Why Lefort Matters : A Conceptual Genealogy of Contemporary Normative Issues

Claude Lefort (1924-2010) may be seen today as one of the leading political theorists of the late twentieth century. Yet the secondary literature on his output remains peculiarly sparse, especially outside the French-speaking world. Our research project sets out to bridge this gap using an approach that marries the history of ideas with normative theory. The aim is neither to write Lefort’s intellectual biography nor to offer an analysis of his work itself, but rather to treat Lefort’s writings as a gateway to four goals:

  • Offering an account of the complexities of recent French intellectual history. There are two aspects to this. Firstly, the conceptual and historical advances of Lefort’s work have inspired a strain of thought driven by demands for a so-called ‘integral’ or ‘radical’ democracy. Lefort’s own interpretation of several nineteenth-century authors, secondly, opens up new understandings of the relationship between French political thought and the French Revolution.

  • Outlining a form of republicanism concerned with shaping social issues. In refusing to see the ties between individual and social context as a dichotomy, Lefort’s work paves the way towards a type of republicanism that does not circumscribe the political domain to the boundaries of the nation-state, and gives social issues their due importance.

  • Rethinking the relationship between human rights and politics in today’s world. This facet of our research sets out to put the potential of Lefort’s thought to the test: can it indeed furnish a conceptualisation of democracy and rights ?

  • Assessing the relevance of the totalitarian concept to current debates. Though public debate still periodically calls the idea of totalitarianism into service as a weapon of rhetoric, political theory has largely lost interest in the concept. How, we ask, can Lefort’s 1970 analyses of Nazi and then Soviet totalitarianism help us to understand current issues?


Justine Lacroix
Centre for Political Theory
Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences

Created on August 31, 2018