BECAUSE WE WILL IT: THE POSSIBILITIES AND LIMITS OF DEMOCRACY IN LATE MODERNITY
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Cornelius Castoriadis' life can be characterized as one of engaged dissent. As a founding member of the Socialisme ou Barbarie group in France, Castoriadis maintained a consistent position as an opponent of both Western capitalism and Soviet totalitarianism during the Cold War. This position also placed Castoriadis in opposition to the mainstream French left, particularly Jean-Paul Sartre, who supported the French Communist Party and defended the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the group, Castoriadis continued to assert the possibility of constructing participatory democratic institutions in opposition to the existing bureaucratic capitalist institutional structure in the Western world.
The bureaucratic-capitalist institutional apparatus of the late modern era perpetuates a system where the individual is increasingly excluded from the democratic political process and isolated within the private sphere. However, the private sphere is not a refuge from the intrusion of the bureaucratic-capitalist imaginary, which consistently seeks to subject the whole of society to rational planning. Each individual is shaped by his relationship to the bureaucracy; on the one hand, his relationships with other become subjected to an instrumental calculus, while at the same time, the individual seeks to find some meaning for the world around him by turning to the private sphere. Furthermore, a crisis of meaning pervades late modern societies, where institutions are incapable of providing answers to the questions posed to them by individuals living in these societies. As a result, when individuals are able to participate in the democratic process, they tend to carry political ideas constructed in the private world into the public sphere, often to the detriment of the democratic process itself.
Castoriadis seeks to reconcile liberty and broad public participation through the inclusion of the imaginary in democratic theory. He contends that it is possible to construct an autonomous society that emphasizes the creativity of the individual and the collective in the construction of the institutions that govern it. However, democratic theory conceived in this fashion must construct limits to political participation in order to insure that the democratic process itself is not destroyed by the emergence of political ideas antithetical to democracy.