Claude Lefort

Claude Lefort was among the most important French political theorists of the twentieth century, whose work on totalitarianism and democracy continues to resonate. A protégé of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Lefort rose to prominence for his involvement in Trotskyist circles in the 1940s, collaborating with Cornelius Castoriadis in the Socialisme ou Barbarie group. He worked for UNESCO and held various academic posts before taking up a position at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. A leading leftist critic of the USSR, he argued that the rise of democratic ideas led to ‘disincarnation’, the rise of a ‘void’ whereby no single figure could embody society’s unity and identity with itself, a void that totalitarianism, whether in Stalinist or fascist form, attempted to fill by reviving the idea of ‘incarnation’, total societal and political unification. Polity has published his seminal work Democracy and Political Theory.