Cornelius Castoriadis was a Greek-French philosopher, social critic, .. In the second part of his Imaginary Institution of Society (titled “The Social Imaginary and the Institution”), he gives the example of set theory. Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity ‘Castoriadis’s The Imaginary Institution of Society is a work of great power and originality. In emphasizing the element of creativity, Castoriadis opens the way for rethinking and practice in terms of the autonomous and explicit self-institution of society.

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Cornelius Castoriadis [a] Greek: His writings on autonomy and social institutions have been influential in both academic and activist circles.

He developed an interest in politics after he came into contact with Marxist thought and philosophy at the age of In Decemberthree years [4] after earning a bachelor’s degree in laweconomics and political science from the School of Law, Economics and Political Sciences of the University of Athens where he met and collaborated with the Neo-Kantian intellectuals Konstantinos DespotopoulosPanagiotis KanellopoulosKonstantinos Tsatsos[92] [] he got aboard the RMS Mataroa[] a New Zealand ocean liner, to go to Paris where he remained permanently to continue his studies under a scholarship offered by the French Institute of Athens.

Inthey experienced their “final disenchantment with Trotskyism”, [] leading them to break away to found the libertarian socialist and councilist group and journal Socialisme ou Barbarie S.

Castoriadis had links with the group known as the Johnson—Forest Tendency until At the same time starting in Novemberhe worked as an economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD untilwhich was also the year when he obtained French citizenship.

Consequently, his writings prior to that date were published pseudonymously, as ” Pierre Chaulieu ,” ” Paul Cardan ,” ” Jean-Marc Coudray ” etc.

Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society – PhilPapers

In his essay iaginary Relations of Production in Russia”, [] Castoriadis developed a critique of the supposed socialist character of the government of the Soviet Union. The central claim of the Stalinist regime at the time was that the mode of production in Russia was socialist, but the mode of distribution was not yet a socialist one since the socialist edification in the country had not yet been completed.

However, according to Castoriadis’ analysis, since the mode of distribution of the social product is inseparable from the mode of production, [] the claim that one can have control over distribution while not having control over production is meaningless. Castoriadis was particularly influential in the turn of the intellectual left during the s against the Soviet Union, because he argued that the Soviet Union was not a communist but rather a bureaucratic capitalist statewhich contrasted with Western imagiary mostly by virtue of its centralized power apparatus.

In the latter years of Socialisme ou BarbarieCastoriadis came imaaginary reject the Marxist theories of economics and of historyespecially in an essay on “Modern Capitalism and Revolution”, first published in Socialisme ou Barbarie in —61 first English translation in by Solidarity. There he concluded that a revolutionary Marxist must choose either to remain Marxist or to remain revolutionary.

In Castoriadis married Piera Aulagniera French psychoanalyst who had undergone psychoanalytic treatment under Jacques Lacan from until Otherness emerges imagjnary part from the activity of the psyche itself. Creating external social institutions that give stable form to what Castoriadis terms the ontological ” magma [] [38] [] of social significations” [22] [] allows the psyche to create stable figures for the self, and to ignore the constant emergence of mental indeterminacy and alterity.

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.

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.

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.

In his 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 instiitution the one-party state bureaucracy but by a ” stratocracy ” [] —a castoriads 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. InCastoriadis and Aulagnier divorced. Inhe joined the libertarian socialist journal Society and Nature established by Takis Fotopoulos as a writer; the magazine also featured such writers as Murray Bookchin and Noam Chomsky.


The Imaginary Institution of Society

He died on 26 December from complications following heart surgery. He was survived by Zoe Christofidi his wife at the time of his deathhis daughter Sparta by an earlier relationship with Jeanine “Rilka” Walter, [] “Comrade Victorine” in the Fourth International[] and Kyveli, a younger insyitution from his marriage with Zoe.

Edgar Morin proposed that Castoriadis’ 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 paideiaor education, that brought full circle our cycle of otherwise compartmentalized knowledge in the arts and sciences. One of Castoriadis’ 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 without strict determinations, [21] but in order to be socially recognized it must be instituted as revolution.

Any knowledge of society and social change can insttitution only by referring to or by positing social imaginary significations. He 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 thus creating neologisms.

When reading Castoriadis, it is helpful to understand what he means by the terms he uses, since he does not redefine vastoriadis terms in every piece where he employs them. The concept of autonomy was central to his early writings, and he continued to elaborate on its meaning, applications, and limits until his death, gaining him the title of “Philosopher of Autonomy. And while every society creates their corne,ius institutions, only the members of autonomous societies are fully aware of the fact, and consider themselves to be the ultimate source of justice.

Most traditional societies did that through religion, claiming their laws were given by God or a mythical ancestor and therefore must be true. An exception to this rule is to be found in Ancient Greece, where the constellation of city-states that spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean, although not all democratic, showed strong signs of autonomy, and during its peak, Athens became fully aware of the fact as seen in Pericles’ Funeral Oration.

The Imaginary Institution of Society by Cornelius Castoriadis

The Greeks different to other societies because they not only started as autonomous but maintained this ideal by challenging their laws on a constant basis while obeying them to the same degree even to the extent of enforcing capital punishmentproving that autonomous societies can indeed exist. Regarding modern societies, Castoriadis notes that while religions have lost part of their normative function, their nature is still heteronomous, only that this time it has rational pretenses.

Capitalism legitimizes itself through ” reason ,” claiming that it makes “rational sense”, [] but Castoriadis observed that all such efforts are ultimately tautologicalin that they can only legitimize a system through the rules defined by the institutkon itself.

So just like the Old Testament claimed that “There is only one God, God,” capitalism defines logic as the maximization of utility and minimization of costs, and then legitimizes itself based on its effectiveness to meet these criteria. Surprisingly, this definition of logic is also shared by Communismwhich despite the fact it stands in seeming opposition, it is the product of the same imaginary, and uses the same kmaginary and categories to casttoriadis the world, principally in material terms and through the process of human labor.

The term “the Imaginary” originates in the writings of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan see the Imaginary and is strongly associated with Castoriadis’ work. To understand it better we might think of its usual context, the imaginary institution soicety 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, imxginary 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 inaginary claims to be pure reason as examined above. That same imaginary is the foundation of its opposing ideology, Communism. 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 is France and England during the industrial revolution with the second being imagnary more liberal than the first. Similarly, in the issue of ecology he observes that the problems facing our environment are only present within the capitalist imaginary that values the continuous expansion of industries.

Cornelius Castoriadis

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. Thus, imaginaries are directly responsible for all aspects of cornelous. The Greeks 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 were ever changing according to 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. Castoriadis also believed that the complex historical processes through which new imaginaries are born are not directly quantifiable by science.

This is because it is through the imaginaries themselves that the categories upon which science is applied are created. In the second part of his Imaginary Institution of Society titled “The Social Imaginary and the Institution”he gives the example of set theorywhich is at the basis of formal logicwhich cannot function without having first defined the “elements” which are to be assigned to sets. The concept of “Chaos” that one encounters frequently in Castoriadis’ work. The word has since been promoted to a scientific termbut Castoriadis is inclined to believe that although the Greeks had sometimes expressed Chaos in that way as a system too complex to be understoodthey mainly referred to it as nothingness.

He then concludes what made the ancient Greek society different to other societies 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 pre-existing 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.

Castoriadis views the political organization of the ancient Greek city states as a model of an autonomous society. The same goes for colonisation since the neighbouring Phoenicianswho had a similar expansion in the Mediterranean, were monarchical till their end. During this time of colonization, however, around the time of Homer’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, instead, for the first time in known history, legislate anew from the ground up.

What also made the Greeks special was the fact that, following the 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 respectively characterized as the creative imaginary and the capitalist 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 insttiution 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 can be opened only through a social and political instktution, a resurgence of the project of individual castoriados collective autonomy, that intsitution to say, of the will to freedom. This fornelius 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 is a very specific period because of the very great density of cultural creation but also because of its very strong subversiveness.

Castoriadis has influenced European especially continental thought in important ways. Being and Creation Fordham University Press. From Wikipedia, the free spciety.

ConstantinopleOttoman Empire present-day Istanbul, Turkey. Catherine May [7] m. Libertarian socialism [12] [11] political philosophy developmental psychology psychoanalysis economics sovietology social criticism ecology philosophy of science philosophy of history ontology epistemology aesthetics.

Neoliberalism and Global Order. Deep Green Resistance Democracy Now! Anarchism Libertarianism Left-libertarianism Marxism Socialism. Castoriadis’ Naturphilosophie castoriadiCosmos and History: From Neo-Marxism to Democratic Theory.

Politics in Black and RedPalgrave Macmillan,pp. Castoriadis’s evident corneliuw to Left-libertarian thinking and his radical break with orthodox Marxist-Leninism London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic,”Democracy” entry by Ingerid S.

III, Cahier 3,p.