A Society Adrift: Interviews and Debates, 1974-1997

A Society Adrift: Interviews and Debates, 1974-1997

A Society Adrift: Interviews and Debates, 1974-1997

A Society Adrift: Interviews and Debates, 1974-1997

Synopsis

This posthumous collection of interviews and occasional papers given by Castoriadis between 1974 and 1997 is a lively, direct introduction to the thinking of a writer who never abandoned his radically critical stance. It provides a clear, handy sum of his political ideas, in advance of theirtimes and profoundly relevant to today's world. For this political thinker and longtime militant (co-founder with Claude Lefort of the revolutionary group Socialisme ou Barbarie), economist, psychoanalyst, and philosopher, two endless interrogations - how to understand the world and life in society - were intertwined with his own life andcombats. An important chapter discusses the history of Socialisme ou Barbarie (1949-1967); in it, Castoriadis presents the views he defended, in that group, on a number of subjects: a critique of Marxism and of the Soviet Union, the bureaucratization of society and of the workers' movement, and the primacyof individual and collective autonomy. Another chapter presents the concept, central to his thinking, of "imaginary significations" as what make a society "cohere." Castoriadis constantly returns to the question of democracy as the never-finished, deliberate creation by the people of societal institutions, analyzing its past and its future in the Western world. He scathingly criticizes "representative" democracy and develops a conception of direct democracyextending to all spheres of social life. He wonders about the chances of achieving freedom and autonomy - those requisites of true democracy - in a world of endless, meaningless accumulation of material goods, where the mechanisms for governing society have disintegrated, the relationship with nature is reduced to one of destructivedomination, and, above all, the population has withdrawn from the public sphere: a world dominated by hobbies and lobbies - "a society adrift."

Excerpt

Why don't you like the term “utopia”?

It isn't that I don't like the term; it's that the precise, original meaning of words is important to me. Utopia means something that has not existed and cannot exist. What I call the revolutionary project, the project of individual and collective autonomy (the two are inseparable) is not a utopia, but a social-historical project susceptible of being achieved, and which has never been shown to be impossible. Its achievement depends only on the lucid activity of individuals and peoples, their understanding, determination and imagination.

The term utopia has recently become fashionable again, to some extent under the influence of Ernst Bloch, a Marxist who had more or less adjusted to the East German regime, and who never criticized Stalinism and the totalitarian bureaucratic regimes. The word utopia was a sort of coverup for him, a way of differentiating himself from “really existing socialism.” Habermas took the term up again more recently, because after the total ruin of Marxism and Marxism-Leninism, it seems to legitimate some vague criticism of the current regime by talking about a utopian socialist transformation, with a whiff of “pre-Marxism.” Actually, it's quite the opposite. No-one (except a neo-Kantian philosopher) can understand how it is possible to criticize what is on the basis of what cannot be. The term utopia is a mystification.

What is the project of individual and collective autonomy?

It is the project of a society in which all citizens have an equal, effective possibility of participating in legislating, governing, and judging, and in the last analysis, in instituting society. That state of affairs is predicated

{A talk with Jocelyn Wolff and Benjamin Quénelle, on December 28, 1992, pub
lished in the magazine Propos (Strasburg), no. 10 (March 1993): 34–40.}

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