DEMOCRACY & NATURE: The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY, vol.8, no.1 (March 2002)


The ‘right’ to be alienated: Takis Fotopoulos’ reply



Giancarlo Corsi argues that my criticism against the systems theory use of an undifferentiated conception of society is a ‘misunderstanding’ because, as he asserts, it is quite evident that there are various sorts of social inequality in modern society so that ‘the problem is rather in the way these inequalities get described’. However, in my article I made clear that my criticism was based on the fact that, for me, the sort of social differentiations that are important (from the viewpoint of systemic change—i.e. a change leading to the replacement of the present form of socio-economic organisation-- which was my object of study) are the ones based on power structures/relations rather than the sort of differentiations mentioned by Corsi in his reply. The author argues that social differentiations based on power relations and structures are ‘too simplistic’ and, in the process, he derives the ‘sophisticated’ conclusions that ‘being rich is no longer a sign of social distinction or of a higher future quality of life’ and thateven gender differences don’t play a central role in the discrimination processes’ —conclusions strongly indicating that we presumably live on different planets !


For Corsi, a non ‘simplistic’ view of society is one which involves functional differentiations and ‘loose coupling’ rather than differentiations based on power relations/structures. However, such a view of social differentiations is universal and in a sense tautological. It is universal, because functional differentiations, in one form or another, have always existed in the past and will undoubtedly continue to exist in the future. And it is tautological, because the functionalist conclusions that all aspects of a society—institutions, roles, values etc.—serve a purpose and that all parts of a system work together with some degree of internal consistency (which implies that each social system and therefore each type of society is characterized by a specific set of functional differentiations) is by definition true. In other words, given a concrete set of institutions/values one could expect to find a corresponding set of functional differentiations. This means that functional differentiations are secondary differentiations following the type of institutions and corresponding values which have been established in each type of society through social praxis. Therefore, the crucial issue that differentiates one sort of social system or society from another is the sort of institutions/values prevailing in a particular society, from which the secondary differentiations described by functionalists follow. There is no other way to adequately explain these primary differentiations but to refer to the pattern of power relations/structures prevailing in each particular type of society which, in turn, determine a given pattern of institutions/values and functional differentiations. It is for these reasons that I stressed in my article that any analysis of society not based on the pattern of power relations/structures prevailing in it, in fact, excludes any talk about the role of social praxis, let alone any kind of non-evolutionary systemic change. In so far therefore as systems theory deals with secondary rather than primary social differentiations, it indeed uses an undifferentiated conception of society, as far as the all important issue of systemic change is concerned. On this I would agree with Castoriadis that societies can be neither described nor understood in their very functionality.

But it is when Corsi attempts to discuss the issue of democracy that he reveals that his analysis has nothing to do with the problematique of autonomy and democracy, i.e. the problematique used in my article to criticise the systems theory he supports. Thus, for him, the question of participation and consensus is ‘above all practical’. It is therefore clear that for Corsi the idea of ‘autonomy’ (that is, of making our own laws directly and collectively, not through ‘representatives) is completely alien and all that matters for him is which decision-taking process is more ‘practical’, i.e. more ‘efficient’. No wonder that he finds ‘curious’ that there should be ‘a strong insistence on participation and little to none on the content of the decisions made’. The fact that, even if the direct expression of social will by all citizens is sometimes flawed, there is no comparison between the mistakes made by citizens themselves and the mistakes made everyday by their elites, as the former are an expression of their autonomy whereas the latter a manifestation of their heteronomy, is completely alien to him. Not surprisingly, Corsi, taking the existing level of social consciousness and responsibility (which is the inevitable outcome of today’s’ alienating institutional framework) for granted, worries about the ‘terrible’ decisions peoples will derive, if they are left free to take all important decisions themselves.

But, the culmination of the irrelevance of this type of analysis to democracy comes when Corsi suggests that ‘democracy doesn’t mean either the consensus or the participation of everyone in all the decisions. Even less does it involve an unimaginable, equal distribution of power’. At that point he feels also obliged to make clear that a form of social organization in which the decision-makers on all the important political and economic issues will be the citizens themselves rather than any elites, is inconceivable. No wonder that he finds ‘terrible’ the idea of ‘participation of all of humanity in a consensual decision-making process’ which for Corsi would mean the end of politics and democracy(!) It is obvious that in this sort of analysis the classical conception of politics and democracy, which has been revived on almost every revolutionary period in History, is utterly alien. For Corsi, democracy and politics is only what passes under these names today, i.e. the present alienating representative ‘democracy’ and statecraft. One is therefore not surprised when Corsi concludes that he is determined to fight in order to protect what is, in effect, his ‘right’ to be alienated…