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The Difficulties of Democracy

Jacques Derrida Deconstructs the Notion of Rogue States

Democracy, the supreme goal to reach openness, pluralism, and the ultimate peace. However, the efforts to attain and maintain democracy carry a heavy history of violence, from political confrontations to the wars that intended to preserve its sovereignty. But the concept of democracy, if we try to return to its origin, is still foreign to us because we do not yet know what democracy will have meant in the primordial Greek polis. As Jacques Derrida underlines, “we do not yet know what we have inherited; we are the legatees of this Greek word and what it assigns to us.”[1] In other words, the claims regarding democracy throughout history are not clear, either in its mission or its legitimacy of allegations. Derrida’s excursions into the history of philosophical characterisations of democracy, from Plato and Aristotle to Rousseau and Tocqueville, serve to highlight the complex and contradictory character of the concept that we inherit from this tradition. There is a perpetual rhetoric regarding the discussion over the highest status of democracy that to a certain extent seems to impose limits to those arguments, where deliberations appear to have embedded a self-representation, an appropriation that gives its own law; Derrida exemplifies this wish as a “desire for naming the democratic space as a return toward the self or itself,”[2] or what I define as a ‘hegemonic power of the self’ or ipseity shared within the democratic circle. This circle turns around within itself as the cause and the end of all things (a revenant: to return or come back), a sort of eternal turn and return. This return to the democratization of states seems autoimmune where the aim for ‘free will’ has self-implied reasons, making it difficult to distinguish between the goods and the evils of democracy. Furthermore, the answer to the question of what ‘free will’ means continues to be challenging when it is licenced by the same democratic space that defines it.

What I propose for this paper is, first, to align Derrida’s understanding of democracy not only as a political philosophy (if there is one) brought under deconstructive analysis, but also to assess how much it has been shaped by political influences, highly engaged with some key world events, pre and post-9/11. This scrutiny involves “rogue states,”[3] countries that aspire to their global leadership under the premises that democracy must be sustained. Put differently, “the first and most violent of rogue states are those that have ignored and continue to violate the very international law and democracy they claim to champion.”[4] In short, I aim to deconstruct the theoretical-versus-practice view of democracy as conceived in the modern West as oppositional interpretation. Second, and within this deconstruction, I will evaluate Derrida’s account of the relationship between violence and justice which is perceived as the struggle that democracy must overcome in order to achieve its mission, and is never clear. Derrida’s book Rogues: Two Essays on Reason will serve as a foundation to offer relevant insights about the concepts of political sovereignty, democracy, the problem of (political) violence, and a deconstruction of the Western concept of ‘reason’ linked to the concept of autoimmunity. Finally, and regarding the latter, I shall assess democratic discourse as being governed by a majority that presents themselves as loyal to this system rooted with a perverse effect of the axiomatic, which is an important principle in Derrida’s Rogues. Not far from this proposal, we find similar claims in Walter Benjamin’s lines from Critique of Violence with a picture-clear review of democratic states as institutions that, “while [they] represent the law, [they] secure the monopoly of violence for themselves.”[5] I aim to highlight some of the fundamental issues that Derrida puts forward when interpreting democracy, while cueing at some implications for thinking of a ‘deconstructive politics.’

Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, published in France under the title Voyous, is comprised of two major lectures Derrida delivered in 2002 which investigate the foundations of the sovereignty of the nation-state. The term État Voyou is the French equivalent of “Rogue State,” and it is this outlaw designation of certain countries by the leading global powers that Derrida examines. As Derrida weighs the history of the concept of sovereignty, engaging with the work of Hobbes, Rousseau, or Schmitt (among others), he delineates his understanding of “democracy to come,”[6] which he distinguishes clearly from any kind of regulating ideal or teleological horizon. The idea that democracy will always remain in the future is not a temporal notion. Rather, the phrase would name the coming of the unforeseeable other, the structure of an event beyond calculation and program. The book contains two sections. The first, longer section focuses on ‘democracy to come,’ moving through pseudo-concepts such as sovereignty, rogue states, freedom, auto-immunity, and fraternity. The second begins with a discussion of Husserl's Crisis and ends with a (to some degree repetitive) analysis of sovereignty; in this essay, Derrida makes a distinction between what is “rational and what is reasonable (i.e. where a state eliminates civic liberties to save democracy) and what seems ironically contradictory (i.e. the honor of reason, is that reason? Is honor reasonable or rational through and through?).”[7]

The postulates regarding democracy and its aims are not sufficiently clear in order to underline a conclusive view of its objectives. As Derrida points out in different contexts throughout his work, democratic inheritance involves two elements, “what is given to us from the past and what is inevitably transformed or reinvented through our acceptance of this legacy.”[8] This implies both that inheritance is deconstructive, and that deconstruction is a way of inheriting the past. The democratic “becomes coextensive with the political”[9] and this turns out to be ambiguous. Just because there are several formats of democracy, it does not discard or refute democracy per se; no one will be able to prove that there is more democracy in granting or in denying the right to vote to immigrants, even when they work and pay taxes in that territory, nor that there is more or less democracy in a straight majority vote as opposed to proportional voting; both forms of voting are democratic, ironically protecting their democratic charter through exclusion. These approaches weaken the weak (poor, minors, immigrants, and more). All charters, bylaws, or contracts are agreed upon by the parties co-signing those agreements; the power and control arise from them. This blend between the democratic with the political appears inseparable in modernity, following the Enlightenment that frees itself from the religious domain, while the methods and justifications for secularization of societies are also ambiguous. In this pursuit for secularization and freedom, I strongly affirm that the democratic and the political, controlled by majorities in power, have neglected diversity. The diverse spectrum found in most Western societies becomes silenced by the ambiguous secularization proposed by democratic states, all the while remaining rooted in its very theological (or ontotheological) origins such as their Christian heritage. There is a canonical problem of the relationship between equality and freedom; both are necessary within democracy but offer contradictory claims. Derrida finds this crucial because democracy presents itself as autoimmune but also “threatened internally by its very own logic.”[10] An evident example is found in France, with a strong Catholic past, which today stands by itself as a democratic laïcité (secularity), however its statutory holidays still remain as Christian-based observances, and Christian religious symbols such as crucifixes are yet kept in parliamentary buildings under ‘cultural-historical’ grounds; similar accounts can be observed in Quebec, Canada, where it is not an overstatement to say that Francophone Quebec “embodies a Christendom model to a certain degree and Catholicism has been a fundamental marker of the province’s identity.”[11] The lineup of contradictions runs long; however, they all point to the autoimmune pervertibility of democracy Derrida knows best as an Algerian-French Jew citizen, colonization and decolonization. Both, as he describes it, were “autoimmune experiences wherein the violent imposition of a culture and political language that were supposed to be in line with a Greco-European political ideal.”[12]

These examples cross-examine the legitimacy of the claims held by democratic culture in many aspects as their justifications for secularism seem contradictory; Islam, or a certain ramification of Islam, would “thus be the only theocratic culture that can still, in principle, inspire and declare any resistance to democracy.”[13] The theoretical approach that showcases the virtues and benefits of democracy to the Islamic world becomes even more confusing to the ‘outsiders’ when its proposals appear inconsistent and influenced by subjective laicism. If we examine historical reports, we can highlight that the principles of separation and neutrality “came into being as a result of the bitter disappointment of single-faith political systems and were instructed with the aim of putting an end to religious wars.”[14] However, the theoretical idea of secularization remains vague and inconsistent when the diversity offered implies one-sided Western views. The two concepts, equality and freedom, are mutually dependent within the democratic frame; equality hopes to provide similar and even votes to each participant in a community, while freedom focuses on a question of each individual’s singularity. The contradictory demands at the heart of the received concept of democracy include those discussed in “Force of Law,” where Derrida pointed to the paradoxical opposition and “complicity between force and law and to the tension at the heart of the concept of justice between treating everyone the same and respecting the singularity of each individual case.”[15] However, Derrida suggests that “freedom is impossible without a concept of equality and that freedom must always take place in relation to limits imposed by other and we must, in theory, all be equally free.”[16] As these two concepts compete and are mutually dependent, liberty, as in liberty for all, epitomizes an internal flaw within the core of democracy.

This flaw is crucial to Derrida’s thinking of “democracy to come,” the democracy that has not yet presented itself, but that will come, with everything that remains to be said. What we see is that Derrida observes democracy in a much more profound sense, where the autoimmunity flaw to democracy is the very thing that opens up the possibility of a democratic future, or always subject to transformation and open to the future:

As if ‘democracy to come’ meant less ‘democracy to come,’ with everything that remains to be said about it, and which will try to clarify, than the ‘concept of democracy,’ a meaning perhaps not null and void but not yet arrived, not yet bygone, of the word democracy: a meaning of waiting, still empty or vacant, of the word or the concept of democracy."[17]

It presents an impression that democracy would always be “coming,” always a site of promise and open potential; Derrida uses the notion of democracy “to come” not simply to describe the way in which modern democracy falls short of its proclaimed principles. If we carefully analyse the concept of “democracy to come,” it implies an intention or an attempt to collect adherents and supporters, as a message that needs to be believed, a messianic message of waiting with a “promise to come” that offers redemptive satisfaction. Is democracy sustained by a pseudo-messianic message? Will this be a god or gods to come? Derrida suggests similar queries.[18] What I see is a “democracy to come” that inscribes the idea of justice brought by a messianic expectation of a democracy to come for justice; this seems self-evident, although ironic, considering the democratic idea of secularization. This Derridean idea of democracy-to-come takes on something analogous to the relationship between law and justice, and in turn that relationship involves violence. So, deconstructing the violence of this dichotomy between law and justice will provide us with an understanding of the role of violence in democracy according to Derrida. Put simply, this idea of “democracy to come” is an unfulfillable or impossible promise to accomplish and is comparable to the promises that justice does to law. It is apparent

that Derrida relies on the concept of ‘democracy to come’ to provide a reason to think that existing democracies or so-called democracies “remain inadequate to the democratic demand.”[19] It is, once again, a promise that pushes democracy toward a future that is more just, more inclusive, more open and freer; a democracy “that must have the structure of a promise.”[20] Furthermore, in the same way that law takes from justice its impulse and its orientation, so is democracy-to-come the thing that real democratic acts and institutions always look forward to as a higher principle or greater liberalization and justice. This idea of democracy filled with messianic promises is what provides the system with an immunity. Paradoxically, it is the autoimmunity within democracy which nurtures the endless re-presenting, re-working and re-statement of this notion that attempts to immunise and protect itself involves the efficacy of democracy toward sovereignty. For example, the suspension of democratic procedures to protect democracy or the suspension of civil liberties to protect the freedom of citizens are examples of this logic of autoimmunity in the political sphere.

Both democracy and sovereignty (as principles) are linked while in contradiction with one another. For democracy “to be effective, for it to give rise to a system of law, to give rise to an effective power, requires a force stronger than other forces of the world,”[21] although oddly enough the constitution of this force is supposed to represent and protect the world of democracy, thus betraying its own principle. Furthermore, the principle of sovereignty within the international political arena is sustained by the principle of recognition; this means that for sovereign states to be recognized as such, they need the approval and mutual consent of other sovereign states:

"To confer sense or meaning on sovereignty, to justify it, to find a reason for it, is already to compromise its deciding exceptionality, to subject to its rules, to a code of law, to some general law, to concepts; it is thus to divide it, to subject it to partitioning, to participation, to being shared. It is to take into account the part played by sovereignty."[22]

In short, the constitution of this bilateral recognition provides a silent force that protects democracy with immunity. How does this apply to rogue states? How do we confront power and immunity as excesses of law? Derrida emphasizes that states which claim to uphold international law and that “take the initiative of war or peacekeeping operations because they have the force, these states and their allies in these actions are themselves the first rogue states;”[23] this is true even before any evidence is gathered to make a case against those states (namely, the United States). In other words, the states that hold hegemonic power in the world present themselves, a priori, as legitimate bastions of sovereignty to wage war on rogue states, are themselves rogue states abusing that power; as soon as there is sovereignty, there is abuse of power and a rogue state. Democracy and sovereignty are aligned and in contradiction at the same time with one another as the effectiveness of the former relies on systems of law and the latter requires power to be successful. Derrida also discusses two other concepts profoundly related to each other while intrinsically linked to power as a force: law and justice. He underlines the “the undetachable and yet heterogeneous connection between them and force,”[24] especially in relation to the international and transnational field of bilateral relations between states, that is ironically inscribed in the larger construction of “democracy to come.” As for knowing whether the reason of the strongest is always best or as for law, justice, and force, Derrida affirms, there is a necessity for reinterpretation of the traditional problematic of the question regarding rogue states.

Now, we have found similar references in Rousseau’s On the Social Contract (“On the Right of the Strongest”) where the strongest is never strong enough to be in control all the time, unless the force is transformed into right.”[25] This implies, within the concept of right, the open possibility of bilateral constraint, coercion, and force. This is what a rogue state (i.e. the United States) has been applying: the reason of the strongest. This position is meant to be, as Kant would describe, a priori. Derrida reflects that “it entails at once the democratic universality, international and cosmopolitan law, beyond the nation-state law, by authorizing the legitimacy recourse of force;”[26] a self-imposed sovereignty. Moreover, he underlines that “the most perverse, most violent, most destructive of rogue states would thus be, and foremost, the United States,”[27] and at times, its allies. On the latter, it is imperative to stress the importance of the United States’ allies toward so-called world peace and affirmation of the ‘right of the strongest.’ The powerful force manifested by a rogue state is fueled by the support of other states, as this validates its operations when approaching war or peacekeeping missions. Within our twenty-first-century frame, we recall the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that lasted just over one month, where the United States was able to conduct 21 days of major combat operations thanks to the work of a combined force of troops from the United Kingdom and Australia among others. This not only provides a clear example of bilateral international recognition from other sovereign states, but also an affirmation from those allies that tolerates the rogue state’s purposes and its mission to fulfill its national interest and international presence. Does this cooperation make the rogue state’s allies rogue states? I believe the answer stands by itself. Derrida quotes the words of the former National Security Council staff member under the Bill Clinton’s administration, Robert Litwak, who declared in 2000 that the definition of a “rogue state is basically whomever the United States says it is,”[28] when responding indirectly to a question from a university expert on international relations, adding that “the United States gets closer and closer to spending $60 billion on missile-defence systems designed to fend off attacks from ‘rogue states,’ I would like to get a bit clearer on what a rogue state is.”[29] On its definition, let us focus on the point of defining a rogue state from ‘the other.’ The international community agrees that the label ‘rogue state’ has an important negative effect. Then, by casting a state as ‘other,’ states, which view themselves as members of the international community, do not identify with it and are therefore less likely to object to the undermining of the rogue state’s sovereignty. For example, it can “enable actions against sovereign states that would otherwise be seen as an unjustified intervention in their domestic sphere.”[30] In close context, the negative role played by the concept of the ‘rogue state’ relates to the otherness of rogue states. As Derrida explained, “[t]he voyou is always the other – always designated in the second or third person.”[31] The ‘rogue state’ is exceptional: measures taken against such an aberration are not assumed to be applicable to the general principle of states.

All these arguments not only disclose the contradictions between law and justice or democracy and sovereignty, but also the clear contradictions from the rogue states, the ludicrous arguments to justify their actions in clear opposition to earlier claims. For example, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “was declared a ‘rogue state’ and an ‘outlaw nation’ in 1998, after having been a long-standing ally and keen economic partner.”[32] Furthermore, the Central American revolution that erupted in Panama under Noriega’s regime was only condemned by the United States when the threats began to fade out; that was after three U.S. administrations (Carter, Reagan, and Bush senior) had consistently supplied Noriega with weapons that represented a lucrative business for the provider. We have seen contradictory speeches made by representatives of the United States in the United Nations’ dome, or General Assembly, sometimes before the Security Council. One key example brings to mind “the 2002 speech by George W. Bush to the United Nations General Assembly”[33] regarding Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which later, after the official representatives of the United Nations’ Security Council visited Iraq, was conclusively proved that the WMDs were non-existent. So, to recapture my last question, and after what was highlighted, I would like to restate it. Did the support from the United Kingdom and Australia to the United States’ proposal to invade Iraq, upon voting in the United Nations, make them rogue states too? It is important to point out that only the Security Council, within the ‘democratic’ sovereignty of the United Nations General Assembly, has veto power, which means that it has the power to make binding or enforceable decisions and it exercises all the force of effective sovereignty. The downside of veto power is that is sustained by the hegemonic and powerful presence of those permanent state members of the council that own the weapons of mass destruction; cynically, the weapons Bush denounced Iraq possessed in the first place. Derrida uses a more cut-and-dry description toward the United Nations, by underlining that “the fate of the ‘democracy to come,’ in its relation to world order, depends on what will become of this strange and supposedly all-powerful institution called the Security Council.”[34] It is worth commenting that, regardless of what the entire world protested, claimed, or opposed against George W. Bush’s proposal and rhetoric (as a preposterous and outrageous representation of the power displayed by a rogue state), the combat operations still took place in Iraq by the United States and with the full support of its allies. Once more, the reason of the strongest not only overlooked the charter that serves as a foundation of law and governs the fundamental principles of the law that governs, but also opened the floodgate for radicalization of groups or states that present themselves fighting against oppressed forces. The emergence of ISIL/ISIS came as a result of the invasion of Iraq by the United States war machine.

States have protested by using the only exception in the Charter of the United Nations, Article 51, which recognizes the individual or collective right to defend oneself against an armed attack “until the Security Council has taken the necessary measures to maintain international peace and security.”[35] This is the only exception to the recommendation of not to resort to force made to all states which are part of the Security Council. However, as we know, this section of the charter gave a permanent superpower member of the Security Council, the United States, a decisive position of supremacy since its constitution at the end of WWII. The United States’ rhetoric with regard to the fundamental mission of maintaining international peace and security always seems attached to the ‘reason of the strongest is always the best’ as a de facto condition. The sovereignty of each state and also the sovereignty of the United Nations might be effective, but the unjustifiable ‘reasons of the strongest’ in addition to the silence of its allies brings into question the very frame of laws that guide the core of this institution. In short, the ‘reasons of the strongest,’ the rogue state, jeopardize the constitutive and regulative concepts that act as a pre-requisite sustained by Western political proposals, beginning with democracy and sovereignty.”[36] Furthermore, at the international level, the rogue state can be seen as a sort of “unequal sovereign,”[37] the criminal state. The criminal is one who violates norms of order and the rogue state fits into this mould; as Derrida wrote, “voyoucracy stands for disorder.”[38] From Specters of Marx (1994) forward, Derrida draws the future of democracy to the question of international political order. On this issue, he clearly aligns himself with those who advocate a more democratic international order that would encompass reform of the United Nations and in particular the role of the Security Council:

"To put it in the most cut and dried terms, I would say that the fate of the democracy to come, in its relation to world order, depends on what will become of this strange and supposedly all-powerful institution called the Security Council."[39]

In short, he suggests that the question of an international, interstate or trans-state democracy is “one of the possible horizons of the expression democracy-to-come.”[40] The present international order of sovereign states shows us that, so long as democracy incorporates this idea of sovereignty, it cannot but ensure that ‘the reason of the strongest’ will prevail. However, we can see how Derrida concludes that it is imperative to dissociate democracy from the principle of sovereignty. He contrasts the unconditionality of sovereignty with the unconditionality of ‘democracy to come’ in order to argue for limits to sovereignty. For example, by constitutional measures that might ensure that it is shared among different parties and that might regulate the manner in which it can be employed; a sovereignty that is no longer indivisible and unconditional, but divisible and subject to conditions in this way is no longer sovereign in the traditional sense of the term. I believe this is a significant albeit extensive challenge not only to the current order of sovereign states but also the traditional democracy status quo, as this is defined in terms of the autonomy and self-legislating power of a people. As Derrida remarks, “it is a question of separating democracy and autonomy.”[41]

We have stressed earlier the idea of sovereignty; the one Derrida largely investigates as the foundation of the nation-state as the one it seems to weaken under the reign of ‘the reason of the strongest.’ Hence, questions arise. If the concept of ‘rogue state’ is directly associated with the United States presented as a hegemonic superpower, how does this presence fit within the neo-colonialist frame?[42] How do we describe this situation where today’s sovereign states are subjugated by the economic, cultural, and political impositions of this so-called superpower? More so, can we agree that when a superpower has veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council at the United Nations, to impose, confront, and control other states’ sovereignty with economic sanctions, that this is monopoly of violence? What comes to mind, and to provide a juxtaposition of ideas, is Derrida’s deconstructive notion of the Apartheid as “Racism’s Last Word.” I cannot help escaping this pseudo-syllogistic exercise where a clear deductive reasoning takes me to a similar conclusion: power. There is a clear complicity shown from the United States’ allies lack of action toward condemnation of the ‘reasons of the strongest’ that perpetuates the U.S. hegemonic monopoly of violence, just as during the Apartheid similar states became complacent as well.

To recall, the apartheid had embedded in its laws the “old language of Europe, of the West”[43] where, despite Western states denouncing it from podiums (a.k.a. United Nations Security Council), their dialectics connoted denial and complicity. When Derrida recaps the symbolic condemnation of apartheid by Western states, he recalls that their sentence appeared to exhibit a ‘verdict without effect,’ just to conform the “discourse on human rights;”[44] as an opposition between the theoretical philosophical discourse and the application (or practice). Derrida is not mistaken when he emphasizes that “the relation between theory and practice is conceived in the modern West as an opposition: the between doing as opposed to thinking”[45] and it is only in the practice where we find the ‘truth.’ There can be no frame to the recognized means of human rights and the guarantee of their applications, as long as the remains of apartheid, as well as the ‘reasons of the strongest,’ persist in today’s laws which feed this hegemonic structure that sustains it. Is from the same podium that we have seen phony condemnations toward both - an oppressing system, as well as a monopoly of violence from a ‘rogue state,’ offering a mere rhetoric message that complies with the establishment. This intersection between the remains of Apartheid, still as a hidden oppression coming from the powerful, as well as ‘the reasons of the strongest’ concealed under the authoritarian-hegemonic power of the United States, aimed to illustrate that both synthesize the supremacy of the powerful. That power that controls the economy, culture, and politics of the weak. From this, there is a question I would like to leave open: If the United States embodies the concept of ‘rogue state,’ just as the Apartheid embodies racism’s last word, is the United States the last of the rogue states?

Beyond offering the one-word answer, I would like to share a non-nihilistic perspective of the future of democracy linked to the power of ‘powerless’ actions. Derrida's discussion about the United States becomes clear. As a democratic regime, freedom has been a basic and essential theme in United States politics ever since its establishment in the second half of the eighteenth century. As explained earlier, the only way to preserve freedom and democracy is to be able to apply justice; justice means being tolerant of disharmony by not forcing the other to become the same as me, by acting in a powerless manner. However, in order to assist people living under totalitarian regimes to change them into a democratic one, the United States acts in a powerful way, mostly by interfering the laws and the cultural spectrum of weak sovereign states. In other circumstances, by pressing and persuading the Security Council to approve sanctions which clearly represent one-sided interests that accentuate the United States’ domestic interests. By doing so, the United States is carrying out ‘rogue’ and unjust behaviour which cannot be considered as promoting democracy. Additionally, I emphasize the importance of justice as indeterminate and powerless for democracy; on the one hand, leaving people in their oppressive situation goes against the idea of democracy that grants all people the right to be free, and on the other hand, forcing totalitarian states to become democratic by ignoring their otherness cannot be conceived as justice. Without justice, without powerless action, freedom and the idea of ‘democracy to come’ will vanish while the declaration of bringing democracy to other countries becomes muted, since without freedom there is no democracy at all.

What I proposed for this essay, first, an understanding of democracy from Derrida’s deconstructive analysis to assess how much it has been shaped from political influences, especially from ‘rogue states’ such as the United States and its global leadership position under pseudo-premises that democracy must be sustained. In short, the first and most violent of rogue states are those that have ignored and continue to violate the very international law and democracy they claim to champion. The classical interpretation from the West of the theoretical-versus-practice view of democracy conceived as an opposition questions whether objective truth is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Within this deconstruction, I evaluated Derrida’s account of the relationship between violence and justice perceived as an internal struggle. This struggle comes also from its very own logic that democracy is autoimmune; this flaw in democracy is crucial to Derrida’s thinking of the democracy-to-come proposal. To explain the autoimmunity within democracy, I underlined relevant insights on the concept of political sovereignty, democracy, the problem of (political) violence, and a deconstruction of the Western concept of ‘reason,’ which is attached to the idea of autoimmunity. Two ways in which Derrida accounts for this ‘internal’ conflict involves first, the relation between democracy and sovereignty, where he proposes that the rule of people must rely on some form of sovereignty; and second, the relationship between equality and freedom, where Derrida suggests that freedom is impossible without a concept of equality. In short, democratic freedom only makes sense if everyone within the polis is equally free. In consequence, equality becomes a sine qua non part of freedom. Finally, I assessed the democratic discourse of being governed by a majority, presenting itself as loyal to the democratic system but with a perverse effect on minorities, which is an important principle in Derrida’s Rogues. On this last proposal, we found the claims from the rogue state (United States) toward other states, which fit into Benjamin’s assessment of democratic states that, “while represent the law, secure the monopoly of violence for themselves.”[46] I aimed to highlight some of the fundamental issues that Derrida puts forward when interpreting democracy, while offering some implications for thinking of a ‘deconstructive politics.’

Problems such as the lack of recognition of the value of equality, the difficulties in agreements toward the reduction of violence (to count some) indicate how precarious the future seems without engaging the normativity of freedom, equality, community connections and individual rights; just to mention only several basic foundations for a strong democratic institution. I believe that these difficulties emerge from reinterpretations of democracy based on conditions of inheritance (i.e. democracy in Canada emerged following a historical context completely distinctive from the democratic emergence in Italy), and this is a genealogical difference that explicates different context.

[1] Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 9.

[2] Derrida, Rogues, 11.

[3] Or the French État voyou is nothing less that the reason of the strangest, a question of right and of law, of the force of law.

[4] Ibid., 96.

[5] Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” in Reflections, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Schocken Books, 1987), 281.

[6] Derrida, Rogues, 86.

[7] Ibid., 120.

[8] Ibid., 37.

[9] Ibid., 28.

[10] Daniel Matthews, “The Democracy To Come: Notes on the Thought of Jacques Derrida,” Critical Legal Thinking, last modified April 16, 2013,

[11] Charles Taylor and Jocelyn Maclure, Secularism and Freedom of Conscience (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 59.

[12] Ibid., 34-35.

[13] Derrida, Rogues, 29.

[14] Taylor, Secularism, 22.

[15] Jacques Derrida, “Force of Law: The “Mystical Foundation of Authority” in Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, eds. Drucilla Cornell et al., (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 10.

[16] Ibid., 61.

[17] Ibid., 71.

[18] Ibid., 77.

[19] Derrida, Rogues, 29.

[20] Jacques Derrida, The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe, tr. P. Brault and M. Naas (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 78.

[21] Ibid., 100.

[22] Ibid., 71.

[23] Ibid., 102.

[24] Ibid., 92.

[25] Jean Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract & Discourses (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1913), 19.

[26] Derrida, Rogues, 93.

[27] Ibid., 97.

[28] Ibid., 96.

[29] Ibid.

[30] UN Charter art. 2 (7): “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state ...”

[31] Rogues, 64.

[32] Ibid., 98.

[33] “Bush's Speech on Iraq,” The New York Times, last modified March 13, 2003, 2003/03/18/politics/text-bushs-speech-on-iraq.html

[34] Derrida, Rogues, 98.

[35] Ibid., 100.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Gerry Simpson, Great Powers and Outlaw States: Unequal Sovereigns in the International Legal Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 227.

[38] Rogues, 66.

[39] Ibid., 98.

[40] Ibid., 81.

[41] Ibid., 84.

[42] Neocolonialism, neo-colonialism, or neo-imperialism is the practice of using capitalism, globalization and cultural imperialism to influence a developing country instead of the previous colonial methods of direct military control (imperialism) or indirect political control (hegemony). Source:

[43] Jacques Derrida and Peggy Kamuf, “Racism's Last Word,” Critical Inquiry 12, no. 1 (Autumn, 1985), 380.

[44] Derrida, “Racism's Last Word,” 385.

[45] Jacques Derrida, Theory & Practice, trans. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019), 118.

[46] Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” in Reflections, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Schocken Books, 1987), 281.


Benjamin, Walter. “Critique of Violence.” Reflections, trans. Edmund Jephcott. New York: Schocken Books, 1987.

Derrida, Jacques. Critical Theory: Selected Essays. Trans. Matthew J. O’Connell. New York: Continuum, 1992.

———. “Force of Law: The “Mystical Foundation of Authority.” Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice. Eds. Drucilla Cornell et al. London and New York, NY: Routledge, 1992. 3–67.

——— and Peggy Kamuf. “Racism's Last Word.” Critical Inquiry 12, no. 1 (Autumn, 1985): 290-299.

———. Rogues: Two Essays on Reason. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.

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