Cornelius Castoriadis

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Cornelius Castoriadis in 1990.

Cornelius Castoriadis (March 11, 1922 – December 26, 1997) was a Greek-French philosopher.


  • Either history is really governed by laws, and in that case a truly human-activity is impossible, except perhaps in a technical sense; or human beings really make their own history, and then the task of theory will not be directed to discovering 'laws', but to the elucidation of the conditions with in which human activity unfolds.
  • There is no proper meaning … every expression is essentially tropic.
    • Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Cambridge, Mass. 1987) p. 348 (doi:10.1093/camqtly/bfs004).

No God, No Caesar, No Tribune!

  • Rousseau already said this: the English believe that they are free because they elect representatives every five years, but they are free only one day every five years: the day of the election. And even that isn’t true. The election is rigged, not because the ballot boxes are being stuffed, but because the options are determined in advance. No one asked the people what they wanted to vote on. They are told, “vote for or against the Maastricht Treaty,” for example. But who made the Maastricht Treaty? It wasn’t us. There is Aristotle’s wonderful phrase responding to the question, “Who is the citizen?”: “The citizen is someone who is able to govern and to be governed.” Are there forty million citizens in France at the moment? Why wouldn’t they be able to govern? Because all political life aims precisely at making them forget how to govern. It aims at convincing them that there are experts to whom matters must be entrusted. There is thus a political counter-education. Whereas people should accustom themselves to exercising all sorts of responsibilities and taking initiatives, they accustom themselves to following the options that others present to them or voting for those options. And since people are far from being stupid, the result is that they believe in it less and less, and they become cynical, in a kind of political apathy.

Socialism or Barbarism

  • A century after the Communist Manifesto was written and thirty years after the Russian Revolution, the revolutionary movement, which has witnessed great victories and suffered profound defeats, seems somehow to have disappeared. Like a river approaching the sea, it has broken up into rivulets, run into swamps and marshes, and finally dried up on the sands.
  • Despite their noisy pretensions, all of them, the "Fourth International," anarchists, and "ultraleftists," are but historical memories, minute scabs on the wounds of the working class, destined to be shed as the new skin readies itself in the depths of its tissues.
  • Only one force can arise today to challenge the continuing decay and increasing barbarism of all regimes based upon exploitation: that of the producing class, the socialist proletariat. Constantly increasing in numbers through the industrialization of the world economy, ever more concentrated in the process of production, trained through misery and oppression to revolt against the ruling classes having had the chance to experience the results of its own "leadership," the working class, despite an increasing number of difficulties and obstacles, has ripened for revolution. The obstacles confronting it are not insurmountable. The whole history of the past century is there to prove that the proletariat represents, for the first time in human history, not only a class in revolt against exploitation but a class positively capable of overthrowing the exploiters and of organizing a free an d humane society. Its victory, and the fate of humanity, are in its hands.

The Imaginary Institution of Society (1975)

Original: L'Institution imaginaire de la société, Seuil, 1975; quotations are taken from the translation by Kathleen Blamey (The Imaginary Institution of Society, MIT Press, Cambridge 1997 [1987]. ISBN 0-262-53155-0.
  • Reification, the essential tendency of capitalism, can never be wholly realized. If it were, if the system were actually able to change individuals into things moved only by economic “forces,” it would collapse not in the long run, but immediately. The struggle of people against reification is, just as much as the tendency towards reification, the condition for the functioning of capitalism. Capitalism can function only by continually drawing upon the genuinely human activity of those subject to it, while at the same time trying to level and dehumanize them as much as possible.
    • p. 16.
  • Je désire pouvoir, avec tous les autres, savoir ce qui se passe dans la société, contrôler l’étendue et la qualité de l’information qui m’est donnée. Je demande de pouvoir participer directement à toutes les décisions sociales qui peuvent affecter mon existence, ou le cours général du monde où je vis. Je n’accepte pas que mon sort soit décidé, jour après jour, par des gens dont les projets me sont hostiles ou simplement inconnus, et pour qui nous sommes, moi et tous les autres, que des chiffres, dans un plan ou des pions sur un échiquier et qu’à la limite, ma vie et ma mort soient entre les mains de gens dont je sais qu’ils sont nécessairement aveugles.
    • I ask to be able to participate directly in all the social decisions that may affect my existence, or the general course of the world in which I live. I do not accept the fact that my lot is decided, day after day, by people whose projects are hostile to me or simply unknown to me, and for whom we, that is I and everyone else, are only numbers in a general plan or pawns on a chessboard, and that, ultimately, my life and death are in the hands of people whom I know to be, necessarily, blind.
    • p. 92.
  • Wo Ich bin, soll Es auftauchen.
    • Where Ego is, Id must spring forth.
    • p. 104.

About Castoriadis

  • Castoriadis has given this tradition [the tradition of praxis philosophy] new life by introducing a unique linguistic turn. His work has a central place among the new departures in praxis philosophy that have evolved since the mid-1960s, especially in Eastern Europe (in Prague, Budapest, Zagreb, and Belgrade), and that for a decade enlivened the discussions at the Summer School of Korčula. It is the most original, ambitious, and reflective attempt to think through the liberating mediation of history, society, external and internal nature once again as praxis.
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