Castoriadis and Critical Theory: Crisis, Critique and Radical Alternatives, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014; 183 pp.: ISBN 978-1-137-03445-8, 82,38 [euro] (hbk)
In times of prolonged crisis and retreat of social values, a critical view of reality is essential. Christos Memos' most recent book, Castoriadis and Critical Theory, draws upon the political and social thought of Cornelius Castoriadis to pose the following question: what do crisis, critique and autonomy mean in our attempts to overcome the dominant contradictions and alienation within modern, Western, neoliberal societies?
The book is divided into five chapters, plus an introduction and conclusion. The first chapter is an overview of the historical and social context of Castoriadis' thought. By approaching Castoriadis' work in this way, Memos demonstrates the plasticity of his ideas over time, thus removing them from an intellectual museum and showing, in a Hegelian fashion, how ideas constitute the expression of a specific era in its conceptual definitions, which in turn helps us to recognize the reflection of the past in the present. The second chapter examines Castoriadis' critique of totalitarianism. Particular emphasis is given to his dialogue with Lefort, Trotsky and Pannekoek on the transformation of the socialist programme into a closed and authoritarian orthodoxy in the historically existing socialist systems of the day. The third chapter explores Castoriadis' dialogue with Arendt on the prospects and boundaries of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and his critique of Althusser's position on the crisis of Marxism in the second half of the 20th century.
The fourth and fifth chapters, which in my view are the most innovative and original, consist of an in-depth analysis of Castoriadis' critique of Marxism (and Marx's own thinking) and a discussion of his thought on the prospects of organizing and developing a revolutionary practice with a view to achieving human emancipation and dignity. Here, above all, Memos demonstrates the radical nature of Castoriadis' work by exploring it through a fruitful engagement with the tradition of Critical Theory, underlining the dialectical preconditions of his thought.
To my mind, the purpose of Memos' work is to reassess Castoriadis' contribution to the development of a critical mode of thinking by juxtaposing his theory with the crisis of the traditional left and the decline of Western neo-liberal societies. In this...