In this video, the universal philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis is interviewed by Teta Papadopoulou for the broadcast called Paraskinio (Backstage).
Castoriadis was born in Istanbul in 1922 and after the Asia Minor Catastrophe moved with his family to Athens. His parents were distinguished school teachers, enlightened anti-royalists, who quickly become among the strongest influences on his philosophical adventures. Castoriadis during his early adulthood became an active Marxist after joining the Greek Communist Party (KKE) in 1992, only to abandon it one year later after criticizing its leadership, exposing its chauvinistic and ultra-bureaucratic tendencies. He, later on, joined the small Trotskyist Group of Spyros Stinas which resulted in his persecution by both the Nazi occupiers, the Gestapo forces and the Stalinist guerillas of EAM (that officially belonged to the KKE) who executed dozens of non-Stalinist Marxists in Greece before and after the December 1944 violent clashes in Athens.
In 1945 Castoriadis after wining a scholarship from the French Government, will permanently move to Paris. There he published the magazine “Socialism ou Barbarie” (a magazine that included Jean-François Lyotard, Guy Debord and profoundly influenced the French intellectual left), which – despite its small circulation – inspired radically the revolutionary students of May ’68. A few years later he will entirely abandon Marxism – a theory that (as he states in the documentary) became degenerated into a tool for the preservation of the Soviet regime (or other similarly bureaucratic regimes). He, then, begun to develop his own social and political theories, by combining different fields of knowledge, such as philosophy, politics, psychoanalysis, economics, biology. During this time, Castoriadis spoke about the project of autonomy (as almost tautological with direct democracy). For Castoriadis, an autonomous society knows (consciously) that every institution is created by its members and no extrasocial force (such as the laws of ancestors, the laws of markets, the laws of history, laws of God) interferes in the common world of public sphere.
The Castoriadian project of autonomy is, however, twofold: it is, on one hand, synonymous with the freedom of prattein, but this freedom is not exercised arbitrarily; it is not unrestricted. For Castoriadis autonomy (and democracy) is also the regime of equality and self-limitation, that is direct acknowledgement of some ethical restrictions aiming to prevent individuals (or societies) to fall in hubris, in the condition of unlimited desire for pride and power which leads to enmity and destruction. Hitherto, there have been two historical periods (as he explains in the interview) where autonomous movements emerged; one is ancient Greece (particularly Athens). The second can be found shortly after the decline of medieval feudalism. The project of social and individual autonomy is a reflection of the progress and evolution of the spirit of Greek antiquity in the modern age. This spirit is enhanced when citizens become politically active; engaged in political movements (such as the labour movement or minority initiatives, historically speaking) that call into question the existing social institutionalized order, proposing more openness and broader participation in the decision making at the same time, or it recedes when societies conform to the existing order and cease to despise norms, values and ethics (a condition that for Castoriadis reflects the state of heteronomy).