From Workers’ Councils to Democratic Autonomy: Rediscovering Cornelius Castoriadis' Theory of Council Democracy

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

21 Downloads (Pure)


Cornelius Castoriadis is one of the most important democratic thinkers in the second half of the twentieth century, and his theory of autonomy and the self-instituted character of society are fundamental to many post-Marxist theories of democracy. The role of the council system in Castoriadis' work, though, has rarely been investigated, and his analysis of the twentieth century workers' councils of has seldom been connected to his important concepts of autonomy and the instituting power. The article remedies this lack of engagement with Castoriadis' analysis of the council system and argues that the emergence of workers' councils in Castoriadis' own lifetime, during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, provided a crucial impetus for his formulation of a theory of autonomy. Moreover, the article argues that the role of the council system in Castoriadis' work provides a privileged vantage point in order to nuance the critique – voiced by for example Jürgen Habermas and Claude Lefort – that Castoriadis exclusively valorise constituent politics without properly appreciating the importance of ordinary politics. Contrary to this interpretation, the article demonstrates how Castoriadis look to the councils to understand how democratic politics entails both freedom to act anew and the need for institutional structure.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical Horizons: A Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)318-334
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Published online: November 4th 2020


  • Radical democracy
  • Council democracy
  • Cornelius castoriadis
  • Instituting power
  • Autonomy

Cite this