Cornelius Castoriadis
Overview
 
Cornelius Castoriadis was a Greek
Greeks
The Greeks, also known as the Hellenes , are a nation and ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus and neighboring regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world....

 philosopher, social critic, economist
Economist
An economist is a professional in the social science discipline of economics. The individual may also study, develop, and apply theories and concepts from economics and write about economic policy...

, psychoanalyst, author of The Imaginary Institution of Society, and co-founder of the Socialisme ou Barbarie
Socialisme ou Barbarie
Socialisme ou Barbarie was a French-based radical libertarian socialist group of the post-World War II period . It existed from 1948 until 1965...

group.
Castoriadis was born in Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 and his family moved in 1922 to Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

. He developed an interest in politics
Politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

 after he came into contact with Marxist thought and philosophy
Marxism
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

 at the age of 13. His first active involvement in politics occurred during the Metaxas Regime (1937), when he joined the Athenian Communist Youth (Kommounistiki Neolaia).
Encyclopedia
Cornelius Castoriadis was a Greek
Greeks
The Greeks, also known as the Hellenes , are a nation and ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus and neighboring regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world....

 philosopher, social critic, economist
Economist
An economist is a professional in the social science discipline of economics. The individual may also study, develop, and apply theories and concepts from economics and write about economic policy...

, psychoanalyst, author of The Imaginary Institution of Society, and co-founder of the Socialisme ou Barbarie
Socialisme ou Barbarie
Socialisme ou Barbarie was a French-based radical libertarian socialist group of the post-World War II period . It existed from 1948 until 1965...

group.

Early life in Athens

Castoriadis was born in Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 and his family moved in 1922 to Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

. He developed an interest in politics
Politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

 after he came into contact with Marxist thought and philosophy
Marxism
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

 at the age of 13. His first active involvement in politics occurred during the Metaxas Regime (1937), when he joined the Athenian Communist Youth (Kommounistiki Neolaia). In 1941 he joined the Communist Party (KKE), only to leave one year later in order to become an active Trotskyist. The latter action resulted in his persecution by both the Germans
Germans
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

 and the Communist Party. In 1944 he wrote his first essays on social science and Max Weber
Max Weber
Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself...

, which he published in a magazine named "Archive of Sociology and Ethics" (Archeion Koinoniologias kai Ithikis). During the December 1944 violent clashes between the communist-led ELAS
ELAS
ELAS may refer to:*The Greek People's Liberation Army, World War II Greek Resistance group*The Equitable Life Assurance Society, a life insurance company in the United Kingdom...

 and the Papandreou
George Papandreou (senior)
Georgios Papandreou was a Greek politician, the founder of the Papandreou political dynasty. He served three terms as Prime Minister of Greece...

 government, aided by British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 troops, Castoriadis heavily criticized the actions of the KKE. After earning degrees in political science
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

, economics
Economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

 and law
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 from the University of Athens, he sailed to Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, where he remained permanently, to continue his studies under a scholarship offered by the French Institute.

Paris and leftist activity

Once in Paris, Castoriadis joined the Trotskyist Parti Communiste Internationaliste
Internationalist Communist Party
The Internationalist Communist Party was a Trotskyist political party in France. It was the name taken by the French Section of the Fourth International from its foundation until a name change in the late 1960s....

, but broke with it by 1948. He then joined Claude Lefort
Claude Lefort
Claude Lefort was a French philosopher and activist.He was politically active by 1942 under the influence of his tutor, the phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty...

 and others in founding the libertarian socialist group and the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie
Socialisme ou Barbarie
Socialisme ou Barbarie was a French-based radical libertarian socialist group of the post-World War II period . It existed from 1948 until 1965...

(1949–1966), which included Jean-François Lyotard
Jean-François Lyotard
Jean-François Lyotard was a French philosopher and literary theorist. He is well known for his articulation of postmodernism after the late 1970s and the analysis of the impact of postmodernity on the human condition...

  and Guy Debord
Guy Debord
Guy Ernest Debord was a French Marxist theorist, writer, filmmaker, member of the Letterist International, founder of a Letterist faction, and founding member of the Situationist International . He was also briefly a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie.-Early Life:Guy Debord was born in Paris in 1931...

 as members for a while, and profoundly influenced the French intellectual left
Left-wing politics
In politics, Left, left-wing and leftist generally refer to support for social change to create a more egalitarian society...

. Castoriadis had links with the group around C.L.R. James until 1958. Also strongly influenced by Castoriadis and Socialisme ou Barbarie were the British group and journal Solidarity
Solidarity (UK)
Solidarity was a small libertarian socialist organisation from 1960 to 1992 in the United Kingdom. It published a magazine of the same name. Solidarity was close to council communism in its prescriptions and was known for its emphasis on workers' self-organisation and for its radical...

and Maurice Brinton
Maurice Brinton
Maurice Brinton was the pen name under which Christopher Agamemnon Pallis wrote and translated for the British libertarian socialist group Solidarity from 1960 until the early 1980s....

.

Career as economist and distancing from Marxism

At the same time, he worked as an economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is an international economic organisation of 34 countries founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade...

 until 1970, which was also the year when he obtained French citizenship
Citizenship
Citizenship is the state of being a citizen of a particular social, political, national, or human resource community. Citizenship status, under social contract theory, carries with it both rights and responsibilities...

. Consequently, his writings prior to that date were published pseudonymously, as Pierre Chaulieu, Paul Cardan, etc. Castoriadis was particularly influential in the turn of the intellectual left during the 1950s against the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, because he argued that the Soviet Union was not a communist, but rather a bureaucratic state, which contrasted with Western powers mostly by virtue of its centralized power apparatus. His work in the OECD substantially helped his analyses. In the latter years of Socialisme ou Barbarie, Castoriadis came to reject the Marxist theories of economics
Marxian economics
Marxian economics refers to economic theories on the functioning of capitalism based on the works of Karl Marx. Adherents of Marxian economics, particularly in academia, distinguish it from Marxism as a political ideology and sociological theory, arguing that Marx's approach to understanding the...

 and of history
Historical materialism
Historical materialism is a methodological approach to the study of society, economics, and history, first articulated by Karl Marx as "the materialist conception of history". Historical materialism looks for the causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans...

, especially in an essay on Modern Capitalism and Revolution (first published in Socialisme ou Barbarie, 1960–61; first London Solidarity English translation, 1963).

Psychoanalysis

When Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made prominent contributions to psychoanalysis and philosophy, and has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced France's...

's disputes with the International Psychoanalytical Association
International Psychoanalytical Association
The International Psychoanalytical Association is an association including 12,000 psychoanalysts as members and works with 70 constituent organizations. It was founded in 1910 by Sigmund Freud, on an idea proposed by Sándor Ferenczi...

 led to a split and the formation of the École Freudienne de Paris
École Freudienne de Paris
The École Freudienne de Paris was a French psychoanalytic professional body formed in 1964, of which Jacques Lacan was a founding member....

 in 1964, Castoriadis became a member (as a non-practitioner). In 1969 Castoriadis split from the EFP with the "Quatrième groupe". He trained as a psychoanalyst and began to practice in 1974.

In his 1975 work, L'institution imaginaire de la société (Imaginary Institution of Society), and in Les carrefours du labyrinthe (Crossroads in the Labyrinth), published in 1978, Castoriadis began to develop his distinctive understanding of historical change as the emergence of irrecoverable otherness that must always be socially instituted and named in order to be recognized. Otherness emerges in part from the activity of the psyche itself. Creating external social institutions that give stable form to what Castoriadis terms the magma of social significations allows the psyche to create stable figures for the self, and to ignore the constant emergence of mental indeterminacy and alterity
Alterity
Alterity is a philosophical term meaning "otherness", strictly being in the sense of the other of two . In the phenomenological tradition it is usually understood as the entity in contrast to which an identity is constructed, and it implies the ability to distinguish between self and not-self, and...

.

For Castoriadis, self-examination, as in the ancient Greek tradition, could draw upon the resources of modern psychoanalysis. Autonomous individuals—the essence of an autonomous society—must continuously examine themselves and engage in critical reflection. He writes:
...psychoanalysis can and should make a basic contribution to a politics of autonomy. For, each person's self-understanding is a necessary condition for autonomy. One cannot have an autonomous society that would fail to turn back upon itself, that would not interrogate itself about its motives, its reasons for acting, its deep-seated [profondes] tendencies. Considered in concrete terms, however, society doesn't exist outside the individuals making it up. The self-reflective activity of an autonomous society depends essentially upon the self-reflective activity of the humans who form that society.Figures of the Thinkable, p. 151


Castoriadis was not calling for every individual to undergo psychoanalysis, per se. Rather, by reforming education and political systems, individuals would be increasingly capable of critical self- and social reflexion. He offers: "if psychoanalytic practice has a political meaning, it is solely to the extent that it tries, as far as it possibly can, to render the individual autonomous, that is to say, lucid concerning her desire and concerning reality, and responsible for her
acts: holding herself accountable for what she does."

Sovietologist

In his 1980 Facing The War text, he took the view that Russia had become the primary world military power. To sustain this, in the context of the visible economic inferiority of the Soviet Union in the civilian sector, he proposed that the society may no longer be dominated by the party-state bureaucracy but by a "stratocracy" - a separate and dominant military sector with expansionist designs on the world. He further argued that this meant there was no internal class dynamic which could lead to social revolution within Russian society and that change could only occur through foreign intervention.

Later life

In 1980, he joined the faculty of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
The École des hautes études en sciences sociales is a leading French institution for research and higher education, a Grand Établissement. Its mission is research and research training in the social sciences, including the relationship these latter maintain with the natural and life sciences...

.

On December 26, 1997, he died from complications following heart surgery.

Thought

Edgar Morin
Edgar Morin
Edgar Morin is a French philosopher and sociologist born Edgar Nahoum in Paris on July 8, 1921. He is of Judeo-Spanish origin. He is known for the transdisciplinarity of his works.- Biography :...

 proposed that Castoriadis's work will be remembered for its remarkable continuity and coherence as well as for its extraordinary breadth which was "encyclopaedic" in the original Greek sense, for it offered us a "paideia
Paideia
In ancient Greek, the word n. paedeia or paideia [ to educate + - -IA suffix1] means child-rearing, education. It was a system of instruction in Classical Athens in which students were given a well-rounded cultural education. Subjects included rhetoric, grammar, mathematics, music, philosophy,...

," or education, that brought full circle our cycle of otherwise compartmentalized knowledge in the arts and sciences. Castoriadis wrote essays on mathematics, physics, biology, anthropology, psychoanalysis, linguistics, society, economics, politics, philosophy, and art.

One of Castoriadis's many important contributions to social theory was the idea that social change involves radical discontinuities that cannot be understood in terms of any determinate causes or presented as a sequence of events. Change emerges through the social imaginary
Imaginary (sociology)
The imaginary, or social imaginary is the set of values, institutions, laws, and symbols common to a particular social group and the corresponding society....

 without determinations, but in order to be socially recognized must be instituted as revolution. Any knowledge of society and social change “can exist only by referring to, or by positing, singular entities…which figure and presentify social imaginary significations.”

Castoriadis used traditional terms as much as possible, though consistently redefining them. Further, some of his terminology changed throughout the later part of his career, with the terms gaining greater consistency but breaking from their traditional meaning (neologisms). When reading Castoriadis, it is helpful to understand what he means by the terms he uses, since he does not redefine the terms in every piece where he employs them. Here are a few.

Autonomy/Heteronomy

The concept of autonomy
Autonomy
Autonomy is a concept found in moral, political and bioethical philosophy. Within these contexts, it is the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision...

 appears to be a key theme in his early postwar writings and he continued to elaborate on its meaning, applications and limits until his death, gaining him the title of "Philosopher of Autonomy". The word itself is of Greek origin, with auto
Auto
Auto, from Greek αὐτο- auto- "self, one's own", may refer to:*An automobile*An auto rickshaw*Auto, an Israeli car magazine*Short for automatic* Auto , a form of Portuguese dramatic play...

meaning 'by-itself' and nomos
Nomos (Sociology)
In sociology, a nomos is a socially constructed ordering of experience. The term derives from the Greek νόμος, and it refers, not only to explicit laws, but to all of the normal rules and forms people take for granted in their day to day activities...

meaning law, defining the condition of creating one's own laws, whether as an individual or a whole society. Castoriadis noticed that while all societies create their own institutions (laws, traditions and behaviors), autonomous societies are those in which their members are aware of this fact, and explicitly self-institute (αυτο-νομούνται). In contrast, the members of heteronomous societies (hetero = others) attribute their imaginaries
Imaginary (sociology)
The imaginary, or social imaginary is the set of values, institutions, laws, and symbols common to a particular social group and the corresponding society....

 to some extra-social authority (i.e. God, ancestors, historical necessity).

This relates to what he identified as the need of societies to legitimise their laws, or explain why their laws are good and just. Tribal societies for example did that through religion, believing that the laws where given to them by a super-natural ancestor or god and so must be true. Capitalist societies legitimise their system (capitalism
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

) through 'reason', claiming that their system makes logical sense. Castoriadis observes that nearly all such efforts are tautological
Tautology (logic)
In logic, a tautology is a formula which is true in every possible interpretation. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein first applied the term to redundancies of propositional logic in 1921; it had been used earlier to refer to rhetorical tautologies, and continues to be used in that alternate sense...

 in that they legitimise a system through rules defined by the system itself. So just like the Old Testament and the Koran claim that 'There is only one God, God', capitalist societies first define what logic is: the maximization of utility and minimization of cost, and then base their system on that logic.

As he explains in one of his lectures in the Greek village of Leonidio in 1984, many newly founded societies start from an autonomous state which is usually in the form of direct democracy, like the town hall meetings during the American Independence and the local assemblies of the Paris Commune
Paris Commune
The Paris Commune was a government that briefly ruled Paris from March 18 to May 28, 1871. It existed before the split between anarchists and Marxists had taken place, and it is hailed by both groups as the first assumption of power by the working class during the Industrial Revolution...

. What they end up with however is a form of governance by which, the citizens, do not legislate directly but delegate this power to a group of experts who remain in power, largely unchecked by official means, for a number of years. The ancient Greeks on the other hand developed a system of continuous autonomy where the people (demos) voted constantly on matters of government and law and where the elected rulers, the Archons
Archon of Athens
This is a list of the eponymous archons of Athens.-Background:The archon was the chief magistrate in many Greek cities, but in Athens there was a council of archons which comprised a form of executive government...

, were mainly asked to enforce them. In such a system, courts of law were governed by common citizens who were appointed to the degree of judge briefly and army generals were voted in by the people and had to convince them of the correctness of their decisions. Taking some poetic licence to expand this point he says that in this system, the president of the national treasury could have been a Phoenician slave, since he would only be asked to implement the rulings of the demos.

Castoriadis's writings delve at length into the philosophy and politics of the ancient Greeks who, as a true autonomous society knew that laws are man-made and legitimization tautological. They challenged these laws on a constant basis and yet obeyed them to the same degree (even to the extent of enforcing capital punishment) proving that autonomous societies can indeed exist.

Imaginary

This term originates in the writings of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made prominent contributions to psychoanalysis and philosophy, and has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced France's...

 and is strongly associated with Castoriades' work. To understand it better we might think of its usual context, the "imaginary foundation of societies". By that, Castoriadis means that societies, together with their laws and legalizations, are founded upon a basic conception of the world and man's place in it. Traditional societies had elaborate imaginaries, expressed through various creation myths, by which they explained how the world came to be and how it is sustained. Capitalism did away with this mythic imaginary by replacing it with what it claims to be pure reason (as examined above). That same imaginary is, interestingly enough, the foundation of its opposing ideology, Communism
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

. By that measure he observes, first in his main criticism of Marxism
Marxism
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

, titled the Imaginary Institution of Society, as well as speaking in Brussels, that these two systems are more closely related than was previously thought, since they share the same industrial revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 type imaginary: that of a rational society where man's welfare is materially measurable and infinitely improvable through the expansion of industries and advancements in science. In this respect Marx failed to understand that technology is not, as he claimed, the main drive of social change, since we have historical examples where societies possessing near identical technologies formed very different relations to them. An example given in the book are France and England during the industrial revolution with the second being much more liberal than the first.

Similarly, In the issue of ecology he observes that the problem facing our environment are only present within the capitalist imaginary that values the continuous expansion of industries. Trying to solve it by changing or managing these industries better might fail, since it essentially acknowledges this imaginary as real, thus perpetuating the problem.

So, imaginaries are directly responsible for all aspects of culture. The Greeks for had an imaginary by which the world stems from Chaos and the ancient Jews an imaginary by which the world stems from the will of a pre-existing entity, God. The former developed therefore a system of immediate democracy where the laws where ever changing according the people's will while the second a theocratic system according to which man is in an eternal quest to understand and enforce the will of God.

Chaos

This is a concept that one encounters frequently in Castoriades work (in all the references above for example). According to that, the Greeks developed an imaginary by which the world is a product of Chaos
Chaos (cosmogony)
Chaos refers to the formless or void state preceding the creation of the universe or cosmos in the Greek creation myths, more specifically the initial "gap" created by the original separation of heaven and earth....

, as narrated by both Homer and Hesiod
Hesiod
Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

. The word has since been promoted to a scientific term
Chaos theory
Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including physics, economics, biology, and philosophy. Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the...

, but Castoriadis is inclined to believe that although the Greeks had sometimes expressed Chaos in that way (as a system too complex to be understood), they mainly referred to it as nothingness. He then concludes what made the ancient Greeks different to other nations is exactly that core imaginary, which essentially says, that if the world is created out of nothing then man can indeed, in his brief time on earth, model it as he sees fit, without trying to conform on some preexisting order like a divine law. He contrasted that sharply to the Biblical imaginary, which sustains all Judaic societies to this day, according to which, in the beginning of the world there was a God, a willing entity and man's position therefore is to understand that Will and act accordingly.

The Ancient Greeks and the Modern West

Castoriadis views the political organization of the ancient Greek city states as a model of an autonomous society. He argues that their direct democracy was not based, as many assume, in the existence of slaves and/or the geography of Greece, which forced the creation of small city states, since many other societies had these preconditions but did not create democratic systems. Same goes for colonisation since the neighbouring Phoenicia
Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

ns, who had a similar expansion in the Mediterranean, where monarchical till their end. During this time of colonisation however, around the time of Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

's Epic poems, we observe for the first time that the Greeks instead of transferring their mother city's social system to the newly established colony, they, for the first time in known history, legislate anew from the ground up. What also made the Greeks special was the fact that, following above, they kept this system as a perpetual autonomy which led to direct democracy.

This phenomenon of autonomy is again present in the emergence of the states of northern Italy during the Renaissance, again as a product of small independent merchants.

He sees a tension in the modern West between, on the one hand, the potentials for autonomy and creativity and the proliferation of "open societies" and, on the other hand, the spirit-crushing force of capitalism. These are characterized as the capitalist imaginary and the creative imaginary:
I think that we are at a crossing in the roads of history, history in the grand sense. One road already appears clearly laid out, at least in its general orientation. That's the road of the loss of meaning, of the repetition of empty forms, of conformism, apathy, irresponsibility, and
cynicism at the same time as it is that of the tightening grip of the capitalist imaginary of unlimited expansion of "rational mastery," pseudorational pseudomastery, of an unlimited expansion of consumption for the sake of consumption, that is to say, for nothing, and of a technoscience that has become autonomized along its path and that is evidently involved in the domination of this
capitalist imaginary. ¶ The other road should be opened: it is not at all laid out. It can be opened only through a social and political awakening, a resurgence of the project of individual and
collective autonomy, that is to say, of the will to freedom. This would require an awakening of the imagination and of the creative imaginary.


He argues that, in the last two centuries, ideas about autonomy again come to the fore: "This extraordinary profusion reaches a sort of pinnacle during the two centuries stretching between 1750 and 1950. This is a very specific period because of the very great density of cultural creation but also because of its very strong
subversiveness."

Lasting Influence

Castoriadis has influenced European (especially continental) thought in important ways. His interventions in sociological and political theory have resulted in some of the most well-known writing to emerge from the continent (especially in the figure of Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas is a German sociologist and philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theory on the concepts of 'communicative rationality' and the 'public sphere'...

, who often can be seen to be writing against Castoriadis). Sociologist Hans Joas
Hans Joas
Hans Joas is a German sociologist and social theorist.Joas is the Director of the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the University of Erfurt and Professor of Sociology and a Member of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. He currently serves as...

 attempted in the early 1980s to bring Castoriadis' work and thought to an anglophone audience, as did others, with little success. However, the publication in 2009 of Australian Jeff Klooger's Castoriadis: Psyche, Society, Autonomy by the academic publisher Brill marks a significant advance in the area of English-language studies of Castoriadis's main ideas. In the last two decades there has been a growing interest in Castoriadis' work centred in Australia, stemming from Castoriadis' association with the Melbourne-based journal Thesis Eleven
Thesis Eleven
Thesis Eleven is a peer-reviewed academic journal that publishes papers four times a year in the field of Sociology. The journal's editors are Peter Beilharz , Trevor Hogan and Peter Murphy...

 (which is named for the eleventh and final of Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

's Theses on Feuerbach
Theses on Feuerbach
The "Theses on Feuerbach" are eleven short philosophical notes written by Karl Marx in 1845. They outline a critique of the ideas of Marx's fellow Young Hegelian philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach...

, which simply states "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.") The journal published many of his essays in English translation for the first time. A number of books on Castoriadis by Australian scholars are forthcoming, the first of these being the work by Jeff Klooger mentioned above, to date the only book-length study of Castoriadis to have appeared in English.

Major publications

  • Postscript on Insignificance: Dialogues with Cornelius Castoriadis. (ed./trans.: Gabriel Rockhill
    Gabriel Rockhill
    Gabriel Rockhill is a Franco-American philosopher and cultural critic. He is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Villanova University and Directeur de programme at the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris, France...

     and John V. Garner) Continuum Books, London 2011. 160 pp. ISBN 978-1-4411-3960-3. (hb.)
  • The Imaginary Institution of Society. (trans.:Kathleen Blamey) MIT Press, Cambridge 1998. 432 pp. ISBN 0-262-53155-0. (pb.)
  • The Castoriadis Reader (ed./trans.: David Ames Curtis) Blackwell Publisher, Oxford 1997. 470 pp. ISBN 1-55786-704-6. (pb.)
  • World In Fragments. Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination. (ed./trans.: David Ames Curtis) Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA 1997. 507 pp. ISBN 0-8047-2763-5.
  • Political and Social Writings. Volume 1: 1946-1955. From the Critique of Bureaucracy to the Positive Content of Socialism. (ed./trans.: David Ames Curtis) University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 1988. 348 pp. ISBN 0-8166-1617-5. (PSW, vol. 1)
  • Political and Social Writings. Volume 2: 1955-1960. From the Workers' Struggle Against Bureaucracy to Revolution in the Age of Modern Capitalism. (ed./trans.: David Ames Curtis) University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 1988. 363 pp. ISBN 0-8166-1619-1.
  • Political and Social Writings. Volume 3: 1961-1979. Recommencing the Revolution: From Socialism to the Autonomous Society. (ed./trans.: David Ames Curtis) University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 1993. 405 pp. ISBN 0-8166-2168-3.
  • Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy. Essays in Political Philosophy. (ed. David Ames Curtis) Oxford University Press, New York/Oxford 1991. 306 pp. ISBN 0-19-506963-3.
  • Crossroads in the Labyrinth. (trans.: M.H.Ryle/K.Soper) MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1984. 345 pp.
  • On Plato's Statesman. (trans.: David Ames Curtis) Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA 2002. 227 pp.
  • Le Contenu du Socialisme. Paris 1979. (fr.) (in: PSW, vol.1)
  • The Crisis of Western Societies. TELOS
    TELOS (journal)
    Telos is an academic journal published in the United States. It was founded in May 1968 to provide the New Left with a coherent theoretical perspective. It sought to expand the Husserlian diagnosis of "the crisis of European sciences" to prefigure a particular program of social reconstruction...

     53 (Fall 1982). New York: Telos Press
  • La Brèche: vingt ans après. (Réédition du livre de 1968 complété par de nouveaux textes). Paris 1988. (fr.)
  • Figures of the Thinkable. (trans.: Helen Arnold) Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2007. 304 pp.
  • A Society Adrift. Interviews and Debates, 1974-1997 (trans.: Helen Arnold) Fordham University Press, New York, 2010. 259 pp.

Further reading

  • Thesis Eleven (Journal), Special Issue 'Cornelius Castoriadis', Number 49, May 1997. Sage Publications, London. ISSN 0725-5136
  • Maurice Brinton
    Maurice Brinton
    Maurice Brinton was the pen name under which Christopher Agamemnon Pallis wrote and translated for the British libertarian socialist group Solidarity from 1960 until the early 1980s....

    : For Workers' Power. Selected Wrintings. (ed. David Goodway
    David Goodway
    David Goodway is a British historian and a respected international authority on anarchism and libertarian socialism. A student of Eric Hobsbawm, Goodway specialised in the history of Chartism in London and his work London Chartism is an acknowledged classic work on the subject...

    ) AK Press Edinburgh/Oakland 2004. ISBN 1-904859-07-0.

Obituaries, biographies

  • Cornelius Castoriadis 1922-1997 at the Anarchist Federation website libcom.org, 27 September 2003
  • Symposium: Cornelius Castoriadis, 1922–1997, obituaries and profiles by Axel Honneth
    Axel Honneth
    Axel Honneth is a professor of philosophy at the University of Frankfurt, Germany and director of the Institut für Sozialforschung in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.-Biography:...

    , Edgar Morin
    Edgar Morin
    Edgar Morin is a French philosopher and sociologist born Edgar Nahoum in Paris on July 8, 1921. He is of Judeo-Spanish origin. He is known for the transdisciplinarity of his works.- Biography :...

    , and Joel Whitebook, Radical Philosophy
    Radical Philosophy
    Radical Philosophy is a British academic journal of critical theory and continental philosophy, appearing six times a year. It was established in 1972 with the purpose of providing a forum for the theoretical work which was emerging in the wake of the radical movements of the 1960s, in philosophy...

    magazine, July/August 1998 (access restricted to subscribers)
  • "Obituary: Castoriadis and the democratic tradition" by Takis Fotopoulos
    Takis Fotopoulos
    Takis Fotopoulos , born , is a political philosopher and economist who founded the inclusive democracy movement. He is noted for his synthesis of the classical democracy with the libertarian socialism and the radical currents in the new social movements...

    ,
    Democracy & Nature
    Democracy & Nature
    Democracy & Nature was a theoretical journal founded in 1992 by Takis Fotopoulos. Initially launched as Society and Nature, it was renamed Democracy & Nature in 1995. Four volumes of three issues each were released by Aigis Publications in the period from 1992 to 1999. From 1999 to 2003, five...

    ", Vol. 4 No. 1 (1997)

Bibliographies; analyses; critiques

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