From the Critique of Totalitarianism to the Invention of Democracy


I adopt the basic outline of this essay from Miguel Abensour’s distinction of “two interpretations of totalitarianism” in Lefort’s work. In a word, his first critique was directed at defining, denouncing, and overcoming the practices of Soviet totalitarianism (and its influence on the politics of western Communist parties and their intellectual camp-followers). Step-by-step, beginning in the 1940s, Lefort untangled the aporia of Marxist (and Leninist) politics. He then left behind his days as an active militant to develop a philosophical second critique that he used to decipher the restless ambiguities of modern democracies. A close look at the work of the militant as well as that of the philosopher shows that Lefort’s two critiques are complementary; neither can stand alone. That is the reason that Claude Lefort’s last book was titled La complication (1999).

Logos Journal - Critique of Totalitarianism

Lefort’s First Critique of Totalitarianism: The Aporia of Marxist Politics

Lefort’s philosophy professor in occupied Paris suggested to his young student that he would be interested in reading Trotsky. The professor (who happened to be Maurice Merleau-Ponty) was correct; Lefort joined a Trotskyist resistance group (and continued to study with the philosopher). After the war, in 1948, politics and philosophy led Lefort to join Cornelius Castoriadis to create a militant splinter group which also published a journal called Socialisme ou Barbarie, a title reflected the democratic radicalism of Rosa Luxemburg. The occasion for the split was Trotsky’s interpretation of Stalinism as a political deformation imposed on the supposedly socialist relations of production that had been established by the 1917 Russian revolution. Trotsky’s interpretation assumed that political forms (called “super-structures”) had distorted the economic infrastructures producing an alienated working class incapable of autonomous activity. For its part, Socialisme ou Barbarie proposed to interpret Soviet relations of production as the result of the emergence of a new type of social division based on the distinction between those who give orders (the dirigeants) and whose who must obey them (the exécutants)[1].

From this new perspective, they criticized the Stalinist bureaucracy not only, like Trotsky, because it was a parasite appropriating the economic surplus produced by laboring society; they interpreted it as a new type of dominant class whose position cannot be explained by a Marxist account of the opposition of economic society to a state that owns all private property. A revolution against bureaucratic domination must do more than eliminate the political rulers of the moment; it must inaugurate a social transformation that overcomes the relations of domination that reproduce the division between the dirigeants who give orders and the exécutants whose passivity is a denial of the capacity for initiative that makes them human. This practical conclusion had theoretical consequences hat questioned fundamental assumptions of Marxism. In the place of the Trotskyist interpretation of the political power of the Stalinist bureaucracy that distorts the relations of production that had been “socialized” by the overthrow of capitalism, Socialisme ou Barbarie began to develop the idea of a new type of social division in which political activity cannot be separated from the reproduction of society itself [2]. This was their first step toward the idea of totalitarianism. For Lefort, the first stepping stone (in a 1951 essay) was Marcel Mauss’ concept of a “total social fact”.

The next step for these critical Marxists was to understand the conditions that permitted the emergence of the unprecedented political domination by the bureaucracy as an unintended result of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution that had claimed to overcome capitalist exploitation [3]. Given Trotsky’s role in that revolution and its early aftermath, it is not surprising that despite his opposition to Stalinism, Trotsky was blind to the cascading descent through which the Bolshevik party had become the principal agent and beneficiary of the new form of social division [4]. As Lefort demonstrates, the party’s actions were explicable sometimes as the result of its recognition of the imperatives of retaining political control whereas at other moments its choices were based on the social constraints imposed by imperatives of economic production.

After the defeat of its external enemies, the revolution needed to assure its domestic bases. In 1922, under Lenin’s (and Trotsky’s) leadership, social stability was sought by a “New Economic Policy” (the NEP) based on the principle of a free market and capitalism. Similarly, state run productive enterprises were supposed to operate on “a profit basis”. On the other hand, the state had to impose political measures to insure centralized control over the social relations of production. The result was a contradiction between the emerging modern industrial relations that demand autonomous decision-making and the Plan imposed by the ruling party. During the years following Lenin’s death in 1924 the aspirants to leadership of the party faced a dilemma. In order to retain its autonomy as a political actor, the party had to adapt to socio-economic realities even though its stated goal was their overcoming in a classless society. To master these economic constraints, the party abandoned its professed materialism in favor of an idealistic voluntarism that treated the difficulty as political. The resulting contradictions became apparent in the contrast between the imaginary results proclaimed by the Five-Year Plan and the lived experience of the population.

The elimination of both the Right and the Left Opposition (ca. 1933) and the complete domination of Stalin marked the moment when it was apparent that the processes set in motion by the revolution had swept from power both the former Masters of Production and the ephemeral self-rule of the proletariat itself. The Bolshevik party had become a new kind of dominant class, a political bureaucracy whose self-contradictory claim to legitimacy was at once idealist (pretending to seek a new society) and materialist (protecting its own power). The seeds of totalitarianism can be found in this paradoxical prehistory of the rise to power of Stalinism. The total politicization of all types of socio-economic relations eliminates the autonomy of the political, which now can only react to external conditions. In this way, really existing totalitarian politics denies its political nature by appealing to the material necessities that call it to action. As a result, because bureaucracy was all-pervasive. Soviet society had no need for political rule (or its self-justification).

Lefort often talked of the place that the Bolshevik bureaucracy came to occupy can be described by a phrase from Merleau-Ponty: it is “partout et nulle part”[5]. The philosopher was describing the place of philosophy as an “enigma” whose stability is without foundation. For Lefort, the Hungarian revolution of November 1956 ripped apart the illusory permanence and stability of totalitarian domination. Lefort drew together the strands of the paradoxical figure that conceals the origin of totalitarianism in his essay Totalitarianism without Stalin. Dead since 1953, Stalin was denounced as a dictator at the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet party three years later in February 1956; in June, Polish workers’ revolts forced the party to accept the return of the “revisionist”  Gomulka; in late October, Hungarian workers and intellectuals fought, arms in hand, an invading Soviet army for 12 days. This unexpected concatenation of events triggered two distinct but interrelated challenges to the Marxist project that had been present but never explicit in Lefort’s activism for the past decade [6]. Philosophically, the idea of revolution as an historical rupture between the past and a future in which the truth of history is revealed no longer appeared a desirable goal, or even a real possibility. Politically, the spontaneity of the workers’ revolts showed that society is not composed of inert, lifeless matter that needs to be organized by external actors who know how to reach out for a promised future. If society is inert, this may be the result of its unreasonable blind faith in such Leaders!

The challenges to the Marxist premises of its political engagement led to a split within Socialisme ou Barbarie. Lefort and his comrades rejected the need for a vanguard party, but they did not abandon the idea of revolution; they set out to describe, encourage and organize forms of social autonomy. After two years, they had to admit failure [7]. Although he ceased to consider himself a political activist in 1958, Lefort did not abandon his desire for an anti-capitalist revolution. Following the sudden death of Merleau-Ponty, he took responsibility for the edition of the incomplete manuscript of Le visible et l’invisible, and later for La prose du monde, published respectively in 1964 and 1969. His own major publication during this period, La politique et la pensée de la politique (1963) brought together the results of the critique of totalitarianism and his continued attention to political action in a transitional text. The illusory hopes of the radical left awakened by the Algerian struggle had been dashed (not only by the French acquiescence to independence but by the internal struggles of the Algerian revolt); a new revolutionary subject failed to appear in the non-capitalist world.

Lefort realized that his political critique of totalitarianism had opened a dimension that pointed to a philosophical problem. His critique had been both materialist and idealist; as apparently complete, spontaneous, and independent of external considerations, it claimed to represent the consciousness of a revolutionary subject seeking to free itself from the chains of bureaucratic dominance. At the same time, however, it warned against an illusory unification that imagines the proletariat to be both object and subject, a sort of body that stands at the head of the revolutionary future. The philosophical problem with this imaginary figure is that such an ideal unity leaves no time or space free for reflexion and self-reflexion; it is unable to explain itself because – as in the inertia of society imagined by the vanguard party – it appears as an objective agent rather than as a free subject capable of initiative. The resulting social paralysis can only be escaped by the introduction of an outside agent – the party – that breaks the imaginary spell of unity and makes political action possible. In effect, while the unitary structure was critical (of ideological illusions) it was not self-critical. As a result, criticism of the alienation and exploitation imposed by capitalism was abstractly moral; it left no room for autonomous political action.

The concluding lines of Lefort’s brief essay of 1963 point to the need to rethink “la pensée de la politique”. It is noteworthy that his second critique of totalitarianism begins by affirming that the critical Marxist inspiration of the first critique had not been in vain. A long citation conveys the spirit of his transition:

The idea of a theory that accepts the absence of determination and of a politics dedicated to conflict is not foreign to the spirit of Marxism. It is Marx who taught us to recognize that the creation of modern society is characterized by the collapse of traditional communities, the destruction of traditional modes of production and communication, of rules, models and ideologies that had assured men that they had a definite place in society and in nature. We see in Marx’s image of the proletariat the symbol of the rupture of social unity and, in the very movement of history, we see a question of the relation of man to Being. If those two intuitions have been hidden by the myth of a universal class and of a human community that encompasses the limits of the earth, that is perhaps because he was more indebted than he thought to the rationalism of western political philosophy[8].

The need for a transition becomes explicit in the sentence that concludes Lefort’s essay which suggests that “if we now doubt his [Marx’s] radicalism, it is perhaps because he was, in spite of appearances, the ultimate expression of a tradition in which modern thought can no longer recognize itself”. One can speculate whether the editor of the unpublished manuscripts of Merleau-Ponty was thinking here of the Heideggerian tonalities of The Visible and the Invisible, or whether the idea of Marx as “the ultimate expression of a tradition” referred to Marx’s unmistakable Hegelian heritage, as another posthumous manuscript of Merleau-Ponty, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy since Hegel, that Lefort published while he was elaborating his second critique of totalitarianism. Rather than debate the undecidable, it is better to turn to the new direction in Lefort’s thought [9].

Interlude: From Marx to Machiavelli

Recognizing the difficulties faced by in his first critique of the political logic of totalitarianism, Lefort abandoned the revolutionary project of transcending social division. He returned to his analysis of the figure of Machiavelli as interpreter of the first experiences of modern democracy. Lefort distinguished three distinct critical and self-critical currents that flowed together while retaining their proper form to define the new historical epoque of modernity. The first of these articulates forms of Power that must exist in order for a society to understand itself as a society. The modes of existence of power in the modern epoch are distinct from those available to the classical contemplative life of leisure; their basis is the vita activa, an historical figure typified by the status of the Prince who is both threatening and threatened. The second current is established by the forms of Law that regulate mutual relations among citizens within a polity; the uniqueness of modernity depends on the need for legitimacy of laws to be based on republican self-government rather than the figure of the classical lawgiver (be it theological or secular). The third element is formed by the new types of Knowledge generated by critical dialogue among peers which can no longer appeal to eternal truths that are objective and universal; rather than rely on a static a priori ontological truth the moderns are concerned with shared meaning (sens) that emerges amidst the finitude, temporal fluctuation, and global transformations of new worlds.

The confluence of these three currents in modernity does not unite them in one unique figure similar to the World Spirit or the Philosopher-King; their modern figure accepts a pluralism articulated in configurations that are open to change. Lefort’s later philosophical critique of totalitarianism reformulated his rejection of the imaginary idea of the possibility of incarnating the unity of Power, Law, and Knowledge. In the case of Machiavelli, he shows how the Florentine repeatedly analyzes modernity as a contested space with neither a center nor a determined circumference whose its indetermination opens an originary place for a mode of social relations that Lefort began to define as le politique. His point was not that Machiavelli offered lessons for the modern democratic practice of la politique politics; his argument was that le politique is a modern form of social relations that makes possible democracy.

The potentially democratic figure of Machiavelli’s analysis acquires its dynamic aspect in his interpretation of the role of conflict in Livy’s Discourses. Reflecting on Livy’s History of Rome from his rural exile, Machiavelli underlined the multiple ways that oppression by the powerful had been countered by the desire for freedom. Lefort interprets these conflicts as figurations of what he calls “an originary division of the social” based on the opposition of the desire of the Great to command to the refusal of the People to submit to for that is illegitimate because it is arbitrary. As originary, this conflict has the structure of a dialectic (without any teleology). The outcome of the conflict neither breaks the popular will nor eliminates the plebs, whose renewed refusal is constitutive of freedom. The exercise of freedom is not a zero-sum conflict; it creates a dynamic that encourages the growth of both the desire for domination and the assertion of liberty.

Lefort enriched this basic perspective in a later development of J.G.A. Pocock’s concept of a “Machiavellian moment” that is said to describe the historical genesis of the “originary conflict” in the history of early English democracy. He came to realize that the validity of this positive interpretation of social conflict is expressed in appears as the invention of unimagined figures of Law that replace arbitrary rule by private power with forms of public regulation. Similarly, social conflict can revivify formal juridical institutions whose routinization has desiccated the normative values essential to the life of a republic. Although Lefort never reflected on the unity and coherence of his own work, it is tempting to identify the idea of an “originary conflict” with the concept of a “Machiavellian moment” that occurs when the routinization of conflicts of everyday politics poses the question of their foundation demands the kind of philosophical reflection that Lefort calls “the political” that makes possible the renewed invention of democracy [10]. However these questions are answered, it appears that Lefort has landed far from his Marxist starting point.

The Critique of Totalitarianism as an “invention démocratique”

The most pregnant expression of Lefort’s second critique of totalitarianism is found in Droits de l’homme et politique. The text was published in 1980 in a new journal, Libre whose editorial committee included both Lefort and Castoriadis (among others) who were brought together for a moment by the changed political times. The inglorious end of the American war in Vietnam had discredited liberalism at the same time that Mao’s cultural revolution (and Pol Pot’s Cambodian reign of terror) had disgraced the vision of socialist revolution. Ideological confusion gave rise to strange bedfellows as former leftists inscribed liberalism and human rights on their crusading banners, forgetting the socio-economic exploitation the new radicals unthinkingly ignored. On the liberal left, the self-proclaimed “New Philosophers” who had thrown out the Marxist baby with the totalitarian bathwater occupied the spotlight.

The title of Lefort’s essay could lead to misunderstandings. His claim was not that human rights could or should be the basis of specific political choices; his essay questions the relation of the widely advertised concept of human rights to what Lefort had begun to call «the political». Rereading Marx’s 1843 essay On the Jewish Question, which apparently marks the young Marx’s transition from political idealism to a materialist theory, Lefort notes that it avoids the questionposed by its title. Marx treats the concept of human rights as merely an expression of the hard, self-interested claims of a new bourgeoisie, which Marx deprives its human depth by characterizing it as “Jewish”. As a result, argues Lefort, Marx’s materialism blinds him to both history and to politics; he is unable to recognize the symbolic horizon opened by the idea that humans have rights that must be affirmed (and also expanded) through political struggle. Rights do not only exist as static statutory laws or constitutional principles; new imagined rights are invented in democratic struggles.

Lefort’s argument is not that Marx’s critique of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man was materially false; his point is that neglect of the symbolic status of the rights claimed by the Declaration led Marx to ignore the distinction between a liberal-moral and a political-historical interpretation of human rights that poses the question of the political[i]that is essential to a dynamic democracy. The fact that rights are only symbolic does mean that they are a token or trivial concession. Lefort’s critique of Marx’s one-sided materialism has contemporary implication. The defense of really existing human rights as they have come to be in contemporary liberal societies fails to recognize the dynamic space opened by the assertion that humans as such have rights and that their compass can be enlarged (but also eliminated by totalitarianism). This interplay between the symbolic and the political is the reason why Lefort republished his essay in a volume called L’invention démocratique. He added to the volume a subtitle, Les limites du totalitarisme, that makes it clear that he had abandoned the materialism that was central to his first critique of totalitarianism.

This continuity and the new direction of Lefort’s critique explains his increasing use of the concept of the symbolic [11]. He recognizes a further political problem that arises from the fact that the critic who claims to unmask the material presuppositions human rights judges from a moral standpoint whose universality is distinct from the particular interests of actual people. Even if the criticism were both vivid and valid, such universal claims have no hold on the social world. In order for criticism to challenge political conditions, its symbolic character must become clear. This is the challenge that Lefort faced when he intervened in the debates that followed the translation of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, which Lefort called “a book that a small number of us had long awaited” [12]. His recognition of the difficulty is expressed in the title of his book, Un homme en trop, published in 1976.

Two examples illustrate the centrality of the symbolic to Lefort’s renewed critique of Soviet totalitarism. At the summit of the totalitarian system stands the figure of the Egocrat surrounded by mini-egocrats who constitute his organic body. The occupant(s) of the summit answer to the need to incarnate communist rule whose symbolic justification is to unify in one figure the foundation of Power, Law, and Knowledge. This claim to incorporate in one unity the symbolic foundations of society fatally condemns the Egocrat. As in Marx’s critique of all unity in reality condemns triad fatally condemns him. As with Marx’s critique of the Declaration, the incarnation of the symbolic is not its realization but its destruction. The limitlessness of the claims of the Egocrat becomes a parody; its exaggerations are is met by ridicule if not indifference.

The prisoner in the Gulag, represents the other pole of the picture painted by the Gulag. The Zek has not been condemned for a specific act; he is the “excess man”, an outcast, useless human refuse whose experience in the camps represents the singularity of a totalitarian world that has neither figure nor features; it is anomic, asocial and ultimately antipolitical. However, unlike the Egocrat, the Zek is also a human, even if he is denied a place in the world of other persons. The apparent similarity of his situation to that of the Marxist proletariat as a «nothing that can become everything» is illusory; the Zek does not incarnate a positive concrete post-totalitarian future[13]. As Lefort insists, Solzhenitsyn describes his book modestly as a «literary investigation», an analytic mode practiced elsewhere in his writing. Why, then, did Lefort insist on the political importance of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag for “us”?

Although he himself had abandoned the aporias of Marxism in favor of a philosophical critique, he asks “Why were we waiting for this book?”. His answer begins with the admission that “[t]he question is hard to formulate, he admits. [H]ow… could fear of the truth have been so stubbornly maintained here in France…by most of those who considered themselves leftists, and who nonetheless knew what they didn’t want to know”. Lefort explains further that “when I ask this question, I am thinking of how to understand the old enigma described by La Boétie: What are the roots of voluntary servitude when the despot who was supposed to incarnate the answer to that question no longer exists, and when his substitute, the Party, is no longer venerated?”. The totalitarianism that replaces the despot who enforced obedience by a self-willed servitude is reinforced an imaginaire structured by the concomitant search for both unity and its incorporation (or embodiment). That imaginaire was incarnate in the Egocrat whose reality is inscribed in the “organs” of the Party; this imaginaire destroys the symbolic place of the political[14]. Lefort’s attempt to understand this antipolitical imaginaire no more claims to provide answers than did Solzhenitsyn’s “literary investigation” but it did lead him to return repeatedly to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.

Lefort’s reading of Tocqueville stresses a series of “inversions” or “reversals” whose unpredictability opens democratic regimes to what I call a totalitarian temptation whose basis is the imaginary search for the incorporation of unity in a stabile body unmoved by the changing whims of liberty or the fluctuating figures of equality. The inversions and reversals take place between the symbolic principles of equality and liberty as each seeks its realization. As real, liberty threatens to dissolve equality, while on the other hand, realized equality leaves no space for liberty to manifest itself. Both now familiar figures are based on the replacement of the symbolic foundation of the political by an imaginary quest for the impossible incarnation of the sovereign people, which will always be either greater or less than its imaginary representation. Lefort’s solution to this antinomy rejects the imaginary project of social unity in favor of a recognition that in a democratic society, the place of power must always remain empty for the same reasons that the symbolic can never become real. While Lefort at times suggests that perhaps the concept of a “savage democracy” could at once express the impossible realization of democracy while preserving the symbolic efficacity of democracy. A similar account implicit in the earlier analysis Machiavelli’s insight that a necessarily divided society can never know itself from within could also be mobilized to explain the imaginary project of both totalitarianism and phenomenon of voluntary servitude.

The consistency of Lefort’s political thinking reappears in his final book, whose title is no surprise: La complication (1999). Provoked by the newly popular “ideological” post-Soviet necrologies of totalitarianism in the publications of Martin Malia and François Furet, Lefort reached back to his earlier materialist critique of to show that both historians’ analyses were (in different ways) focused exclusively on the imaginary dimension of totalitarianism. Their stress on the supposedly real effects of ideology blinded them its symbolic status. Lefort does not generally dispute their historical research as such because his criticism is ultimately directed at “us” and our own search for an imaginary logic of history in our uncertain times. Like “us”, Lefort suggests, Malia and Furet wanted their work to be understood as an engagement in their times. Like Marx facing the contradiction between the ideals of the revolutionaries and the reality of the times, each seemed to imagine that he stood at the end of a historical moment which provided a general standpoint from which to judge the past. This assumption could not be more different from whose Lefort’s work whose political judgements were based on a wager accepted en connaissance de cause. Consistent with his understanding of democracy, he appeals neither to historical certainties nor a priori moral universals. There will be no “lutte finale”, nor an “International” that overcomes social division and realizes the “genre humain”[15].

In Guise of a Conclusion

Both the critique of totalitarianism and the invention of democracy employ a grammatical form that may be confusing: who is doing the work of critique, who is doing the inventor? In Lefort’s work, it seems that the object is performing an action; totalitarianism is criticizing itself just as democracy is inventing itself. This structure seems to result from Lefort’s philosophical conception of “the political” (at least after the essay on Totalitarianism without Stalin, and more explicitly in La politique et la pensée de la politique). This apparently distanced posture regarding the realities of politics seems justified by the refusal to adopt a moral position whose universalist claims are necessarily abstract and foreign to the realities of politics. The symbolic political theory that I have proposed here suggests a way to begin to bridge this gap.

[1] The economic analysis of the USSR was largely inspired by Cornelius Castoriadis, the co-founder of the group with whom Lefort would have political disagreements that led him to leave the group at the end of the 1950s.  The two would come together—and then split, before rejoining several projects built around the publication of the journals Textures and Libre, as well as contributing (in June 1968) to the book on the implications of May 1968 in La brèche.
[2] See Lefort’s early essays L’échange et la lutte des hommes (originally, «Les temps modernes» [1951]), and Société ‘sans histoire’ et historicité (originally, «Cahiers international de Sociologie» [1952]); both are reprinted in Les formes de l’histoire. Essais d’anthropologie politique, Gallimard, Paris 1978.
[3] As a Marxist, Lefort knew that there is a difference between peoples’ conscious intentions and the material results of their actions in actual social-historical conditions. As a student of Merleau-Ponty, he was also familiar with the paradoxes developed in the philosopher’s 1947 Humanism and Terror. See Lefort’s Préface to the re-edition of that essay in 1980.
[4] C.f., Lefort’s essay on La contradiction de Trotsky et le problème révolutionnaire, «Les temps modernes» (1948-49), reprinted in C. Lefort, Eléments d’une théorie de la bureaucratie, Genève, Droz 1971, 2nd edition augmented 1978 by Galliimard.  The fact that this essay was not published in «Socialisme ou barbarie» reflects the influence of Merleau-Ponty, who was at that time an editor of that journal.
[5] See Merleau-Ponty’s Introduction to the collective volume Les philosophes célèbres, reprinted Signes (1960).
[6] He recognized a particular type of activist blindness to totalitarianism in his second critique of totalitarianism in his essay on Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago when he raises La Boétie’s question of «self-incurred servitude». C.f. section III, below.
[7] The two organizations they created were the ILO and ICO, abbreviations for Informations et Liasons ouvrières, names that suggest the attempt to avoid the contradictions of a vanguard party. Although Lefort admitted to failure, others persisted, particularly Henri Simon (who discussed the experience in an interview printed by the group of students at Caen called Anti-mythes, which also published interviews with Lefort and Castoriadis).
[9] The first part of Philosophy and non-Philosophy since Hegel was published in «Textures», (1974) 8-9, pp. 83-129. The second part appeared in «Textures», (1975) 10-11, pp. 145-73.
[10] The title of the volume in which Lefort republished this essay stresses this point. L’invention démocratique (1981) also carried the subtitle, Les limites de la domination totalitaire, pointing to the relation between this new stage of Lefort’s thought and his earlier critique of totalitarianism.
[11] Although, like many in his generation, he was influenced by Lacan’s distinction of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real, Lefort’s own interpretation emerged after he had exhausted the potential of a Marxist leftist in his first critique. The influence of Merleau-Ponty’s later work was also important.
[12] The essay that forms the first chapter of Lefort’s book was first published as L’Archipel et nous during his renewed collaboration with Castoriadis (among others) in «Textures», (1975) No. 10-11.
[13] A contemporary irony! «Le Monde» (November 18, 2022) notes that Prigogine, the leader of the Wagner Brigade that had been doing the dirty work of the Kremlin in Chechnya, Syria and now Ukraine is a former prisoner (in the camps from 1981 to 1990), who points out that «the prisoners have a level of consciousness that is superior to that of the Russian elites», adding that the elites «have chosen their own comfort rather than the good of the people».
[14] This symbolic structure is also the foundation of Lefort’s well-known insistence that in a democracy «the place of power must remain empty».
[15] Mutatis mutandis, Lefort’s argument recalls his 1981 Preface to Merleau-Ponty’s Humanism and Terror, which was often interpreted as a defense of Bolshevism against Koestler’s criticisms without asking about its relation to the «provisional morality» that Merleau-Ponty adopted in the next years, after the evidence of the Soviet camps had been blinding. The philosopher’s politics anticipate aspects of Lefort’s stress in his 1999 essay, La complication.



  • Dick Howard

    Dick Howard is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University. He divides his time between New York and Paris. He has published 17 books, of which 12 are in English (including three editions of The Marxian Legacy), as well as volumes in French, most recently, Les ombres de l’Amérique. De Kennedy à Trump (Editions Francois Bourin, 2018).

Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

Logos Journal - Scalia Myths

Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

Logos Journal - Scalia Myths