PDA

View Full Version : Derrida as Esoteric Political Philosopher of the Right



dominic
08-02-2005, 05:48 PM
Came across this article entitled "Contretemps: Derrida's Ante and the Call for Marxist Political Philosophy," by a certain Richard Joines. Not sure when the article was written. "Specters of Marx" came out in 1994, and "Marx and Sons" came out in 2002 . . . . It's all a bit too conspiratorial for my taste . . . . Even so, I've always thought that Derrida & L Strauss had an affinity (though for different reasons than Joines advances)

Here's the key passages:

There can be no repoliticization if there is no clear and existential demarcation between friends and enemies. Derrida qua Schmittian knows that in a depoliticized world, nothing is very interesting--the world is full of mere "entertainment." Derrida, following Schmitt's counsel (who in his own way follows Nietzsche's), attempts to "raise the ante" and to make "things more interesting" by following the advice of "Love your enemies." However, it is difficult to love a weak or incompetent enemy who does not realize war is being waged upon him. It may be easy to battle a confused enemy or to win a war against a divided state, but Derrida is not interested in what is easy. It is nobler to fight a serious opponent: win or lose, the battle proves there are still meaningful political antitheses over which people are willing to kill or die. Derrida, however, is in an embarrassing position: he has to tell his Marxist opponents they have been routed in a battle they neither knew was going on (at least since the publication of Specters of Marx) nor whose rules of engagement they understood. Derrida's book, "initially a lecture, delivered at a specific moment" under conditions not of his choosing, "'took a position' in response to a significant invitation in a highly determinate context," yet virtually no one seems to have understood what Derrida intended to question: the "political," the "philosophical," and their relations to "Marx" ("MS," p. 217).

. . . . .

Derrida's attempt "to reawaken questions mesmerized or repressed" puts him, whether he knows it or not, whether the Marxists who "have never considered Derrida a man of the Right" know it or not, in a hidden dialogue with Leo Strauss. For Strauss, the disasters of modern politics made it necessary to return (a form of repentance) to the noble question form of ancient political philosophy (what is the good? what is the best regime?). He set himself against the base calculative efforts of modern political philosophers who sought to plan human satisfaction on an all-too-human scale and who valued the body and the belly over virtue and the soul.

. . . . .

For the modern many, Marxists included, who assume answers to political things but have forgotten the questions, Derrida's attempt at philosophical repoliticization appears as depoliticization. For Derrida, the theoretical-and-political "disasters" of modernity and Marxism prove the need to return to the question-form of philosophy. They prove the Enlightenment project has failed, and thus dictate the need for a new political thinking (which is, paradoxically, both a return to ancient political practice and stratagems and an "arrivant" from the spectral, indeterminate, yet proleptically-created future). The greatest danger here is that neither Derrida's epigones, who think Derrida's project is about deconstructing texts, nor his foes, who think more or less the same thing, are likely to be in a position to grasp what Derrida intends when speaking of "the repoliticization that I would like to see come about" ("MS," p. 223).

. . . . .

A "Marxist" complaint about Derrida's book is that it avoids class politics. Derrida is again put in the embarrassing position of explaining his silence (though his explanation has its own silence). Derrida notes that he does not believe social class has disappeared, only that the notion of class, or its traditional concepts or criterion, are "problematic," not outdated or irrelevant: "If I had wanted to say that I believed there were no more social classes and that all that struggle over this subject was passť, I would have" ("MS," p. 236). As Strauss writes of Machiavelli,

The rule which Machiavelli tacitly applies can be stated as follows: if a wise man is silent about a fact that is commonly held to be important for the subject he discusses, he gives us to understand that that fact is unimportant. The silence of a wise man is always meaningful. It cannot be explained by forgetfulness. . . . One can express one's disagreement with the common view by simply failing to take notice of it; this is, in fact, the most effective way of showing one's disapproval. (ToM, p. 30)

If Derrida does not mention "class" or any number of topoi deemed crucial for Marxists, he, like Machiavelli, is perhaps suggesting "by this silence that these subjects are unimportant for politics" (ToM, p. 31). By his silence, Derrida indicates, for those with ears to hear, that he finds Marxist common sense about the political to be wrong. The question becomes, if not class, then what? What will be the organizing principle, the thing that binds (fascio) and gives unity to the New International, "which is already a reality" ("MS," p. 239)? If we are to stand up against this New International, we need to hear what is hidden in Derrida's silence.

. . . . .

When all standpoints have equal validity, nothing is of the highest value. What has been misunderstood as "progress" is in fact "nihilism," a process of decadence and loss of faith in any higher goals under the guise of democratic "values:" "What looks to Nietzsche's Dionysian disciples like freedom is to Nietzsche's Apollonian vision amor fati--the Spinozist acceptance of fate, or what we may bluntly call slavery," writes Rosen ("NR," p. 200). The goal of the New International, which is hiding in the light in Politics of Friendship, is the creation of the philosophers of the future (in the present) who can will new values.

. . . . .

Derrida quotes and writes explicitly about Schmitt in Politics of Friendship, but by Specters of Marx and "Force of Law," Schmitt has been so incorporated into Derrida's discourse (or Derrida has been encorpsed by Schmitt) that Derrida does not even mention Schmitt's name. Yet, in "Marx & Sons," Derrida reminds his Marxist interlocutors that the New International is concerned with singular situations (what Schmitt refers to as Ernstfall, extreme cases). In assessing, or judging, those singular situations, "there is, by definition, no pre-existing criterion or absolute calculability" (or as Schmitt says, "Sovereign is he who decides on the exception"16). For Schmitt and Derrida, political decisions are not about parliamentary debates or ballot boxes ("Or that one had to choose: to be 'for' or 'against' Marx, as in a polling booth," Derrida writes ["MS," p. 231]). The New International is not about democracy; it is about fashioning a new prince whose "analysis must begin anew every day everywhere, without ever being guaranteed by prior knowledge" ("MS," p. 239-40).

. . . . .

Lest one have misunderstood Derrida's harping on the "undecidable" all these years as merely a textual or referential problem, Derrida, echoing Schmitt, reminds us, "The 'undecidable' has never been, for me, the opposite of decision: it is the condition of decision wherever decision cannot be deduced from an existing body of knowledge as it would be by a calculating machine" ("MS," p. 240). Or, as Schmitt writes in Political Theology:

The exception is more interesting than the rule. The rule proves nothing; the exception proves everything: it confirms not only the rule but also its existence, which derives only from exception. In the exception the power of real life breaks through the crust of a mechanism that has become torpid by repetition. (PT, p. 15)

Political decisions partake of the irrational and of the spontaneous, not the calculative. The rule of law, parliamentary debate, and legalistic justice are machines of a State with no sovereign and no ideals. It is this absence that Derrida wishes to fill by his turn to Schmitt and his commitment to repoliticization. If there is no "truth" in a democratic, legislated, majority-ruled (i.e., decadent) world, perhaps a sovereign might rise to make everything new again.

. . . . .

dominic
08-02-2005, 05:49 PM
Marxism, brilliant as it is in comprehending the science of economics and the "truth" of exploitation, flounders too often when it comes to the psychology of politics. We are, with good reason, baffled as to why the "workers of the world" cannot see exploitation "hiding in the light." To end the present state of things in the creation of an egalitarian and culturally-rich future, Marxists must pay as much attention to literary and philosophical questions as we do to economic questions, for ideas, as Marx sometimes knew, are also powerful things. In order to take on Derrida as foe, Marxists needs to learn how to recognize his texts' political lineage and intentions better than we have. Derrida carries a virulent strain of Nietzscheanism that continues to infect even those who have never read him.

. . . . .

The first task in the elaboration of a communist theory of esotericism is to establish intention and intentionality as valid interpretive categories. Such a theory must take seriously the notion that not only do certain authors have political intentions for their works but that these intentions inhere potentially in the structure of their texts in such a way as to affect readers in politically enabling or disabling ways.

. . . . . .

Strauss's reading of the logographic Plato is altogether different from Derrida's reading of the logocentric Plato. Plato's Socrates may appear to privilege speech over writing, but that is only the exoteric level of the text, and Derrida is guilty of identifying what Plato taught most frequently and conspicuously with Plato's true teaching--unless, of course, as I contend, Derrida is also an esotericist and does not mean what he says most frequently and conspicuously

. . . . . .

This communist theory of esotericism would court ridicule unless in its paranoia it can pile up sufficient evidence to demonstrate that its interpretations are beyond a simple dismissal. To do this, we must learn to read what has been written between the lines. Most on the Right and Left debate within a liberal paradigm. What communists, who ought to be as anti-liberal as Marx was, can learn from the deeply anti-liberal Platonist Right, which is neither fascist nor conservative, is how deceptive and futile the debates occurring in that liberal paradigm are. We accuse our foes, such as Derrida, of forgetting the economic, or history, or class, yet they know well enough what fools they make of us when we mistake appearances for essences, when we read exoterically what was written esoterically, when our polemical engagements with anti-Marxist texts miss the mark by countering with the "truth" of exploitation while we are getting pummeled by philosophical and political punches we never see coming.

henrymiller
10-02-2005, 09:38 AM
We are, with good reason, baffled as to why the "workers of the world" cannot see exploitation "hiding in the light." To end the present state of things in the creation of an egalitarian and culturally-rich future, Marxists must pay as much attention to literary and philosophical questions as we do to economic questions, for ideas, as Marx sometimes knew, are also powerful things.

I'm not sure whose views are being attributed to whom here, but either way: where on earth did the idea that the '"workers of the world" cannot see exploitation' come from? I suppose the implication is that they did not exactly develop Marx's categories; but even this is not quite the truth, given that even late Marx is filled with positions held by his contemporaries in European working-class revolutionary movements. What were the Owenites, for example, working against if not 'exploitation'?

I'm also unsure where the danger of modern Marxists not focusing enough on 'literary and philosophical questions' comes from. Surely the exact opposite is the case?!

dominic
10-02-2005, 12:45 PM
this is not my argument -- merely came across it on the web and thought it interesting, if unpersuasive

the gist of the argument is that marxists have read derrida naively, thinking him a "friend" of the Left, as sharing the commitments of the Left to social justice, etcetera, when in fact he's a Right Nietzschean . . . .

and then the auther makes the further claim that the entire Derridean project, methods of reading, preoccupations, etcetera, have served to "disable" the political left, and that this "disabling effect" was intended by Derrida -------- that is, the political left, by adopting or borrowing from D's deconstruction, has hastened the completion of nihilism (a completion that it, the political left, mistakes for liberation) and weakened its capacity for political action and effective critique

what i find less than persuasive about the argument is that D was always very clear that his thinking is in the service of an "ineluctable future" -- which is of course at odds with marxism, which criticizes present realities from the standpoint of a projected future -- nothing at all esoteric about this!!!

and merely because D did not see himself as preparing the way for a Marxist future, it doesn't follow that he was preparing the ground for a new kind of aristocracy or some other rightist vision

rather, for D as for Heidegger and as for Badiou, philosophy simply awaits a new dispensation, a great Event -- and that what lies beyond that Event will have to be true to that Event and not necessarily in keeping with post-1789 notions of Right and Left

also, i quoted the article so extensively b/c i think the question of Schmitt's influence on Derrida and, I might add, Badiou is interesting

as for whether Derrida was an esoteric writer, I'm highly skeptical of the claim that anyone writes esoterically this day and age

dominic
10-02-2005, 12:55 PM
I'm not sure whose views are being attributed to whom here, but either way: where on earth did the idea that the '"workers of the world" cannot see exploitation' come from? I suppose the implication is that they did not exactly develop Marx's categories; but even this is not quite the truth, given that even late Marx is filled with positions held by his contemporaries in European working-class revolutionary movements. What were the Owenites, for example, working against if not 'exploitation'?

I think the author meant that TODAY's "workers of the world" are unable to see exploitation, and this is in large part because the Left has been "disabled" by Derridean language, or what he calls "a virulent strain of Nietzscheanism"

Melmoth
10-02-2005, 01:01 PM
also, i quoted the article so extensively b/c i think the question of Schmitt's influence on Derrida and, I might add, Badiou is interesting



on Benjamin and Agamben too.

simon
15-02-2005, 03:33 AM
Marxism, brilliant as it is in comprehending the science of economics and the "truth" of exploitation, flounders too often when it comes to the psychology of politics.

I'm not really across my Derrida, so can't say much, other than I thought that German critical theory actually does a reasonable job in this regard (that is in addressing psychology and politics - I'm thinking in particular of Axel Honneth, the current director of the Frankfurt School)

I'm not entirely convinced by the oft argued point that deconstruction is a reactionary project or at least a project that trakes away from positive political action. Ultimately its ends (if indeed it has any) may be, but that doesn't mean that its techniques can't fruitfully be used.

Added: there is an interesting discussion on very similar issues at this australian politics blog I look at, dealing with nihilism claims in relation to deconstruction: http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/008500.html