The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY, vol.2, no.1, (September 2005)


Plato and Castoriadis: the concealment and the unravelling of democracy



NOTE of the EC, September 2009: The version of Oikonomou's article published here is not identical with the version published in D&N Vol. 9, No. 2 at:

The reason for this discrepancy is that the author submitted a different final version of the article to the Editor of D&N than the one he submitted to the publisher, after making significant changes at the proofs stage for which he did not inform the Editor, as he was obliged to do, as this is normal practice. Yet, the author made repeated presentations to the EC of IJID, four years after the publication of this version of the article, demanding the replacement of the present version with the unauthorized  by the Editor version, which was published in D&N! Clearly, this was not only unjustifiable in view of what was noted above, but also non-feasible given that once an article is published in this Journal and indexed by the indexing bodies no further changes are possible to its original form, particularly so as articles are published now in .pdf format

NOTE of the EC, November 2009.
Despite the fact that the version published in the print edition of D&N, as stated above, was unauthorized by the editor, in a spirit of conciliation, we agreed nevertheless to reproduce this version in the electronic form of D&N at
However, following a deceitful attempt by the  editor of Agora International David Ames Curtis' (well known for his past defamatory attacks against our journal) to completely distort the facts in the CC Agora Newsletter dated November 2009, confirming  once again the main function of CC Agora International to misinform readers according to its editor's  objectives, the EC decided the following: a) to withdraw the unauthorized version from the electronic form of D&N b) to denounce Y. Oikonomou, the author, who,  dishonestly, allowed Curtis to publish the following deceitful announcement.

"Plato and Castoriadis: The Concealment and the Unravelling [sic] of Democracy." /The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy/, 2:1(September 2005). 15pp. [N.B.: This 2005 internet reprint, which now includes a "Note of the EC, September 2009" blaming the author for the "discrepancy" between the /D&N/ and the /IJID/ versions, altered the originally published title without the consent or knowledge of the author, included a final footnote that incorrectly appears as if it were the author's, and made other unauthorized alterations not indicated as such. /IJID/ now reports that the author has "repudiate[d]" the /IJID/ version, the /IJID/ terming the /D&N/ version "the unauthorized by the Editor version."



Abstract: In the first part of the paper  Castoriadis' critical analysis of Plato's Statesman[1] is discussed and the main points of this critique, chiefly the concealment of  politics and democracy are presented.  The second part (which is followed by a short comparison of the projects of autonomy and Inclusive Democracy) briefly deals with Castoriadis’ critique of contemporary political practice and theory,  and depicts the unravelling of politics and of democracy-- views which are particularly significant for us today.


Castoriadis’ analysis of Plato’s Statesman 

Cornelius Castoriadis’ recount with the founder of Western metaphysics is constant and abiding and in many of his texts Castoriadis challenges Plato’s views and methodology, seeking to uncover and identify all the tenets of metaphysics.[2] Castoriadis criticises Plato for distorting and falsifying basic Greek beliefs, not only in the Statesman but also in his other works.  In the Republic and the Laws, he totally reverses the Greek conception of justice (p 22).  In other words, whereas the question of  right (who is to give and what, and who is to have and what) remains open within the polis and posits the question of distribution as an affair of the citizens themselves, involves therefore the citizens in relations among themselves, Plato reverses this in a holistic conception reducing it to property of the whole.  In other words, the “Republic” is a well-ordered set, a well-categorised whole where each item has its own place and does not attempt, must not attempt, to change it:  "It is the right of each to concern himself with his own hypotheses and not with the hypotheses of others".[3] 

Plato is also the first to validate and justify the theory of inequality and hierarchy which he bases on the supposedly different nature of each person, to validate the division between classes in his Republic (p 22).  Certainly, within the Greek “polis”, there are slaves and freemen, rich and poor, rulers and the ruled, but Plato establishes and ratifies these divisions theoretically and philosophically.[4] 

Another Platonic theory which is foreign to Greek thinking is his view of Being, which he identifies with the good, while in Ancient Greek thinkingt Being is not defined univocally, but in a dual sense as good and bad, cosmos and chaos.[5] 

Plato also conceals the nature-law (phusis-nomos) opposition, which divides Greek thinkers and which was first postulated as such by the Sophists in the mid-fifth century in Athens.  He imposes the order of the universe on human affairs, thus concealing human creativity and the self-institution of society.  Thus, he becomes the author of “unitary ontology”, which is the expression of heteronomy.[6] 

Plato also establishes and validates the immortality of the soul, a belief foreign to the Greek imaginary, which from Homer up to the fourth century BC is dominated by the belief that humans are mortal and the word mortal itself signifies humans.  In other words, for the Greeks there is nothing after death.  Only the gods are immortal.  Immortality is introduced for the first time by Plato and to validate it he has to banish from his Republic all talk of the bearer of mortality (i.e. Homer). 

For Castoriadis, Plato is the total negation of Greek thought and indeed of political thought, something which is clearly exemplified in his seminars on the Statesman. In fact, Castoriadis’ critique shows the Platonic concealment and distortion of important Greek beliefs, chiefly Greek beliefs concerning politics and democracy.  With an exhaustive analysis of the Platonic text he points out the weakness of the arguments and accuses Plato of sophistry, rhetoric, theatricality, lying, dishonesty, petitio principi, and above all of bias (l’esprit partisan) in his philosophy, which not only does not respect the different or opposite view and does not address it with logical arguments, but diminishes and devalues it as presumed lies or sophistry.  

In the first place, Plato introduces the myth of the Golden Age of Cronos to distort Democritus’ anthropogony,[7] which was opposed to his own (p. 119).  Indeed, the theory of evolution of man and society prevailed in the fifth century, underpinned by the idea of human self-creation and the self-institution of society.  This idea is crystal clear and in Democritus’ the Mikro Diakosmos, it is the rational view and is similar to the view we hold today:  that in the beginning there was a natural, wild, primitive state, whereby life was not ordered (sporadin) without skills and basic measures of protection and gradually human beings invented skills, became organised, created communities, institutions, language, in other words they became social and political beings.  Thus this conception accepts gradual humanisation and the human evolutionary process, according to which the xreia made people promithesterous kai provoulephtikoterous.  We also find this belief in other writers like Xenophanes[8] and Protagoras[9]

The opposite view expressed by Plato, not just in the Statesman but in other works too[10] and which has its origins in Hesiod[11] states that there was a Golden Age, of the reign of Cronos, according to which there was an abundance of goods and happiness, there were no poleis, and women and children did not belong to anyone.  In the Golden Age the gods were herds of people who survived only because of the gods.  After the Golden Age of the reign of Cronos comes the reign of Zeus, during which deterioration, disorder and decadence are introduced.  But the god returns, bearing skills for man, fire and so on, in sum all the wherewithal of existence.  In other words, all that was created by man – skills, poleis, institutions and so on are represented by Plato not through evolution, not gradually, nor by a regular historical process, but in cycles which repeat themselves, sometimes straightly, sometimes reversely.  Thus, Plato introduces a non-historical view with the aim of bringing history to a halt.  There is no history, there are only eternal cycles which occur throughout time (p 139).  

Thus, Castoriadis concludes, what Plato does is to expropriate and transform the anthropogony of the fifth century, suppresses its philosophical and political meaning, the historical character  which it had for Democritus and others, thus concealing the idea of self-creation in humanity, so as to introduce the idea that everything is given to man by the gods.[12]  This is the most "cruel" heteronomy. 

Another basic premise of Plato in the Statesman and other dialogues (Republic) is that the statesman is identified with the king.  Here again Plato distorts and violates accepted and widespread views in the Greek world.  The identification of the statesman with the king, which is arbitrary and not unargumented, (petitio principi) is unacceptable and outrageous for the Greeks, as for Athenians.  In the age when Plato wrote, there were no kings in Greece, except for two kings in Sparta, who did not, however, have much power, since real power was exercised by ephoroi and gerousia.  Nor were the tyrants called kings in the Greek world.  As for the Macedonians, who had kings, they were not really part of what was considered the Greek world, because firstly they spoke a Greek dialect which classified them as "barbarous" as Dimosthenes publicly states, and moreover they did not have poleis like the rest of the Greek world, but kings.[13]  When the Greeks speak about kings in the fifth and fourth century, they mean one and only one person, the megalo vasilea, the Persian king (p 57). 

The second identification (of the statesman with the scientist), which is the main point of the Statesman, is purely a Platonic invention and sophistry, according to Castoriadis (pp 57, 156).  Political competence, for Plato, is achieved  only by the scientist and only science can determine the statesman and politics (292b).  The "science" of politics is not for the many, the masses, but rather it is the prerogative of the oligarchy and of the few, of the basilikou andros.  This view of Plato does not occur anywhere else in Greek classical writing, and conceals the true character of politics:  the conventional, empirical and predictable character of political decisions, whereby it is not subject to “laws”, rules and constants, with its rivalries and oppositions, its antagonisms and unrighteous methods.  Plato  moves politics from the real to the theoretical and abstract, simultaneously concealing the true conception of the Greeks concerning politics, which relates to some knowledge and skill, practical and empirical.  This view characterises politics in the existing poleis – as well as numerous texts of other writers like Heredotus, Thucydides, the tragics, Isocrates, Demosthenes[14]  and others.  Similarly, in democracy, politics is the free conflict of opinions, free discussion in the ekklesia tou dimou and voting by all citizens for the final decision (bouleusis).  In the democratic viewpoint there is – nor can there be, anyway – no "science" of politics but only opinion (doksa) and due to this, it is the care, aim and definition of democracy that all citizens participate in the formation and ratification of decisions, so that all are considered politically equal.  In practice this is expressed through participation in power, the real possibility all the citizens have to participate in all forms of power.  Political competence in democracy is derived solely from experience in political matters, with free discussion, true participation in political life and power and these lead to the acquisition of true political education, true knowledge of political matters and of the way in which society and power function. 

- The "Scientist" statesman (o vassilikos anir) according to Plato must have absolute power without any limit, must rule without laws, because he himself is the law (294a).  This view is also foreign, unthinkable for the Greek world (p 145, 157).  Greek writing and real political life advocate the importance and stabilising role of laws from Heraclitus[15] and Pindar[16] to Herodotus[17] and Aristotle. Plato is rather the philosopher of the Hellenistic world and as such his views were the theoretical basis and ideological safeguard of Hellenistic absolute monarchies.[18] 

- Another negative point of Plato's originality was his introduction of the correct polity (orthi politeia).  It is an axiom of Plato's that there is one and only one orthi politeia defined by "science", the science of the whole.[19]  This polity is the first (proton) and the best (ariston) and must be distinguished from the other polities, just as God is distinguished from humans (303b).  On the basis of this ideal construction, reality and the existing polities are judged, and are found to be unoriginal, imperfect and imitations (mimimata) of this supposedly correct polity.   

This is the great deception, the illusion of any idealist philosophy, instigated by Plato:  he constructs an unreal ideal picture and afterwards claims that the real world is an error, a lie, bad, ugly, imperfect, lacking in relation to the ideal picture.[20]  As a result he again distorts reality, concealing the idea that there can be no perfect polity, that there can be no law or laws which cover all aspects of reality for ever.  This is so, because there is always a deflection, a mismatch, between the general and universal rule and the particular reality, something which Plato is well aware of and is the first one to establish and analyse it in the Statesman

This mismatch is not accidental nor is it symptomatic but is fundamental and innate to human reality.  No law can ever express the continual change in social and historical reality.[21]  Thus, the conventional and relative nature of politics is concealed, even though it is characterised precisely by changes, antitheses, conflicts, divisions etc.  Plato takes it out of its true context and into the theoretical and abstract context, transforming it into theory and science. 

Therefore, every Utopia must be definitively condemned, that is, any attempt to define and achieve the so-called perfect society, the perfect polity.  So if we are looking for the way towards a better society, we must not try to determine it once and for all but rather always look for the one which allows in the best possible fashion a continually changing socio-historical reality to find its corresponding legislation, in.  (p. 53). 

- A final point Castoriadis notes on the Statesman is Plato's hostility to democracy, and his hatred of it.  As in many other works of his[22] on this point, Plato not only criticises and rejects the Athenian democracy but is ironic about it, distorts and slanders it.  He again criticises the sophists, calling them cheaters and counterposes them to the real politicians, the king scientists (291c).  He also criticises rhetoric because it tries to persuade the masses through myth instead of teaching and counterposes it to the supposedly true polics, science (304d).  In other words Plato criticises politicians and politics as practised under democracy.  His hatred is not only against contemporary democracy but mainly against the instituting democracy of the 5th century and against Pericles, whom he accuses expressly and by name.[23]  Plato knows very well where to attack, not only at the "demagogues" but at the heart of the democratic polis, the instituting and vigorous democracy of Pericles, as P. Vidal-Naquet also notes in the prologue to this book (p. 10). 

Furthermore,  Plato distorts the character of democracy, when he presents the people deciding over all issues, even scientific-technical subjects such as medicine, ship-building, military affairs, architecture and so on.  The people at no time took such decisions.  The people chose General Nikias and it was Nikias who was responsible, not the people, for where, how and when battle would take place.  The Parthenon was built by Iktinus and Pheidias, not by the people.  Castoriadis rightly notes at that point the "theatricality, rhetoric and sophistry of Plato" (p 189).  While, in other words, Plato criticises the dramatic writers, the sophists and the rhetoricians, he himself is proved to be a great dramatist, a great sophist and rhetorician in order to devalue democracy, to attack its very essence, to distort its basic meaning:  the ability of the people to govern themselves.     And this is Castoriadis' basic criticism of Plato, that Plato concealed that ability of the many to govern themselves and presented democracy as the regime of the amorphous masses, where ignorance, evil, unbridled passion, selfish interests reign and so on, rather than "science" and "goodness". 

To this end Plato uses all means, just and unjust, philosophical and theological:  in the Republic he uses the ultimate weapons of metaphysics and the rule of ideas, in the Laws religious rule and in the Statesman criticism of the law and science.   So Plato is responsible for the concealment of basic Greek concepts and significations and played an important role in the destruction of the Greek world at a theoretical level.

That is, he presented a historical fact, the end of democracy, not as a historical tragedy but as intrinsic philosophical justice (p. 21).  This slander against the people and democracy was carried over in the following centuries.  It influenced and still influences views; it constituted the ideological armour of all the enemies of the people and of democracy. 

Thus, Castoriadis clears up a widespread misunderstanding, whereby Plato is believed to be the cornerstone, or the foundation of Greek political thought and its representative par excellence.  Actually he constitutes only one aspect of it; in fact he greatly distorts and negates Greek political thought.   

There is another Greek political view, which has to be sought out, in certain sophists (Protagoras), in Democritus, Thucydides, in the three tragics[24] etc. and above all in the democratic political creativity of the fifth and fourth century and in the instituting creativity of the people.  The historical facts are bearers of ideas more significant than the ideas of philosophers and the institutions are bearers and embodiments of imaginary significations of a society.[25]   

In this work Castoriadis restores the magmatic reality of ancient Greek thought and practice, formerly concealed by most analysts.  He also shows its dichotomy into two grosso modo currents, antithetical to each other in many aspects mutually exclusive:  one is the democratic view and  practice, while the other one is antidemocratic, and its principal proponent is Plato. 

In fact Castoriadis’ analysis demonstrates the enormous difference between Platonic and democratic views on politics, or the enormous difference between Platonic and his own views on justice and democracy.  The great rival of democracy is the rival of Castoriadian conceptions.  Castoriadis' opinions on politics and democracy simultaneously refute Plato's political views.  First of all, his search is not for the politician, as in Plato, but for politics.  In the individual he opposes collective initiative and creativity.  In fact for Castoriadis politics is the conscious, critical and self-critical, rational, collective activity and inquiry, regarding the institution of society in whole or in part.  In this sense, politics emerges when the question of the validity of the institutions is posed, i.e. if and why the institutions are just:  "Are our laws just?  Is our Constitution just?  Is it good?  Good in relation to what?  Just  in relation to what?  On these eternally open questions the object of true politics is constructed, which therefore presupposes the questioning of existing institutions – even if it means their acceptance in whole or in part.  Through politics, in this sense, man questions, and perhaps transforms, his way of being and his being as a social man".[26] 

In this sense politics depends on and demands conscious choice, responsibility and activity by the people.  The object of politics is defined as the creation of institutions, which, assimilated by men, permit and facilitate their personal autonomy and the possibility of their true participation in all forms of explicit power in society.[27]  That is, the object of politics is freedom, individual and collective autonomy and not the happiness (eydaimonia) of Plato and Aristotle, nor the happiness promised by all totalitarian societies, fascist, communist or religious. 

This transformation of institutions leads to democracy, which is the regime of explicit, illuminating, collective self-institution.[28]  Democracy means people's rule, true, direct participation by the people in power in all its forms and direct participation in discussions and decision-making, something which excludes the transfer of power to representatives. 

This view and this practice are to be found in ancient democracy, the basic characteristics of which can be summarised as follows:  the people are the chief source of all power and do not recognise any other source or cause of social institutions and law (edokse ti bouli kai to dimo).  This means real participation in all forms of power, jurisdiction, legislation, government.  This participation is realized through the drawing by lot (klirosis)  which is the distinguishing feature of democracy.  All citizens are designated judges, members of the council (bouleutes) and magistrates through the drawing by lot.  Magistrates requiring particular knowledge and skills - generals, treasurers (stratigoi, tamiai) etc - are chosen through voting in the people's assembly (ekklisia tou dimou).  All magistrates are under constant control (dokimasia, euthuna), and give a reason for and account ofall their actions and can be removed at any time, while their service is annual.  Social life is governed by rules of general validity, debated and made into laws directly by the community, that is, there is the rule of written law.  There is no hierarchy or state (kratos) in the contemporary sense, as a mechanism of power separate from the body of citizens and over the citizens.  There are no so-called specialists in politics, Plato’s scientists, there is no science of politics but only the conflict of opinions (doksa).  All opinions count equally, whence also political equality.  There is an open public space which is not the property of anyone, in which all the important information is circulated and discussed and where all important decisions are taken by the people.[29] 

All this, which constitutes the meaning of democracy, has been concealed over many centuries.  Even today the concealment of people’s ability to govern themselves is dominant.  Even today, mutatis mutandis, democracy is concealed, even today political problems are distorted, because analyses revolve around which party is fit to govern, which political leader is good enough, or which party programme is better in order to be voted for, which modifications – always the secondary ones – should go into the Constitution, the priority of the economy, and so on.  The main powers in the political game, the professional politicians and the parties, try to persuade the people – and they have succeeded – that they  are not fit to govern themselves and are only fit to submit while the parties are fit to govern.  That is to say the meaning of politics in the Ancient Greek sense, in the sense of Castoriadis, is concealed, as is the capacity of the people for self-government. The original political problem of how people become fit to govern themselves is concealed.


Castoriadis and contemporary political practice/theory 

The concealment and devaluation of democracy was also to be found in Marxism and Communism.  This fact is of great significance, given that the Marxist ideology trapped and guided millions of people all over the planet for more than a century, as a result of which their disillusionment and consequent withdrawal into the private sphere.[30]  Castoriadis criticised Marxism and Communism in practice at a very time which was difficult for free thought and criticism, in the fifties and sixties, when nearly all intellectuals in one way or another worshipped not only Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, but also Stalin, Mao and others; each of them in their own way supporting the communist parties.  Castoriadis denounced and revealed the totalitarian and unfree character of the communist countries and the communist parties as well as the theoretical, economic and political impasses of marxist theory.[31]  He openly rejected Marxism because it had become an ideology, in the sense Marx[32] gave to the term, and therefore led to anti-democratic tendencies. 

The concealment is also to be found in modern political practice[33] and thought[34] as well as in contemporary thinkers.  Castoriadis criticises these views, which present democracy as a set of procedures[35] and not as a regime.  He mainly criticises the view of Habermas on “communicative activity” between subjects.  This view of Habermas narrows the concept of politics, which greatly exceeds “inter-subjectivity” and “inter-subjective communication”, and aims at the institution of the social, the anonymous collective. 

Castoriadis also criticises post-modernism, which relativises everything and attributes the same value to all things, thereby concealing the specificity and meaning of democracy.[36] 

He also criticises the ideology of “human rights” and shows that it constitutes a deception.[37]  He also criticises the myth of equality, promoted by the ideologues of liberalism and of liberal oligarchies and he demonstrates that there can be no political equality without economic equality.  Characteristically, he says that it is a joke to say that political equality exists between a scavenger and an ultra-rich businessman.[38] 

This, precisely, is Castoriadis’ original and political contribution[39]:  the reinstatement of democracy, of direct democracy, as the focal point of political theory and, closely related to it, the criticism of representation.[40]  Modern and contemporary political thinkers ignore it, scandalously, trapped in liberal, marxist and social-democratic illusions while never concerning themselves with the “metaphysics” of representation.[41] 

According to Castoriadis, “representation”, in theory and in practice, is the alienation of power (alienation  here in the legal meaning of the word:  transfer of property), that is, the transfer of power from the “represented” to the “representatives”.[42]  Representation creates a “division of the political function”, a division between the rulers and the ruled, between the leaders and the led, which is also realised through the elections.[43]   This is something the Ancient Greeks knew well, which was why they considered elections characteristic of aristocracy and oligarchy and the drawing by lot characteristic of is a creation of western history, it emerges for the first time in Ancient Greece and comes to an end with the defeat of the Athenians by the Macedonians.  It emerges again in western Europe before the Renaissance – around the 13th century, according to Castoriadis – and it creates a liberatory movement which once again calls into question the existing institution of society and makes way for another social institution.This project cannot be founded rationally, philosophicallly, ontologically, economically or in any other theoretical way.  We cannot pass from ontology to politics, nor can we extrapolate a politics from philosophy.[47]  The rational philosophical foundation of the project of autonomy, of democracy, of freedom, is logically a non sequitur because it takes what is to be demonstrated as a given, since our decision to philosophise is in itself a demonstration of freedom:  to philosophise means to try to be free at the level of thinking.[48]  Moreover, philosophy cannot found itself, and every such attempt leads to an illusion or a vicious circle.[49] 

We cannot found politics on transcendental extra-social entities, nor on some so-called objective external criteria (laws of history, of the economy), nor on any so-called higher ethical or human principles.  The opposite view was the delusion of Marx and Marxism with its enormously catastrophic consequences.[50]  In this context, Castoriadis criticises modern foundational views, whose main proponent is Habermas.  The latter tries to found practice and politics on ideas of “communicative action”, of  “mutual comprehension”  and of the “ideal state of reason”, which, Habermas thinks, are built on linguistic mechanisms of reproduction of the “species”.  Castoriadis considers Habermas’ attempt to “rationally” derive the normative from the fact (the idea of a good society from the objective social reality, the jus from the factum), to be the search for “a mythical biological foundation”, something which amounts to a “biological positivism” and leads to the paradox that freedom is both a destiny written in the genes and and at the same time a Utopia.[51] 

The only foundation for the project of autonomy, and more generally for politics, which is at the same time the basic element of its realisation, is the will and praxis of humans (will in the Ancient Greek sense of vouleusis, that is, rational decision through dialogue and discussion). Without will we not only cannot have praxis but we cannot have thought.[52]  This project is not without content nor is it entirely vague.  Its roots lie in historical and social reality and experience, as already mentioned, and Castoriadis gives us so to speak its general principles, and therefore the general principles of an autonomous society:[53]

 - The existence of a true public sphere which really belongs to the community[54]

- The recovering of power by the community of citizens

- The abolition of the political division into the rulers and the ruled, the leaders and the led

- The abolition of the priority of the economy, and the establishment of economic equality

- Free circulation of important information for the whole of the community

- The abolition of bureaucracy

- Complete decentralisation

- Rule by the consumers

- Self-managed producers

- No enaction of decisions without participation in decision-making

- Self-limitation of the instituting society (true division of the powers).[55]

The project of autonomy is undergoing eclipse today, but it has not disappeared.  For it to be revived there has to be a re-discovery or rather a re-invention of the meaning of democracy, which from the time of Plato has been continually attacked, distorted, and concealed.  This means, after the collapse of the communist regimes and the refutation of the Marxist and communist Utopia, and thereby the release of millions of people from the relative ideological illusions, that there has to be liberation from the ideology of representative oligarchy. 

A significant problem is whether humans today, spectators, consumers, passive voters, briefly, objects of politics, will decide to react to their socio-political degeneration and reclaim the status of citizenship, to once more become polites and eleutheroi in the ancient democratic sense, so well expressed by Aristotle:  the “citizen is only defined by his participation in justice and other forms of power”[56] , the “citizen is he who has the capacity to govern and be governed”.[57] 

Another significant political problem, also concealed and in need of examination is how direct democracy can be realised in today’s societies of millions of people.[58]  Castoriadis’ answer is that the solutions which lead to “alienating political structures “, in other words to “representations”, must be rejected.  Solutions must be sought which “give the best possible power to communities  whose  dimensions permit direct self-government or solutions which maximise the participation of citizens in decisions and their control over what happens in the units, whose dimensions (or on subjects whose nature) does not permit direct self-government”.[59] 

One question to be examined is why people accept the representative system and alienate their political power to so-called representatives; another question, closely connected with this is how people can become able to reject the contemporary imaginary signification of representation and become able to govern themselves.  So the questions are:  why and for how long people will accept being represented and not exercising power for themselves?  How can they be organised on their own and what new organisational forms of action can be created?  Another question:  How is it possible for us to continue to believe and to try to realise the project of autonomy, when we see that the project has been eclipsed?[60] 

Castoriadis gives the following answer:  from the moment the project is a creation of human thinking/doing/praxis and of Greco-western history, it is the free and historical acknowledgement of the value of that project and the reality of its partial realisation up to now, which attaches us to it, which drives us to continue to desire the project and to try to give it its contemporary form.[61]  And more personally:  “As far as I as a free person am concerned, I am content to obey the leaders I have elected as long as they act legally and have not been recalled.   But the idea that someone can represent me would seem to me unbearably insulting, if it was not so comical”.[62]  This perhaps, also answers the question “why we want or why must we want democracy”, which was not answered by Castoriadis where it was posed.[63] 

We now understand why Castoriadis, apart from his continuous criticism of Plato, found necessary the detailed criticism of one of his mature works, the Statesman.  He had to bring to light clear all the rhetoric and sophistries, the calumniations and forgeries of the great philosopher, which influenced thought for many centuries, and still influence views today, and conceal the true meaning of politics and democracy.[64] He had to clear away the mists from a false picture of reality, as he did in his first works by criticizing communist practice and Marxist theory. As he did with his criticism of inherited Greek-western metaphysics and thought[65], with his criticism of the myths of capitalist liberalism and today’s western representative oligarchies, under the guise of so-called representative democracy. 

The project of autonomy vs. the project of Inclusive Democracy 

An extension of Castoriadis’ ideas, in the form of a synthesis of his project of autonomy with the socialist project and the projects which emerged with the rise of the “new social movements” (Green, feminist, identity movements etc.), is expressed by the project of Inclusive Democracy, which is being promoted by this journal.[66]  This is the project for political and economic democracy, as well as ecological democracy and democracy in the social realm. There are significant similarities but also some important differences between the autonomy and the Inclusive Democracy projects.  

Thus, as regards the similarities between the two projects, both Castoriadis’ project of autonomy and the project of Inclusive Democracy offer a ‘non-objectivist’ grounding to the project of radical transformation of society. Thus, they both depart from both the usual Marxist ‘objectivist’ argumentation as well as some variants of it in the libertarian space. Furthermore, they both distance themselves from the common nowadays postmodernist ‘non-objectivist’ conformist talk, although it has been argued that Castoriadis’ ‘agnostic’ approach toward ethics may give rise to postmodernist relativist interpretations.[67] 

Also, both projects make concrete proposals for the economic organisation of a liberatory society. Thus, Castoriadis in his early works proposed a detailed description of a model of a socialist planned economy and both in his early and in his later works has, rightly, insisted on the need to describe the institutional framework of the future society so that its feasibility is demonstrable. These points (in a different, in certain ways, context) have been taken up by the project for an Inclusive Democracy.  

However, the project of autonomy and the project of Inclusive Democracy diverge on certain important issues, and it would be interesting to, at least, present some of these points of divergence.[68] There are two major areas of difference between the two types of proposals for a possible future organisation of society.  

First, Castoriadis’ proposal presupposes a money and real market economy in which there is equality of wages. On the other hand, inclusive democracy presupposes a marketless and moneyless economy which implies a very different way for renumeration of labour to meet both the satisfaction of basic needs and freedom of choice. 

Second, the allocation of scarce resources in Castoriadis’ economy takes place through planning controlled by the decisions of workers’ councils and through a real market based on impersonalised money. On the other hand, the allocation of resources in inclusive democracy takes place through planning controlled by the decisions of citizens’ assemblies (as regards basic needs only) and through an artificial market based on personalised vouchers (as regards all other needs). These differences have of course important implications on many other aspects of social and economic organisation. 

Despite the above differences, however, it must be stressed that both the autonomy project and the project for an Inclusive Democracy belong to the left libertarian democratic tradition, and a detailed discussion and contradistinction between both would certainly be beneficial to libertarian theory and practice.


* Parts of this article are based on the paper I delivered at the international conference on Cornelius Castoriadis Cornelius Castoriadis and Social Theory, University of Crete, Department of Sociology, Rethymnon 29-30 September 2000. I would like to thank Rosalind Jones for the translation.

** All references in the following footnotes refer to French editions, except where stated otherwise. For the corresponding English texts see David Ames Curtis’ on-line bibliography and the detailed references therein:

[1] As in his seminars in the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in 1986, which were published in a book titled Sur Le Politique de Platon (Seuil, 1999). All page numbers in the main text refer to this book.
However, Castoriadis acknowledges the great philosopher and the strength of the Platonic philosophy, which consists of, among other things, the depth and manner of exposition of problems, its inquiring character, the constant questioning it poses against its own positions, the development of argumentation and rational reasoning (P. 73-74).  With particular reference to the Statesman, Castoriadis believes it is a work in which we can see a great genuine thinker at work, in the process of developing his thought, with no academicism oror rules, with no concern for structure and form.
Plato, Republic 2, 433a.
It is worth noting that Aristotle later tries to offer a theoretical justification of the institution of slavery in Politics I.
[5]  Castoriadis, “La polis Grecque et la  Creation de la  Democratie”, Domaines de l’homme, p. 284.
“Ontologie unitaire” (op. cit.. p. 286).
[7] Plato never refers to Democritus, in other words, as Castoriadis says, he condemns him to non-existence (damnatio memoriae).
  DK B18.
Plato Protagoras, 321a ff.  The theory of Protagoras was perhaps included  in his lost work Peri tis en arxi katastaseos and it contends that in prehistoric times people did not have aidon kai dikin, so they were unable to co-exist and also could not be protect themselves from wild animals.  They acquired these two ethico-political principles later and thus created polis and civilisation.
Laws 4, 713a-714b (cf. also 3, 677b ff).  The differences in the two versions of the myth are noted by P. Vidal-Naquet (Le chasseur noir, p. 399).  Dikearchos also refers to the golden age of Cronos, which, he claims, was an age of great abundance and happiness that actually existed and is not just a myth.  (see P. Vidal-Naquet, op. cit.. p. 382 for sources and relevant bibliography).  This inverse route of humanity also occurs in the Cynics, according to whom there first existeda natural state of happiness and then the poleis were created where madmen (mainomenoi) ruled (Diog. Laer. VI 24, 41, 47, 49, 92).  But the Cynics do not accept that in the origianal natural state there was abundance of goods but on the contrary penury, which did not, however, impede the self-sufficiency and ordered life of the people.  See A. Bayiona, La philosophie politique des Cyniques, Athenes, p. 50-52.
Erga kai Imerai p. 109-111.
Plato The Statesman 274c-d.
The Greek polis is based on the collective participation and responsibility of the citizens (see P. Vidal-Naquet op. cit.. p. 399).
Aristotle makes the distinction between science, art and prudence (phronesis) to state that what characterises politics is not science but prudence, that is, the capacity for judgement and orientation, the capacity for distinguishing the appropriate way to act from the inappropriate, the useful from the harmful, the significant from the insignificant etc.  Prudence for Aristotle and for the Greeks generally, is to be found precisely where there is no science.
Fr. 103.
“Law is the king of all, humans and gods” ( Herodotus III, 38).
The famous dialogue of Xerxes, with Dimaratus, the former king of Sparta.  When before the battle with the Greeks, Xerxes says that victory is certain because the Greeks do not have a leader, Dimaratus answers that “you are wrong, because the Greeks in fact do have a leader, the law, which they fear more than your people fear you”.  (7, 104).
[18] Finally Plato admits that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to find a vassilikos anir in existing reality and thus the polis must have to do with the smaller evil, laws, which have ommissions and shortcomings, and which he criticises vehemently (301e).  This yielding to the laws is somewhat of a contradiction with the final paragraph of the Statesman, where Plato returns to the royal art, saying that it governs and controls the polis, weaving a tissue of all human types and skills, in harmony and friendship keeping the polis stable and assuring its happiness. For the value of the paradigm of weaving in today’s reality see Couloubaritsis, “Le paradigme platonicien du tissage comme modele politique d’une societe complexe”, Revue de philosophie ancienne, No 2, 1995, pp. 107-162.
293c.  This seventh politeia is not identified with any of the six existing ones.  See Republic 5, 449a and Laws 8, 832c.  This seventh excellent, correct state can, still according to Plato, be called either kingdom or aristocracy, depending on who the ruler is (Republic 4, 445d).
P. 172.  Plato calls the six existing regimes images, simulacres, eidola (303c).
Aristotle is perfectly aware of this (Politics 2, 1269a 9-13).
Gorgias, Republic, Thaetetus, Laws.  Castoriadis writes, characteristically:  “Plato consciously forges history, he is the first utiliser of Stalinest methods in this domain.  If we knew the history of Athens from Plato only (Laws 3), we would not know about the naval battle of Salamis, the victory of Themistocles and the worthless demose manning the oars (“Les Intellectuels et l’Histoire”, Le monde morcele  p. 107).
In the Gorgias he rejects all the significant politicians of Athenian democracy – Miltiades, Themistocles, Cimon, Pericles – because “they never proved beneficiaryfor the people and the polis”.
[24] V. Ehrenberg demonstrated the significance of tragedy for the political thought of ancient Athenians in his text “Origins of Democracy”, Historia 1, 1950, p. 515-548.  He writes that the tragedy contains the first signs of a democratic terminology.  C. Meier also analyses the political significance of tragedy in his works De la tragedie grecque comme art politique, Les Belles Lettres Paris 1991 and La politique et la grace, Seuil Paris 1987.  In the second work he notes, characteristically that:  “the Oresteia is one of the most significant manifestations of Greek political thought” (p. 21).
In fact, democratic ideas and arguments did not survive through any writer, nor is there any theoretician of democracy who could confront the anti-democratic theoretician, thus we need to reconstruct the democratic argument, assembling the scattered elements, from the minutest surviving fragments and mainly from the historical reality of facts and institutions.
[26] “Anthropologie, philosophie, politique”, La montee de l’insignifiance, Seuil Paris p. 120.
“Fait et a faire”, Fait et a faire, p. 62.
C. Castoriadis, “La democratie comme procedure et comme regime”, La montee de l’insignifiance, 1996, p.225.
See Castoriadis “La polis Grecque et la Creation de la  Democratie”, Domaines de l’ homme. See also Castoriadis, Ancient Greek Democracy and its Significance for us Today, Athens 1986 and Y. Oikonomou, “Ancient Democracy”, O Politis, 121, Athens, Jan-Mar 1993.
Can we imagine for one moment the consequences of this movement had it been fought under the banner of democracy?
Many of his texts from the period of Socialisme ou barbarie (1949-1965) and, mainly, “Marxisme et theorie Revolutionnaire”, L’institution  Imaginaire de la  Societe.
That is, “a group of ideas which refer to a reality not to illuminate it and to change it, but to conceal it and justify it in the imaginary, and which permits people to say something and to do something else, to appear as something other than what they are”.  L’istitution  Imaginaire de la  Societe, p. 15.
The famous “Declaration des droits de l’ homme et du citoyen” after the French Revolution of 1789, in the introduction   stated that “Sovereignty belongs to the people, who exercise it either directly or through their representatives”.  Of course “directly” has disappeared and since that time the so-called representatives have been dominant.
An exception was Rousseau, who in his Du Contrat social criticises representation and elections. The truly libertarian exceptions however mainly came from the anarchist camp (e.g. Bakunin).
Castoriadis, “La democratie comme procedure et comme regime”, La montee de l’insignifiance.
[36] Castoriadis, “L’epoque du  Conformisme generalise”, Le monde morcele.
Castoriadis, “Anthropologie, philosophie, politique”, La montee de l’insignifiance, p. 123.
Castoriadis op. cit. p.123. also  “Nature valeur de l’ egalite”, Domaines de l’ homme.
Apart from for his contributions to other disciplines, philosophy, psycho-analysis etc.
Already in the 1960s he speaks of direct democracy, self-management and the alienation of the representative system.  See for example “Marxisme et theorie revolutionnaire”, (1964), in L’istitution imaginaire de la  Societe, and “La  Revolution premature” (1968), La societe Francaise.  See too “Reflections sur le“Developpement” et la  “Rationalite” (1976), Domaines de l’ homme, p. 42, and “La Revolution Hogroise 1956” (1976).  Also his texts such as “La polis Grecque et la  Creation de la  Democratie” (1979), Domaines de l’ homme, p. 288-9.  Ancient Greek Democracy and its Significance for us Today, Athens 1986.  “Fait et a faire” (1989), in Fait et a faire, pp 65-68.  The transition to the democratic project occurs in the sixties and is expressed, among others, by the replacement of the Marxist contradiction “productive relations – productive forces” by the contradiction “rulers-executives”.  This new view ends in the replacement of the “socialism or barbarism” dilemma (“socialisme ou barbarie”) by the “democracy or oligarchy” dilemma.
Fait et a faire, p. 65.  A negative point which Castoriadis attributes to contemporary political philosophers is that they do not concern themselves with political reality, which they hand over contemptuously to the sociologists.
  “From the moment that, definitely and for a certain amount of time ( eg five years), someone who entrusts power to certain people, is automatically alienated politically”.  Castoriadis, Ancient Greek Democracy and its Significance for us Today, Athens Ypsilon, p. 34.
Rousseau wrote in Du contrat social about the English people (because only England had a Parliament at the time of Rousseau) that they believe they are free because they can vote, but in reality after the time of voting they lose their freedom.  Castoriadis adds to this by saying that they lose their freedom not only after the time of voting, but the rest of the time too.  See Castoriadis, Ancient Greek Democracy and its Significance for us Today, P. 34.
Politics 4, 1294b 9-11:  “Drawing magistrates by lot is democratic though electing them by voting is oligarchic”.  See Y. Oikonomou “Ancient Democracy”, O Politis , No121, Athens Jan-March 1993.  Elections, moreover, in Ancient Greece had nothing to do with representation, but rather with the election of the best to office, where they would need specialised knowledge, skills and experience.
Castoriadis, “La  polis Grecque et la Creation de la democratie”, Domaines de l’ homme, p. 290.
If we are to speak of the global situation, we must refer to the internationl global directory, the real government of the world, consisting of five main organisations:  International Monetary Fund, World Bank, OECD, World Trade Organisation, NATO orchestrated by the US.  See I. Ramonet “Pour changer le monde”, Penser le XXI siecle, (Maniere de voir No 52, Juillet-Aout 2000), p.6.
“Nature et valeur de l’ egalite”, Domaines de l’homme, p. 308.
Castoriadis, “Individu, societe, rationalite, histoire”, Le monde morcele, p. 66.
Castoriadis,“Nature et valeur de l’egalite”, Domaines de l’ homme, p. 309.
Castoriadis, “Marxisme et theorie revolutionnaire”, L’ institution imaginaire de la  Societe.
  Castoriadis, “Individu, societe, rationalite, histoire”, Le monde morcele,  p. 68, 69. For the relation between factum and jus (fact and value, fact and norm) see “Anthropologie, philosophie, politique”, La montee de l’insignifiance, p. 117ff. See also A. Kalyvas,  “Norm and critics in the theory of autonomy of Castoriadis”, Constellations, Vol. 5, Nr.2, 1998. In the latter article there is also a discussion of the problem of the normative superiority of the project of autonomy.
[52]  “Politics today”, Le monde morcele,  p. 133.
“Fait et a Faire”, Fait et a faire, p. 74.
The privatisation of the public sphere is the main characteristic of today’s liberal oligarchies.  Privatisation, not in the legal sense, but in the political one.  The public sphere in an autonomous society is truly public – Castoriadis calles it an assembly (ekklisia).  The political organisation of a society is always articulated, explicitly and implicitly, into three spheres:  the private (oikos), the private/public (agora) and the public/public.  The latter is the sphere of power.  In an autonomous society these three spheres are independent from each other, while totalitarianism tends to break down their independence and unite them and also tends to completely privatise the public/public sphere.  See Castoriadis, “Fait et a faire” (1989), Fait et a faire, p. 62 sq.  “Quelle democratie” (1990), Figures du pensable, p. 152.  “La democratie comme regime et procedure”, La montee de l’insignifiance, Paris, 1996, p. 228 sq.
Castoriadis also states certain principles which must form the basis of any democratic organisation of the economy, the point of departure for any discussion of problems in a democratic economy.  See “Quelle democratie”, 1990 Figures du pensable, p. 174.  Thus, it is clear that autonomy for Castoriadis refers also to the political and socio-economic domain.
[56] Aristotle, Politics III, 1275a 25.
Aristotle,  Politics III, 1277b 17-20.
Castoriadis, “Quelle democratie”, Figures du pensable, p. 146.
Castoriadis, Ancient Greek Democracy and its Significance for us today, Athens Ypsilon, p. 52.
This question is a paraphrasing of a question posed by Hans Joas:  “How can we continue to believe in and to try to realise the project of autonomy, when the myth of the revolution has died?” (Hans Joas, “Cornelius Castoriadis’ Political Philosophy”, Pragmatism and Social Theory, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1993, p. 174).
Castoriadis, “La ‘fin de la  Philosophie?”, Le monde morcele, p. 246.
“Fait et a faire”, Fait et a faire, p. 66.
Castoriadis, “La democratie comme procedure et comme regime”, La montee de l’insignifiance, p. 226.
Castoriadis, “Les Intellectuels et l’ Histoire”,  Le monde morcele, , p. 107.
In his text “Valeur, Egalite, Justice, Politique:  De Marx a Aristote et d’ Aristote a nous” (Les carrefours du labyrinthe , Seuil Paris 1978), he also demonstrated the problems, the omissions and the impasses of the Aristotelian views on justice and equality.
[66] See T. Fotopoulos, Towards an Inclusive Democracy, Cassell 1997.
T. Fotopoulos, ‘Towards a democratic liberatory ethics’, Democracy & Nature, vol 8 no 3, November 2002, pp. 361-395.
For a more extensive discussion of these points see: T. Fotopoulos, ‘On a Distorted View of the Inclusive Democracy Project’, Democracy & Nature, vol 5 no 1, March 1999, pp. 175-188.