problem.26 Foucault is right about one thing: all serious questions are “dangerous.” There is a characteristically Habermasian fallacy at work in all of this, which Dews has spotted: namely, of equating “the critique of no longer plausible answers with a demonstration of the obsolescence of an entire domain of problems.”27 Given his psycho-anthropological thesis, Castoriadis a priori could never have

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minimized the importance of the loss of meaning as a topic for social theory. And, on top of that, his empirical assessment of the contemporary Western cultures located the problem of meaning at the center of a profound cultural crisis.28 For Castoriadis, the identity of a society and the meaning it provides its members are determined by “the specificity of the imaginary significations created by and dominating it.”29 He maintains that the “critical” modern epoch – roughly 1750 to 1950 – was determined by two such imaginary significations: namely, the capitalist project of “the unlimited expansion of (pseudo-)rational (pseudo-)mastery” and “the project of autonomy.” And he notes that the relation between these two imaginary significations was “best defined by the conflict, but also the mutual contamination and entanglement.”30 The project of pseudo-rational mastery – analyzed in the classical social theory of Marx, Weber, Polanyi and Horkheimer and Adorno – involves the historically unprecedented amalgamation of the capitalist economy with “ensemblistic-identitary logic.” Where the emancipated market provides the dynamic motor for potentially infinite expansion, Verstand or Zweckrationalität provides the logical form that is imposed on all realms of existence: “Nothing – physical or human ‘nature,’ tradition or other ‘values’ – ought to stand in the way of the maximization process. Everything is called before the Tribunal of (productive) Reason and must prove its right to exist on the basis of the criterion of the unlimited expansion of ‘rational mastery.’ ” At the same time, the project of autonomy – which had been incubating since the late Middle Ages – was instituted alongside the project of rational mastery. This project consisted in the critique of the dogmatic claims of tradition, which is to say, “of the status quo’s claim that it should continue to exist just because it happens to be there,” and in the affirmation of “the possibility and the right of the individuals and collectives to find in themselves (or to produce) the principle for ordering their lives.”31 Castoriadis insists, and this point is crucial, that the agents of the project of autonomy were the new social-historical movements, which, through their struggles, called into question the instituted forms of life in all its domains – for example, “between monarchy and democracy, property and social movements, dogma and critique, the Academy and artistic innovation, and so on.”32 Kant thus accurately captured only half the spirit of the classical modernist epoch when he observed that “ours is an age of criticism.” As has already been indicated, the relationship between the two projects was ambiguous and complex, strangely complementary as well as directly conflictual. Castoriadis argues that “this conflict has been, in itself, the central motor force of the dynamic development of Western society during this epoch and a condition sine qua non for the expansion of capitalism and for the containment of the irrationalities of capitalist ‘rationalization.’”33 The cultural critique of “encrusted” tradition not only helped to clear the path for capitalist development, but the social, economic and political struggles against capitalist expansion compelled capitalism, often against its will, to correct some of its most extreme and potentially destabilizing economic and political deficiencies. Castoriadis is emphatic
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about one point, and its importance for his entire position cannot be overemphasized: capitalism would never have granted any of the so-called normative advances of modernity – “the margins of freedom contained in the contemporary regime” – if they had not been wrestled from it by often bloody struggles. And he also insists that in the absence of such movements, “the regime. . . would have, each time unrelentingly whittled them down (as is happening now).”34 We will return to this point shortly. For now, we should observe that, in the other direction, the dynamic of the capitalist economy has also helped to propel the extraordinary creativity of modern culture and the perpetual critique of all merely existing institutions and values: “This restless society – intellectually and spiritually restless – has been the milieu for the hectic cultural and artistic creation of the ‘modern’ epoch.”35 Even when it appeared to be the most detached from sociopolitical reality, modernist art often remained oppositional insofar as its mode of aesthetic synthesis embodied an alternative logic to that of technical rationality. But now that the distinction between art and advertising has been deconstructed and artists no longer seek to be anti-bourgeois bohemians but more often selfpromoting entrepreneurs, most of that has passed. In this context, Castoriadis is right when he observes that “‘postmodern’ art has rendered an enormous service. . . : it shows how really great modern art had been.”36 Castoriadis’s claim, then, is that the critical modern epoch came more or less to an end by 1950. He argues that after “the two world wars, the emergence of totalitarianism, the collapse of the workers’ movement (both result and condition of the catastrophic slide into Leninism-Stalinism), and the decay of the mythology of progress,” and “after the movements of the 1960s” – which, as we shall see, represented one last attempt to realize the project of autonomy – the project of autonomy appears “totally eclipsed.”37 It should be stressed that Castoriadis is not proposing a totalized logic of decline à la Horkheimer and Adorno. As an advocate of the radical openness of history, he insists that the question of whether this eclipse is temporary or permanent remains to be seen. He also insists that, whatever the current situation, “Western societies find sedimented within themselves the institutions and characteristics that . . . may one day serve as the starting point and the springboard for something else.”38 He argues, moreover, that a fundamental reason for the eclipse was that the emancipatory movements themselves bought into the project of “rational mastery,” with the result that “capitalism, liberalism, and the classical revolutionary movements came to share the imaginary of Progress and the belief that technical-material power, as such, is (immediately or, after a delay, in a discounted future) the decisive cause or condition of human happiness or emancipation.”39 As a result of this degeneration, by 1950, almost all significant oppositional movemements – that is, movements which challenged the structure of the system rather than protesting particular policies and actions – had ceased in the West. As I have mentioned, the one important exception was the movements of the sixties, which Castoriadis defended despite their admitted naivete, inconsistency

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and downright kookiness. Against their detractors, who sought to depict those movements as mere manifestations of narcissistic individualism – this criticism is too easy anyway – Castoriadis interpreted them as the last gasp of the project of autonomy. He saw them as intuitively struggling with one of the most critical questions of the day, namely, how to find new institutional and organizational forms to embody and advance the project of autonomy after the decay of the old left. The activitists knew they did not want the technocratic organizational forms of the “project of rational mastery” – either in its left-wing or right-wing versions. But, as the denoument of the ’68 events too clearly demonstrated, they failed miserably at creating alternative ones. And, even more consequentially, the movements of the sixties – which tended to eschew economic analysis – failed seriously to address, much less solve, the problem of the incessant expansion of the capitalist economy. (The current discussions of democracy will likewise remain suspended in thin air as long as supporters cannot productively confront this issue.) Castoriadis’s strong contention – and one which is mostly ignored by contemporary social and political theory – is that at the same time as the project of autonomy is at best dormant, “the capitalist imaginary signification of . . . unlimited expansion . . . is more alive than ever,” and is “engaged in a frantic course pregnant with the severest dangers for humankind.” Witness the dizzying pace of globalization. What then separates the current period – call it “postmodern” or what you will – from the epoch of critical modernity is that capitalist expansion is developing without a significant oppositional culture or movement: “Capitalism developing while forced to face a continuous struggle against the status quo, on the floor of the factory as well as in the sphere of ideas or art, and capitalism expanding without any effective internal opposition are two different historical animals.”40 When Castoriadis speaks of today’s massive “atrophy of the political imagination,” he is referring, first and foremost, to our collective inability to conceive of any means of containing capitalist development – of renormatizing the economy, to use Habermas’s vocabulary – or of any organizational forms and modes of struggle that might serve to rekindle the project of autonomy. These, as he sees it, are the two most essential political problems of our day. Against this severe diagnosis, it can rightly be objected that the women’s movement – which has in fact developed since the sixties – represents one of the most important chapters in the project of autonomy to date. And, in one respect, this is undoubtedly true. For, in a historically unprecedented fashion, it has put into question some of the most deeply entrenched representations of who we are, which is to say, those having to do with gender roles, sexuality, power, intimacy, the family, child-rearing, and so on. At the same time, however, feminists – like the rest of us and especially like other practitioners of identity politics – have had little to say about the central question of containing the imaginary of unlimited expansion. Furthermore, there is a respect in which feminism – or at least a certain dimension of it – is perfectly compatible with and even contributes to that
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expansion. For, among other things, feminism has entailed the opening of the market to a group which was previously excluded from it on the basis of a purely natural characteristic: their sex. This is certainly an instance of the logic of capitalist development – the methodical eradication of merely natural determinations and their replacement by abstract ones. This development not only provides new realms for capitalist expansion, but also permits women to enter the market with relatively less discrimination than in the past. A familiar argument is often made in defense of the failure of the women’s movement – and of identity politics in general – to address the problem of capitalist expansion. Once again, it construes a deficiency as an advantage. It is maintained that to deal with the economy would require a “totalizing” analysis and a “totalizing” movement, and that history has taught us that analyses and movements which aim at the totality are always one step away from totalitarianism. Often drawing on Foucault for theoretical justification, the new social movements are self-consciously “local” and disavow comprehensive programs precisely for these reasons. But this is the statement of a problem, indeed, the central problem Castoriadis has delineated, not of a solution. It is also another example of the fallacy, pointed out by Dews, of equating the absence of a good solution to a problem with the invalidity of that problem. For it does not follow from the fact that we have no feasible theoretical or organizational solutions to the problem of containing capitalist development that it has ceased to be a problem. On the contrary, it is expanding at a pace and on a scale that makes all previous development appear antediluvian. What we are in fact confronted with are old-fashioned problems exacerbated manifold, with the complete discredit of all previous solutions to them, and, so far, with the inability to envisage new ones. What followed from the failure of the movements of the sixties, as Castoriadis saw it, was a general retreat into privatization, depoliticization, consumerism and conformity, accompanied by “a deep distrust and cynicism regarding all the instituted powers (politicians, business, trade unions, and churches).”41 This retreat, needless to say, only continues to grow. It is against this backdrop that he analyzed what was to be the next swing of the pendulum of Parisian intellectual life, namely, post-structuralism. Castoriadis examines Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut’s claim, in their controversial book La pensée 68,42 that the post-structuralists – who came into prominence in the 1970s – represented “the thought of ’68.” Castoriadis argues that Ferry and Renaut got it exactly backwards: “Their misinterpretation is total. ‘Sixty-eight thought’ is anti-’68, the type of thinking that has built its mass success on the ruins of the ’68 movement and as a function of its failure.”43 In the first place, he explains, although they had already been on the scene for some time, the thinkers who came to be known as the poststructuralists had virtually no impact on the ’68 events. This was “both because their ideas were totally unknown to the participants and because these ideas were diametrically opposed to the participants’ implicit and explicit aspirations.” Castoriadis observes that “were one to have passed around an anthology of the

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writings analyzed by Ferry and Renaut on the night that barricades were erected in the Latin Quarter, at best one would have provoked an irrepressible laughter, and at worst one would have led the participants and the movement to disband [that is, if those writings were taken seriously].”44 In addition to its vigorous promotion by the intellectual and literary “impresarios” of the society of the spectacle, post-structuralism was in fact able to achieve its enormous success in the wake of ’68 by affecting a wily compromise formation – or perhaps an act of splitting would be more accurate – which reworked the meaning of those events. On the one hand, it both reflected and justified the mood of failure, despair and withdrawal. Indeed, there was “a perfect harmony” between the philosophy of post-structuralism “and the state of mind, the humor, the mood, the Stimmung that followed the failure . . . and disintegration of the movement.”45 Moreover, the content of the theories, for example, the death of the subject, the death of meaning, the death of history, the unsurpassability of power and so on – with its “inescapable corollary, the death of politics”46 – provided a legitimization for depoliticization. On the other hand, however, poststructuralism, exploiting the anti-authoritarian mood of the sixties, offered a seductive aura of “subversiveness” – which continues to linger on in the United States – to mask the “inescapable corollary” of its doctrines. This is the way it could present itself as the heir to the movement. Perhaps we have to remind ourselves again of the fetishist’s ability to see a penis in a shoe to understand how this could have worked. But it nevertheless was a trick. For it provided “a legitimization both for the failure of the movement” and for increasing privatization, while simultaneously offering “some sort of ‘radical sensibility.’ ” For those who wanted to withdraw from politics yet retain their subversive self-regard, “the nihilism of the ideologues, who had at the same time managed to jump on the bandwagon of a vague sort of ‘subversion,’ was admirably convenient.”47 This is the appropriate point to take up Castoriadis’s relationship to Lacan. His theoretical critique of le maître follows more or less mutatis mutandis from his criticisms of classical structuralism. If we disregard the ad hominem considerations – namely, that Lacan was aristocratic, authoritarian, anti-democratic, misogynist and openly contemptuous of the idea of emancipation – his theories were also intrinsically anti-political on their own. For, like the classical structuralism on which he drew, they systematically denied the possibility of anything new emerging in history and excluded the margin of freedom necessary for any sort of autonomous political action. More specifically, his hypostatization of the determinative powers of the Symbolic – conceived as a machine-like “circuit” – was every bit as ahistorical as the most biologistic doctrines of Freud.48 What is the point of acting if, as Lacan puts it, the best we can do is pick up the die and throw them in a game that has been rigged in advance – if, that is, “everything is forever the same”?49 Moreover, the deeply anti-democratic character of his doctrines was reflected in his manipulative organizational practice. Lacan committed one of the cardinal offenses possible in psychoanalysis: he systematically exploited the most
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powerful weapon at an analyst’s disposal, the transference, for purposes of manipulation and control, which is to say, for purposes of power. As Roustang – against whom Castoriadis had written a masterful polemic some years earlier making the same points50 – has more recently shown, by blurring the distinction between the consulting room and the classroom, between patient and disciple, and thereby allowing the transference to spill over from the clinical context, he could exploit it for his own political ends. It allowed him to keep his followers in a state of perpetual sibling rivalry, playing them off against each other, while preserving an idealizing transference towards himself as le maître. If this wasn’t psychoanalysis in the service of power, nothing was. And there’s nothing subversive about that. Castoriadis’s central criticism of Lacan is that his “smoky mystifications of the ‘Law’ and the ‘Symbolic’ ” ignore the question of the institution and make critique impossible. By hypostatizing the “Law” and the “Symbolic” into immutable, transhistorical configurations and ignoring the question of their historical institutionalization, all empirical institutions become valid as such. In other words, Lacan’s construction involves a systematic suppression of the distinction between “‘de facto validity’ and ‘de jure validity,’ ”51 which is the necessary condition for all critique. There is, however, one crucial point on which Castoriadis agrees with Lacan. At the same time as he rejects the hypostatization of the Law, Castoriadis does not reject the transhistorical opposition between lawfulness and desire, that is, the uneliminable conflict between our nature as omnipotent wishing beings and the requirements of civilized social life. Rather than seeking elimination of the Law and the unmediated emancipation of desire – which he rightfully maintains would result in barbarism52 – he seeks to establish a new, autonomous relation both to the Law and to those desires. He insists that all societies, past and present, must provide an institution for decentering infantile omnipotence and transforming the child into a socialized individual. Agreeing with Freud and Lacan – and against the Freudian left, represented by Reich and Marcuse, as well as the désirants, represented by Lyotard, Deleuze and Guattari – he argues that “it is here, beyond all socio-cultural relativity, that the profound signification of the Oedipus complex resides. For in the Oedipal situation the child must confront a state of affairs which can no longer be imaginarily manipulated at will.”53 While it may be possible to devise less violent, post-patriarchal institutions to fulfill this function in the future, the function itself cannot be eliminated: “We are justified in imagining everything with respect to the transformation of social institutions; but not the incoherent fiction that the psyche’s entry into society could occur gratuitously.”54 Regarding the anti-positivist movements in recent philosophy, Castoriadis argues that they in fact accept a central presupposition of the positivism they seek to oppose. Like the positivists who hold up mathematical physics as the only paradigm of valid knowledge, the anti-positivists equate thought with calculation, so that when they reject the supposed strictness of calculation, they believe the

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only alternative is “the ineffable.” One finds this with the Mystische of the early Wittgenstein, the oracular pronouncements of the late Heidegger, and the theoretical free-associations of Derrida. To undo this equation, Castoriadis insists that “what cannot be calculated can nonetheless be thought.”55 His argument is once again ontological. As we have seen, calculation – identitary-ensemblist thinking – only validly applies to a particular stratum of being, roughly what Descartes called res extensia. And just as there are other strata of being – for example, those characterized by the existence of metabolic functions or meaning – so there are other valid forms of thinking.56 Thus, rather than attempt the hyper- and pseudoradical leap out of the “inherited modes of thought” into the ineffable, Castoriadis advocates a program of the “self-transcendence of reason” through the methodical “interrogation” of the limits of those inherited modes.57 And two foci for that interrogation – that is, two points where the limitations of the inherited modes of thought become apparent so that new forms of thinking are called for – are the self-organization of living organisms and the unconscious.58 Finally, approximately three decades after Castoriadis’s original criticisms of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party, the left-wing Parisian intelligentsia finally caught up with him – though in a characteristically one-sided way. After “Solzhenitsyn shock,” the genocide in Cambodia and, especially, the declaration of martial law in Poland, the French left came to recognize that communism was a totalitarian system which was bankrupt through and through. In fact, it had been an enormous historical calamity, the cost of which is only becoming fully apparent today. Why it took them so long to become “shocked” is another question. After all, Berlin, Hungary and Czechoslovakia had hardly made a dent, and the information about the Gulag had been available for some time. Be that as it may, in the most recent turn of the “weary wheel of Being,” French leftists moved directly from uncritical defense of communism to the equally uncritical defense of liberalism. One was treated to the spectacle of former Maoists defending the merits of liberalism, individualism, capitalism and the West with the same ardor, style and verbiage with which they had formerly defended communism. This is not to say that the Occidental tradition, which can count human rights and autonomous individuality among its finest achievements, is not to be critically defended – as Castoriadis has been doing for years. It is only to say once again that that tradition consists in two conflicting imaginary significations – the project of autonomy and the project of unlimited mastery – and that the existence of capitalism must not be conveniently forgotten in the current atmosphere of post-’89 self-satisfaction. I will offer three hypotheses concerning Castoriadis’s unsurpassed ability to maintain his independence over the past fifty years. The first concerns the process of identification. Like philosophy itself, Cornelius was born in Asia Minor. As did many families of Greek origin at the time, the Castoriadises moved from Constantinople to Athens, where Cornelius spent his youth, after the Greco-Turk
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war of 1921. Already at the age of thirteen he was voraciously reading the pocket editions of the great philosophers he carried with him. And when, as an adult, one heard Cornelius speak or read his texts there was no denying his identification with the Greek philosophical tradition. His lectures and writings were punctuated with quotations from the ancient Greek. One sometimes had the impression that he believed that by stating it in the Greek one guaranteed the truth of an assertion. To his detractors, this seemed like a pompous affectation. To those of us who loved him, it seemed like a charming boyish identification with his heroes: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The larger point is, however, that those identifications, as well myriad others – in sum, his confidence about the abundance and goodness of his internalized objects – contributed enormously to his ability to maintain his independence vis-à-vis the vicissitudes and insults of external fortune. But this was no slavish or scholastic subordination to the tradition; it was not traditionalism. Illustrating his own point that although we are “determined” by tradition we are not “enslaved” by it, Castoriadis took the resources that tradition had given him to criticize it and go beyond it in a truly radical way. He thus broke with it while elaborating it at the same time. It is often said – in an attempt to pathologize analysts and discredit psychoanalysis – that analysts typically focus on the problems which cause them the most trouble personally. In the first place, this only counts as a criticism if one assumes that psychoanalysts ought to be free from psychological difficulties. But we can go further and ask: are people not apt to be the most creative in working on problems about which they have inside familiarity – for example, Freud on Oedipal configurations and Winnicott on separation? The topic that was at the center of Cornelius’s psychoanalytic theories was, of course, omnipotence. Anyone who heard him play the piano – his dynamic range extended from fortissimo to fortissimo – recognized that it was an active force in his personality. My hypothesis, then, is the following: Cornelius’s sense of omnipotence no doubt contributed, especially in his youth, to his difficulty in working in political groups and his ideological combativeness. But it also served him well. For it undoubtedly helped him to stand alone, with the conviction that he was right and the others were wrong, in a number of situations in which weaker individuals would have caved in to the pressures of the group. My third hypothesis concerns Castoriadis’s sheer sense of animal vitality – joie de vivre is too weak a term. It was apparent to anyone who knew Cornelius how much gratification he extracted from the pleasures of life – food, wine, conviviality, humor and music. I am convinced that the compensations of those pleasures must have helped him substantially in getting through the many dark periods and disappointments that his career necessarily entailed. And this vitality was nowhere more manifest than in the three months of incredible struggle he waged in the hospital prior to his death. An anecdote will help to illustrate this point. One night, Cornelius, his wife Zoe and I were eating dinner in an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village. When Zoe and I failed to order pasta for our primo piatto,

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Cornelius turned to us with a look of utter incredulity and contempt and said, “To go to an Italian restaurant and not order pasta is like meeting Johann Sebastian Bach” – whom he considered the quintessential creative genius – “and not having him play a fugue.” In short, he esteemed the “lower” things every bit as much as he did the “higher.” In fact, he knew the opposition was artificial. In the spirit of Castoriadis, I will end these reflections on an interrogative note. As he was one of the few thinkers who continued to believe in revolution, it must be asked: What does his death mean for those of us who accept his insistence that modernity does not represent the completion of history, that epochal changes – for better or worse – are still possible, but who nevertheless can no longer accept the idea of revolution? Indeed, what does it mean for those of us who suspect that the belief in revolution might represent a last vestige of magical thinking in his theory, a deus ex machina that would extricate us from our finitude? In this respect, Hans Joas has articulated the central question for thinkers of our generation who are in agreement with the major thrust of Castoriadis’s position, but who can no longer subscribe to the idea of revolution: “How can we continue to believe in, and strive to carry out, the project of autonomy when the myth of revolution is dead?”59 But this is a question for those of us to grapple with who will continue to elaborate the legacy of this “titan of the spirit”60 while we complete what Freud called “the extraordinarily painful”61 work of mourning.
NOTES 1. As it did on Arendt, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 had an enormous impact on Castoriadis. And, again like her, he was especially impressed with the role of the workers’ councils. 2. For the English translation see: Cornelius Castoriadis, “Modern Capitalism and Revolution,” Cornelius Castoriadis Political and Social Writings, Volume 2, 1955–1960, tr. and ed. David Ames Curtis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 266–243. 3. In marked contrast to many other fallen Marxists, however, Castoriadis never turned on Marx with the rage that congeals after idealizations collapse. Instead, Marx remained for him a major figure to be “interrogated,” on the same level as, say, Aristotle or Max Weber. 4. Giving some credence to the thesis that ontogeny recapitulates phyologeny, Foucault was able to occupy all these positions in one career. 5. See Joel Whitebook, Perversion and Utopia: A Study in Psychoanalysis and Social Theory (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995), ch. 4. 6. Recent critical theory has attempted to utilize Mead’s theory of the “I” to preserve the moment of individual privacy after the intersubjective turn, while avoiding the disturbing consequences and complexities of an emphatic notion of the unconscious. The price, however, is too high. For what results is a less disquieting, but also a drastically more superficial view of human spontaneity and creativity. I intend to take up the question of critical theory’s misappropriation of Mead at a later date. 7. For a discussion of Aulagnier’s work, see Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Construction of the World in Psychosis,” World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis and the Imagination, tr. and ed. David Ames Curtis (Stanford University Press, 1997), 196–213. 8. While I am in basic sympathy with Castoriadis’s position, I believe that he states his position so strongly that it actually becomes incoherent. See, Whitebook, Perversion and Utopia, ch. 4. For

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Castoriadis’s response to my criticisms see, Cornelius Castoriadis, “Fait et à faire,” Reveue européenne des sciences sociales, ed. Giovanni Busino, 86 (1989): 471ff. 9. Cornelius Castoriadis, “Unpublished Notes,” begun January 24, 1997, 1. 10. Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, tr. Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1987), 334. 11. Castoriadis, “Unpublished Notes,” 1. 12. See Jürgen Habermas, “Individuation through Socialization: On George Herbert Mead’s Theory of Subjectivity,” Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays, tr. William Mark Hohengarten (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1992), 149–205. 13. Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, tr. Kathleen Blamey (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1987), 171. 14. Loc. cit. 15. Ibid., 172. 16. Ibid., 108. Or to put it in strictly linguistic terms: “So far from imposing an alienating straight-jacket upon the speaking subject, language opens up an infinite area of untrammeled mobility. But within this area, there must still be someone who moves, and we cannot think the being of language without thinking the being of the speaking subject.” Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Sayable and the Unsayable: Homage to Maurice Merleau-Ponty,” Crossroads in the Labyrinth, tr. Kate Soper and Martin H. Ryle (Sussex: Harvester Press, 1978), 133. 17. Cornelius Castoriadis, “Psychoanalysis: Project and Elucidation,” Crossroads in the Labyrinth, 72. 18. Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, 287. 19. Ibid., 299. 20. A product of the French psychoanalytic tradition, Castoriadis never underestimated the power of the archaic mother. Once in a discussion, he observed that patriarchy exists not because women are so weak, but because they are so strong. To illustrate his point, he recounted the fact that the dying words of his father, a traditional Greek patriarch who had had two strong marriages, were “Mama, Mama.” 21. Loc. cit. 22. Jürgen Habermas “Walter Benjamin: Consciousness-Raising or Rescuing Critique,” Philosophical-Political profiles, tr. Frederick G. Lawerence (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1983), 157–58. 23. It has often struck me that where Horkheimer and Adorno’s position became more utopian as the political situation worsened, Habermas’s has become more militantly Kantian – albeit in a communicative form. 24. Peter Dews has shown that Habermas has not been able to sidestep the question of the loss of meaning indefinitely and that it has begun to reemerge at the outermost margins of his theory. See Peter Dews, “Facticity, Validity and the Public Sphere,” The Limits of Disenchantment: Essays on Contemporary European Philosophy (London: Verso, 1995), 208ff. 25. A similar evasion occurs with the question of ecology. Because it cannot easily be accommodated in the Habermasian framework and because it also threatens to trump the question of justice, it is rarely dealt with. However, it does not follow from the fact that because the problem of ecology is difficult to reconcile with modern anthropocentric conceptions of morality and justice that it ceases to be a critical issue for the modern world. 26. The slippery slope argument is no more valid here than when conservatives make it in the abortion debate. It no more follows that raising the question of the loss of meaning will necessarily lead to totalitarian or fundamentalist solutions than it does that permitting abortions or physician assisted suicide will inevitably lead to the indiscriminate taking of lives. 27. Peter Dews, “Modernity, Self-consciousness and the Scope of Philosophy,” The Limits of Disenchantment, 188. 28. See especially Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Retreat from Autonomy,” but also “The Movements of the Sixties”, The World in Fragments, 32–45 and 47–58.

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29. Castoriadis, “The Retreat from Autonomy,” 36. 30. Ibid., 37. 31. Ibid., 38. 32. Ibid., 35. 33. Ibid., 39. 34. Castoriadis, “The Movements of the Sixties,” 56. As Axel Honneth has recognized, one of the unfortunate consequences of Habermas’s turn to evolutionary learning theory is that concrete struggling individuals and groups have ceased to be the primary carriers of rationality and freedom: “He no longer interprets the process of rationalization, in which he attempts to conceive the evolution of societies, as a process of the will-formation of the species; rather, he understands them as a supra-subjective learning processes carried by social systems . . . Habermas does not give acting groups a conceptual role in his social theory. Instead, when it concerns the bearer of social activities, he links the level of systematically constituted systems of action directly to the level of individual acting subjects without taking into consideration the intermediate stage of a praxis of socially integrated groups.” The Critique of Power: Reflective Stages in the Development of a Critical Social Theory, tr. Kenneth Baynes (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), 284–85. 35. Castoriadis, “The Retreat from Autonomy,” 39. 36. Ibid., 41. 37. Ibid., 39. Castoriadis’s assessment of the anti-communist struggles in Eastern Europe was that while they displayed enormous strategical imagination in overthrowing the communist regimes, they lacked creativity in creating alternative institutions, especially to the capitalist economy. 38. Castoriadis, “The Movements of the Sixties,” 56. 39. Castoriadis, “The Retreat from Autonomy,” 39. 40. Ibid., 43. 41. Ibid., 40. 42. Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut, La Pensée 68: Essai sur l’anti-humanisme contemporain (Paris: Gallimard, 1985), translated as French Philosophy of the Sixties: An Essay in Antihumanism, tr. Mary H.S. Cattani (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990). 43. Castoriadis, “The Movements of the Sixties,” 54. 44. Ibid., 50–51. 45. Ibid., 53. 46. Ibid., 51 (emphasis added). 47. Ibid., 34. 48. It might be objected that Freud too had his reactionary side, and that he can be read against himself for more progressive purposes. But Freud’s theory is much more internally divided than Lacan’s. While it contains its deterministic-biologistic aspects, Freud’s theory has its more open self-formative ones as well. Lacan only has the former. Even more importantly, where Freud champions the value of autonomy, Lacan explicitly ridicules it. 49. Cornelius Castoriadis, “Psychoanalysis: Project and Elucidation.” Crossroads in the Labyrinth, 49. 50. Ibid., 46–116. 51. Castoriadis, “The Movements of the Sixties,” 52. 52. The Freudian left has never successfully dealt with the fact that our desires include an appreciable quantity of destructiveness. 53. Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, 309. 54. Ibid., 311. 55. Cornelius Castoriadis, “Epilegomena to a Theory of the Soul,” Crossroads in the Labyrinth, 33. 56. This is another area where he invites comparison to Hannah Arendt. For she too tried to develop a notion of thinking which was distinguished from philosophy, on the one hand, and the sciences, on the other. See Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, Volume I, “Thinking” (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1978). Habermas has, of course, attempted to develop a more systematic

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alternative to instrumental reason than either Castoriadis or Arendt with his theory of communicative rationality. 57. Castoriadis’s call for “the self-transcendence of reason” should be compared with Adorno’s insistence that philosophy “must strive, by way of the concept, to transcend the concept.” Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, tr. E.B. Ashton, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), 15. 58. As I have pointed out previously, the philosophy of biology (including ecology) and the unconscious are two topics about which the Habermasian program has proven conspicuously unproductive. 59. Hans Joas, “Cornelius Castoriadis’s Political Philosophy,” Pragmatism and Social Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 174. 60. This was the title of Edgar Morin’s obituary for Castoriadis, “Castoriadis, un titan de l’esprit,” Le Monde, 30 December 1997, 1. 61. Sigmund Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia,” S.E. 14.

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