The sacred, social creativity and the state

Critical Horizons 7 (1):207-238 (2006)
This paper explores the specific contribution of a strand of contemporary French social theory founded by Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort to the understanding of human power. It formulates a conception of power that transcends its definitions in terms of physical coercion or institutionalised violence to reveal the way power is creative and institutes the social. Its reflection on the cultural nature of political power and it role in society is shown to extend the pioneering reflection of Durkheim's sociology, especially as regards the homology that exists between religion and politics. The social role performed by the state explored by Durkheim prefigures Gauchet's theory of the state, which builds on Lefort's work. Gauchet's theory can be said to elaborate a critical synthesis of the two stands of Durkheim's work: the sociology of religion and the sociology of the modern state. This synthesis raises questions on the role played by the European state in the development of individualism, in both its political and economic manifestations.
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