Adventures of the SymbolicPost-marxism and Radical Democracy

Adventures of the SymbolicPost-marxism and Radical Democracy

Warren Breckman

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780231143943

Publisher: Columbia University Press


This book critically revisits the reassessment of philosophical Marxism that took place in the middle of the twentieth century. It explores the efforts that were made to reconcile a radical and democratic political agenda with a politics that did not privilege materialist understandings of the social. It describes how Marxism's collapse in the twentieth century profoundly altered the style and substance of Western European radical thought. It explains how, in order to build a more robust form of democratic theory and action, prominent theorists moved to reject revolution, abandon class for more fragmented models of social action, and elevate the political over the social. Acknowledging the “constructedness” of society and politics, these theorists chose the “symbolic” as a concept powerful enough to reinvent leftist thought outside a Marxist framework. The book goes on to explain how the post-Marxist idea of the symbolic is dynamic and complex, and that it uncannily echoes the early German Romantics, who first advanced a modern conception of symbolism and the symbolic. It explains how post-Marxist thinkers appreciated the rich potential of the ambiguities and paradoxes that the Romantics first recognized. Mapping different ideas of the symbolic among contemporary thinkers, the book engages with the work of important theorists such as Claude Lévi-Strauss, Cornelius Castoriadis, and Claude Lefort and uniquely situates them within two hundred years of European thought, showing their profound relevance to today's political activism.