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Philosophy of Claude Lefort

Interpreting the Political

Flynn, Bernard

Publication Year: 2005

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.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

Without the extraordinary work of Judith Walz, this book would never have materialized. Her incisive understanding of the text enabled her to clarify many parts of it. Our many intense and animated discussions together helped me to reformulate a number of my interpretations of the oeuvre of Claude Lefort. I thank her deeply for her unconditional devotion to the creation of this book...

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Introduction

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pp. xiii-xxx

What is it that recommends the work of a philosopher for our consideration? There was a time when the only consideration would have been whether the work were true, whether it represented reality as it is in itself. Evoking Aquinas’s definition of truth, we could question whether the work contains a correspondence between intellect and thing. However, in our epoch few authors would claim such status for their work, and even fewer readers would demand it. This is not because all of us have suddenly adopted some sort of wholesale relativism which would efface the very opposition between truth and falsity; rather, it is because many of us have come to view truth, particularly the truth...

Abbreviations

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pp. xxxi-xxxii

Selected Bibliography of Claude Lefort

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pp. xxxiii-xxxv

PART ONE. Lefort as Reader of Machiavelli

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pp. 1-4

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1. The Prince

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pp. 5-39

My intent in this section is not to evaluate Lefort’s interpretation of Machiavelli by an extensive contrast to other Machiavelli interpretations but rather to view his work of interpretation as generative of many of the key concepts of his own thought. This section is divided into three chapters: first, his reading...

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2. The Discourses

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pp. 77-58

My discussion of Lefort’s interpretation of Machiavelli’s The Discourses will be much shorter than my reflections on his interpretation of The Prince. It will not follow Lefort’s extremely detailed reconstruction of this work, but will be limited to a number of themes that are central to his interpretation. As with The Prince, I will concentrate my attention on themes that are central to Lefort’s own political philosophy...

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3. Machiavelli: The Practice of Interpretation

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pp. 59-79

I conclude this reflection on Lefort’s interpretation of Machiavelli’s work with some of his thoughts on the concept of interpretation which were developed in Le Travail de l’Oeuvre Machiavel. These thoughts give us an inkling of his reflections on history. As has been already noted, a great part of this work—more than two hundred and fifty pages...

PART TWO. Lefort on Premodernity

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pp. 78-82

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4. Premodernity

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pp. 83-99

As I indicated in the Introduction, Lefort’s project is to understand the political dimensions of modern society. Many paths in his itinerary have brought him to the work of Machiavelli. His belief that Machiavelli elaborated the first distinctly modern political philosophy attracts him to the Florentine. Later in his thinking we see that he views...

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5. European Premodernity

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pp. 100-127

As we have already seen in the previous chapter, Lefort’s conception of premodern societies, “societies without history,” is that generally these societies can be included in, but do not exhaust, the type of societies which characteristically have their symbolic structure fixed to nature or to a supersensible world...

PART THREE. Lefort on Modernity

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pp. 128-130

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6. Modernity and Revolution

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pp. 131-149

In the previous chapters, I followed the development of Lefort’s conception of premodern societies. In a general sense, these were societies in which the symbolic structure is fixed in another place, that is, outside time, either in a time before time or in an invisible world. Specifically, with regard to the Christian theologico-political...

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7. Modernity and Law

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pp. 150-163

A certain modern ideology fosters the view that “the social” can be explained on the basis of itself. Although Lefort criticizes this conception, he does not view it as a simple illusion or error. If it is an illusion, then it is one that has been motivated by modernity itself, inasmuch as the Enlightenment takes the form of a questioning of the religious guarantees of legitimacy and rightly sees that no determinate figure can replace the ancient markers of certainty...

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8. Modernity and Rights

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pp. 164-184

In Lefort’s thought, when I use the expression “I have a right,” this notion of right is attached to a “first law that escapes me.” He argues that the modern conception of “right” attests to the disincarnation of the polity, the exteriority of society to itself. The philosophical problem connected with human rights is the question of their foundations. In whom do human rights inhere and how do they come to be constituted?...

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9. Modernity and Ideology

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pp. 185-192

In my chapter “Modernity and Revolution,” Lefort’s analysis of the French Revolution dealt with the notion of the One, particularly in his analysis of revolutionary terror. The dynamic of the Terror was that each who spoke, spoke in the name of the people, the people as “the One”; nevertheless, the very particularity of the speaker opened him or her to denunciation as a usurper. In presenting Lefort’s conception...

PART FOUR. Lefort on Totalitarianism

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10. Totalitarianism as “ Measures Taken”

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pp. 195-206

In this section, I will first consider Lefort’s early writings on the nature of totalitarianism and then study his later work on totalitarianism as found in his 1999 book La Complication. In this book he elaborates his conception of totalitarianism in terms of its difference from the positions of Martin Malia in The Soviet Tragedy, of François Furet...

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11. Totalitarianism as Regime

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pp. 207-232

In a 1980 article “The Logic of Totalitarianism,” Lefort reflects on the systematic denegation of the perception of Soviet totalitarianism on the part of the left intelligentsia.1 He questions from where this blind denial could have sprung and remarks that at first totalitarianism was a concept adapted by the right. Its definition, as it appeared in a 1933 edition...

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12. The Fate of the Concept of Totalitarianism after the Fall

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pp. 233-270

In 1999 Lefort published La Complication: Retour sur le Communisme. I will begin with a comment on the book’s title. The reader will recall that twenty years earlier, in 1979, Lefort wrote “The Image of the Body and Totalitarianism,” an article which began with a self-reflection on his path out of Marxism. He described his mentor, Merleau-Ponty, as “a thinker who had a gift for breaking certainties...

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Conclusion

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pp. 271-273

When writing a book on the work of another philosopher one wishes, above all, to be accurate. Taken to its most nightmarish extreme, the writer could find himself in the position laid out by Borges in his short story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.” In this story Pierre Menard begins by attempting to write something on Cervantes...

Bibliography

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pp. 275-2

Index

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pp. 279-288


E-ISBN-13: 9780810162310
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810121058

Page Count: 394
Publication Year: 2005

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Series Editor Byline: Anthony Steinbock