Castoriadis? Yes, please!

There is a wealth of good stuff in Cornelius Castoriadis in general and in “The Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy” in particular. That essay, which can be found in The Castoriadis Reader, at times prefigures Ranciere, at others Hardt and Negri, and at others he parallels Freire. And it is all the best stuff in those writers that he resonates with. The part where he prefigures Hardt and Negri struck me particularly, given what I have been writing about recently:

Benjamin Constant did not glorify elections and ‘representation’ as such; he defended them as lesser evils on the grounds that democracy [which CC has defined earlier to be what we call (unnecessarily) “direct democracy”] was impossible in modern nations because of their size and because people were not interested in public affairs. Whatever the value of these arguments, they are based upon the explicit recognition that representation is a principle alien to democracy. This hardly bears discussion. Once permanent ‘representatives’ are present, political authority, activity, and initiative are expropriated from the body of citizens and transferred to the restricted body of ‘representatives’, who also use it to consolidate their position and create the conditions whereby the next ‘election’ becomes biased in many ways (276).

“The idea of a ‘State’ as an institution distinct and separated from the body of citizens,” he says later (278), “would not have been understandable to a Greek.”

If we work hard at it, maybe one day we too can achieve this same inability to understand.

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