Radical Democracy and the Politics of Rights: Review by Helen Rethymiotaki

Yannis Flytzanis Radical Democracy and the Politics of Rights. Critical Social Theory of Politics and Law in the Work of Henri Lefebvre, (In Greek) Athens, Nissos, 2022.

Yannis Flytzanis’ study of H. Lefebvre’s thought, published last year in Greek, successfully attempts to shed light on a perspective of the French thinker’s work that has not yet received the attention it deserves: the possibility of structuring a critical political philosophy through the French thinker, focusing on the theme of “radical democracy” or autogestion. The author succeeds in reconstructing the whole of Lefebvre’s thought from the interwar period to the 1990s, focusing on its political dimension. At the same time, Flytzanis’ study enters into a dense dialogue of Lefebvre’s work with Marxists and critical thinkers (Lukacs, Gramsci, Althusser, Adorno) as well as with contemporary post-Marxist theorists (Habermas, Honneth, Rancière, Balibar). He first highlights the young Marx, discovered and promoted in France by Henri Lefebvre, as a thinker of alienation and an advocate of true democracy, criticising bureaucracy and the mystification of consciousness. He then goes on to highlight the city and space as political stakes of late modernity in Lefebvre’s work, in that they constitute critical mediations of the contested social: they are claimed as part of a self-instituting process aimed at re-establishing the social bond, but at the same time they are instrumentalised by techno-bureaucratic forces through a triple process of fragmentation, segregation and hierarchisation. To develop this contradiction, the author reads Lefebvre’s famous spatial works alongside his historical study of the Paris Uprising of 1871 and engages in a dialogue with the corresponding theories of the Situationists. What follows is an original reading of Lefebvre’s notion of everyday life as a substratum of collectivity, lived participation and reciprocal relations that counteract individuality and passivity.

At the same time, Flytzanis reads Lefebvre’s late theorisation of rhythmanalysis in the direction of a polyrhythmic society of autogestion that respects the temporality of bodily rhythms, in contrast to capitalism’s alienating function for the human body, which banishes any respect for bodily temporality as soon as it mechanises workers. At this point, Flytzanis reads alongside Jonathan Crary’s related work 24/7: Late Capitalism and the End of Sleep. But it is the final section of the study that is the most original, bringing out some of the little-known texts Lefebvre wrote from the mid-1970s on the subject of difference, human rights and social struggles. In this part, the author argues that Lefebvre is a pioneer of a “politics of rights”, conceptualised as an agent of democratisation by bringing the political system closer to society˙ through the extension and deepening of rights, diverse social actors demand the recognition of their difference and the forging of cooperative forms of life. Flytzanis extends his analysis to the contemporary debate on the politics of rights, focusing on the dialogue between those who reject them as part of the reproduction of the structural injustices of our system and those who embrace them as potential tools for social reform. In conclusion, Flytzanis’s study represents a new approach to the work of Henri Lefebvre, taking into account but also going beyond the spatial readings of the French thinker, with an emphasis on his social theory of the political and a focus on autogestion, highlighting the richness of an anti-dogmatic critical thinking.

Helen Rethymiotaki,

President of the Sociology Department
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA)

Associate professor of Law School, NKUA.

Recent conference: Henri Lefebvre. A project of critical social theory 2022.