This article examines Claude Lefort's writings in order to think about the ‘social’, understood as separate from the political, and in its separation, as a strictly modern ‘phenomenon’. Prior to the modern democratic revolution, the collective order was presented through the representation of power, itself identified with both law and knowledge, and referred to a transcendent source. At a first moment, the modern democratic revolution, under the sign of the general will, renders power immanent. At a second moment, it (...) separates power from law and, above all, knowledge, such that three domains emerge, each with its own logic, its own notion of representation, its own divisions. The ‘social’, in a sense, arises between these two moments. At one level, it appears as an event in, and in consequence an object of, knowledge, once knowledge need no longer be, primarily, a knowledge of power or law, that is the enunciation of the principles by which the latter establish the order, coherence and sense of the world. At another level the ‘social’ emerges as a response to the difficulties presented by a strictly political representation of societal order–difficulties in no small part due to the revolutionaries’ inability to countenance the separation between the three domains. In this regard the ‘social’ appears as a presupposition that serves to stabilize an inherently conflictual political order. It is, however, an ‘empty’ presupposition, without determinate content, and therefore also a source of uncertainty. While this emptiness proves a stimulus for the construction of new savoirs, it also accounts for the fragility of all discourses that would speak in its name (social science, social theory, sociology). The article concludes with a few words about the ‘death of the social’. (shrink)
En este artículo nos proponemos mostrar el lugar que ocupa el descubrimiento de los campos de trabajo forzado en la concepción sartriana de la política. Trataremos asimismo de mostrar que su concepción del poder impide captar la esencia totalitaria del régimen comunista que se estableció en la URSS a partir de 1923. Trataremos también de mostrar lo que dicha concepción debe a las discusiones con Maurice Merleau-Ponty y con Claude Lefort.
In order to raise the question of a potential compatibility between the awareness of Otherness on the one hand, and a form of universality on the other, some hypotheses should first be formulated and defined. 1) How does moral relativism equate to the rejection of universal discourses? 2) Consequently, how can this rejection be understood as a result of Modernity? 3) How can Modernity be understood as recognition of Otherness? The current paper will attempt to outline some answers to these (...) questions based on a comparative reading between Kelsen and Lefort. Firstly, in order to explicate the main lines of the Kelsenian relativistic axiology it seems crucial to consider his second edition of the Pure Theory of Law, since one can find within it the grounds for a limitation of human cognition. His Farewell Lecture, “What is justice?”, is also relevant to this theme since in it he claims that the human world is a world of relative and conflicting values. The combination of these two ideas leads to the rejection of Universalist discourses – identified with the ones of Natural Law theories – in the name of science. Secondly, three of Lefort’s articles seem to be relevant. The first, “The Image of the Body and Totalitarianism”, enables us to understand his symbolic political philosophy, and more importantly, to introduce his definition of Modernity. “Dissolution of Marks and Democratic Challenge” focuses more on the concept of moral relativism, whilst interpreting it as a consistent reaction to modern indeterminacy. Finally, “Politics and Human Rights” offers a restricted concept of Human Rights, reminiscent of Hannah Arendt’s views, namely that human rights mean the rights to have rights. (shrink)
Claude Lefort's rethinking of ‘the political’ has been highly fruitful for political theory, yet its politics remain unclear. It has inspired transformative, radical-democratic projects, but has also served as a basis for more liberal conceptions. This article explores the sources and implications of this ambiguity by setting Lefort's work against the backdrop of the anti-totalitarian moment in French political thought and the trajectories of two of his students, Miguel Abensour and Marcel Gauchet. It emerges that although Lefort's (...) democratic theory cannot be reduced to a defensive liberalism, neither is it as expansive as some might hope. (shrink)
This is the first English language volume to offer such a wide-ranging scholarly and intellectual perspective on Claude Lefort. It constitutes the most comprehensive attempt to reconstruct Lefort's engagement with his theoretical interlocutors as well as his influence on today's democratic thought and contemporary continental political philosophy.
The question of the oeuvre -- The concept of Machiavellianism -- Reading The prince. First signs -- The logic of force -- The social abyss and attachment to power -- Good and evil, the stable and the unstable, the real and the imaginary -- The present and the possible -- Reading The discourses. From The prince to The discourses -- Rome and the "historical" society -- Class difference -- War, and the difference of times -- Authority and the political subject (...) -- The oeuvre, ideology, and interpretation. (shrink)
From the beginning the French philosopher Claude Lefort has set himself the task of interpreting the political life of modern society-and over time he has succeeded in elaborating a distinctive conception of modern democracy that is linked to both historical analysis and a novel form of philosophical reflection. This book, the first full-scale study of Lefort to appear in English, offers a clear and compelling account of Lefort's accomplishment-its unique merits, its relation to political philosophy within the (...) Continental tradition, and its great relevance today. Much of what passes for political philosophy in our day is merely politicized philosophical concepts, a distinction author Bernard Flynn underscores as he describes the development of Lefort's truly political philosophy-its ideas formed in response to his own political experience and to the work of certain major figures within the tradition of political thought. Beginning with Lefort's most important single work, his book on Machiavelli, Flynn presents the philosopher's conceptions of politics, modernity, and interpretation in the context within which they took shape. He then draws on a wide variety of Lefort's works to explicate his notions of premodern and modern democracy in which totalitarianism, in Lefort's singular and highly influential theory, is identified as a permanent problem of modernity. A valuable exposition of one of the most important Continental philosophers of the post-World War II period, Flynn's book is itself a noteworthy work of interpretive philosophy, pursuing the ideas and issues addressed by Lefort to a point of unparalleled clarity and depth. (shrink)
To investigate the current status of hospital clinical ethics committees (CEC) and how they have evolved in Canada over the past 20 years, this paper presents an overview of the findings from a 2008 survey and compares these findings with two previous Canadian surveys conducted in 1989 and 1984. All Canadian hospitals over 100 beds, of which at least some were acute care, were surveyed to determine the structure of CEC, how they function, the perceived achievements of these committees and (...) opinions about areas with which CEC should be involved. The percentage of hospitals with CEC in our sample was found to be 85% compared with 58% and 18% in 1989 and 1984, respectively. The wide variation in the size of committees and the composition of their membership has continued. Meetings of CEC have become more regularised and formalised over time. CEC continue to be predominately advisory in their nature, and by 2008 there was a shift in the priority of the activities of CEC to meeting ethics education needs and providing counselling and support with less emphasis on advising about policy and procedures. More research is needed on how best to define what the scope of activities of CEC should be in order to meet the needs of hospitals in Canada and elsewhere. More research also is needed on the actual outcomes to patients, families, health professionals and organisations from the work of these committees in order to support the considerable time committee members devote to this endeavour. (shrink)
Nurses and physicians may experience ethical conflict when there is a difference between their own values, their professional values or the values of their organization. The distribution of limited health care resources can be a major source of ethical conflict. Relatively few studies have examined nurses' and physicians' ethical conflict with organizations. This study examined the research question ‘What are the organizational ethical conflicts that hospital nurses and physicians experience in their practice?’ We interviewed 34 registered nurses, 10 nurse managers, (...) and 31 physicians as part of a larger study, and asked them to describe their ethical conflicts with organizations. Through content analysis, we identified themes of nurses' and physicians' ethical conflict with organizations and compared the themes for nurses with those for physicians. (shrink)
Hospitals in many countries have had clinical ethics committees for over 20 years. Despite this, there has been little research to evaluate these committees and growing evidence that they are underutilized. To address this gap, we investigated the question ‘What are the barriers and facilitators nurses and physicians perceive in consulting their hospital ethics committee?’ Thirty-four nurses, 10 nurse managers and 31 physicians working at four Canadian hospitals were interviewed using a semi-structured interview guide as part of a larger investigation. (...) We used content analysis of the interview data related to barriers and facilitators to use of hospital ethics committees to identify nine categories of barriers and nine categories of facilitators. These categories as well as their subcategories are discussed and those specific to nurses or physicians are identified. The need to increase health professionals' use of clinical ethics committees through reducing barriers and maximizing facilitators is discussed. (shrink)
To interpret the possibilities of a Lefort-inspired theory of citizenship requires first that we depart from traditional liberal and republican theories of citizenship that conceive of the citizen's attachment to the political order in terms of interest or virtue. A Lefort-inspired theory of citizenship must also reconfigure the object of citizen attachment from an ‘empty place’ of power to an ‘absent-presence’. The nature of modern democratic citizenship is framed in terms of ambivalence as a symptom of the symbolic (...) order of democracy, and the precarious nature of political attachment in modern democracy is read as paralleling the precariousness of the symbolic order of modern democracy. In the face of this ambivalence, the possibilities of a Lefort-inspired theory of citizenship are conceived of explicitly not in terms of identification between competing political principles but in terms of a partial gesture of love to a metaphysical limit of democratic political society. (shrink)
Much of the literature on clinical ethical conflict has been specific to a specialty area or a particular patient group, as well as to a single profession. This study identifies themes of hospital nurses’ and physicians’ clinical ethical conflicts that cut across the spectrum of clinical specialty areas, and compares the themes identified by nurses with those identified by physicians. We interviewed 34 clinical nurses, 10 nurse managers and 31 physicians working at four different Canadian hospitals as part of a (...) larger study on clinical ethics committees and nurses’ and physicians’ use of these committees. We describe nine themes of clinical ethical conflict that were common to both hospital nurses and physicians, and three themes that were specific to physicians. Following this, we suggest reasons for differences in nurses’ and physicians’ ethical conflicts and discuss implications for practice and research. (shrink)
French political philosophy has experienced a renewal over the last twenty years. One of its leading projects is Marcel Gauchet’s reflection on democracy and religion. This project situates itself within the context of the French debate on modernity and autonomy launched by the work of Cornelius Castoriadis. Gauchet’s work makes a significant contribution to this debate by building on the pioneering work of Lefort on the political self-instituting capacity of modern societies and the associated shift from religion to ideology. (...) It thus explores the centrality of the notion of sovereignty in the advent of liberal democracy and conducts this reflection within an overall discussion of the role played by Christianity in the genesis of European modernity. It elaborates an anthropology of modernity which explores the relationship between individualism and democracy and redefines modernity as a project of sovereignty which aims at creating a radically new society, the society of individuals. (shrink)
A multiple-case study of four hospital ethics committees in Canada was conducted and data collected included interviews with key informants, observation of committee meetings and ethics-related hospital documents, such as policies and committee minutes. We compared the hospital committees in terms of their structure, functioning and perceptions of key informants and found variation in the dimensions of empowerment, organizational culture of ethics, breadth of ethics mandate, achievements, dynamism, and expertise.
This article attempts to reconstruct a Lefortian account of the phenomenon of political commitment. In a democracy, the gap between the subject of commitment and its object, the domain of politics, is unavoidable. The result is an attitude towards political causes characterized by a two-way movement between an engaged perspective and a more distant, realist perspective. Although the contrast between these two perspectives is disenchanting, we, as democratic citizens, nevertheless have an obligation to hold on to both perspectives simultaneously. Justification (...) of this claim will rely upon a rereading of several key texts by Lefort, such as ‘La politique et la pensée de la politique’ (1963) and Un Homme en trop (1976), in which Lefort analyses the attitudes of his contemporaries toward the Algerian cause and the Soviet regime. This study also sheds new light on the rational impetus behind Lefort's break with Socialisme ou Barbarie and his gradual progression towards a philosophy of democracy. (shrink)
In this article I confront Jürgen Habermas' deliberative model of democracy with Claude Lefort's analysis of democracy as a regime in which the locus of power remains an empty place. This confrontation reveals several structural similarities between the two authors and explains how the proceduralization of popular sovereignty provides a discourse-theoretical interpretation of the empty place of power. At the same time, Lefort's insistence on the open-ended nature of the democratic struggle also points towards an unresolved tension at (...) the core of Habermas' model between the cognitive nature of deliberation on the one hand and the freedom of moral and political agents on the other. A proper solution of this tension requires a full appreciation of the ineliminable gap between actual and ideal deliberation. Because actual deliberation can never result in an ideal consensus, the actual exercise of democratic power should be understood as an unavoidable interruption of deliberation. Key Words: consensus deliberation democracy empty place of power Jürgen Habermas Claude Lefort. (shrink)
This essay begins with the contention that phenomenology has taken a “hermeneutic turn,” “the things themselves” are always already interpreted. Philosophers often elaborate their own positions through a “reading” of the works of other philosophers. This is the case for Claude Lefort. Through his interpretive reading of the works of Machiavelli one sees the origin of Lefort’s idea of the autonomy and the anonymity of the political and thus his notion of political modernity. In tracing the evolution of (...)Lefort’s relationship to Marx, we witness the process by which he disengages himself from his early “enchantment” with the works of Marx and the idea of the proletariat as a class bearing universal interest. Ultimately he criticizes Marx for his attempt to derive the political from the dimension of the social. This issues in his theory of totalitarianism as the attempt of a regime to close in on itself, thus denying any gesture to the dimension of the other. (shrink)
The work that Maurice Merleau-Ponty planned to call _The Prose of the World,_ or _Introduction to the Prose of the World,_ was unfinished at the time of his death. The book was to constitute the first section of a two-part work whose aim was to offer, as an extension of his Phenomenology of Perception, a theory of truth. This edition's editor, Claude Lefort, has interpreted and transcribed the surviving typescript, reproducing Merleau-Ponty's own notes and adding documentation and commentary.
Writing involves risks—the risk that one will be misunderstood, the risk of being persecuted, the risks of being made a champion for causes in which one does not believe, this risk of inadvertently supporting a reader’s prejudices, to name a few. In trying to give expression to what is true, the writer must “clear a passage within the agitated world of passions,” an undertaking that always to some extent fails: writers are never the master of their own speech. In _Writing: (...) The Political Test, _France’s leading political philosopher, Claude Lefort, illuminates the process by which writers negotiate difficult path to free themselves from the ideological and contextual traps that would doom their attempts to articulate a new vision. Lefort examines writers whose works provide special insights into this problem of risk, both literary artists and political philosophers. Among them are Salman Rushdie, Sade, Tocqueville,m Machiavelli, Leo Strauss, Orwell, Kant, Robespierre, Guizot, and Pierre Clastres. In Tocqueville, for example, Lefort finds that the author’s improvisatory and open-ended expression represents the character of the democratic experience. Orwell’s work on totalitarianism shows up the totalitarian subject’s complicity in this political regime. And Rushdie is remarkable for his solid attack on relativism. With the character and fate of the political forms of modernity, democracy, and totalitarianism a central theme, Lefort concludes with some reflections on the collapse of the Soviet Union. This intriguing and accessible exploration of literature’s political aspects and political philosophy’s literary ones will be welcomed by those who have been stymied by current efforts to bridge these two fields. Taken together, the essays in this volume also stand as an intellectual autobiography of Lefort, making it an excellent introduction to his work for less experience students of political theory or philosophy. (shrink)
En este trabajo nos proponemos mostrar las referencias que articulan la obra de Lefort. Éste nos invita a comprender la democracia como una forma de sociedad que se instituye y se mantiene a partir de la distinción de los planos político, jurídico y epistemológico. La democracia es esa forma de sociedad que convierte en identidad la búsqueda de identidad. Nos enfrenta a la indeterminación última del ser social. Los esfuerzos de Lefort por desenmascarar las mentiras totalitarias, en particular, (...) las comunistas, son buena prueba de una obra que lucha contra el canto de sirena de una sociedad sin división, sin opacidad, sin política. (shrink)
O artigo sustenta que uma alternativa fecunda de leitura da obra de Lefort é tomá-la a partir de uma oposição entre filosofia da história e filosofia política. Pois, aparentemente, a filosofia política madura de Lefort só se constitui a partir do momento em que ele se liberta da possibilidade da filosofia da história.