GEZERLIS, Alexandros. "Castoriadis and the Project of Autonomy. A Review of The Imaginary Institution of Society

MARX, Karl (1818-1883)imaginaryCASTORIADIS, Cornelius (1922-1997). PhilosopheHEGEL, G. W. M. (1770-1831). Philosopheautonomy

Source: "Castoriadis and the Project of Autonomy. A Review of The Imaginary Institution of Society." Democracy & Nature: The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, 7:3 (November 2001): 469-88.


This review article may appear heterogeneous. In a sense, it is, and some explanation regarding the reasons for its composition might be useful to the reader. [2]
Cornelius Castoriadis was undoubtedly the most significant theorist of autonomy in the second half of the last century. However, we consider the way his work has been received since his death in 1997 to be worrying for all those who believe that the present multi-dimensional crisis our society (and nature) is facing can be explained only if we refer to its systemic causes i.e. to the concentration of power created by the market economy system and representative “democracy”. Let it be stressed that this is not an exaggeration. Since Castoriadis’ death, many articles on his work have been written, and conferences have been organised to examine the importance of his thinking. Even though this may sound un-alarming, the truth is different: this “celebration” of Castoriadis’ work (while its radical political content is effectively neutralised) by the academia has serious political “side-effects”.
Thus, a writer who was considered to be annoying (or, at least, “too radical for the academia taste”) for the most part of his life is now being considered a “brilliant author”, and many postmodern writers, particularly of the post-Marxist variety, are classifying him as a kind of ‘postmodernist’. Such distortions, are especially popular now that Castoriadis cannot reply to his critics, reaching such an extent that there have even been analyses that compare Castoriadis’ philosophical work with that of Heidegger (!), while others maintain that its political content is comparable to that of Giddens (!).
For all these reasons, we are going to examine Castoriadis’ intellectual output – focusing on its radical political consequences (the concept of autonomy) - in an attempt to not only clarify what Castoriadis believed on various issues, but even more importantly, to explain how this output can constitute a fundamental element for the development of a new liberatory project. This we are going to do, using as a point of reference his magnum opus The Imaginary Institution of Society, but not relying solely upon it (hence the heterogeneity).

[1Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, (MIT Press, Massachusetts, 1998).

[2It is more than obvious that we are paraphrasing here the opening sentence of the author’s preface in The Imaginary Institution of Society