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diacritics, Volume 38, Numbers 1-2, Spring-Summer 2008, pp. 92-103 (Article)
Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/dia.0.0042
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seemed to arrive from somewhere quite different. See especially the opening of Béliers. in extremis. just enough. calling for or bringing about the slightest turn or veer of thought. perhaps who. either for good. .2 something that wanted to affirm. after all. But rousseau describes what he does not want to say: that progress is made both toward the worse and toward the better. De la grammatologie1 Who or what. soit en bien. . “rousseau would like to say that progress. then. ou bien vers le meilleur. in a kind of etiolated affirmation of something so exiguous that it came even before the who or the what.) Geoffrey BenninGton [rousseau] voudrait dire que le progrès.” militantly melancholic. in these still dark days of an ongoing melancholia i began by declaring “militant. . something so exiguous in its apparent flicker on the greyed-out screen not even frontally viewed but at the extreme all-but-unseen edge of lateral sight. minimally enough to start. as here.) 2.For Better and For Worse (there again . from which the unrelieved grey of what had now seemed to be the only horizon was at least minimally disturbed or torn by whatever. certainly no appreciable lifting or lightening of the gloom (still less any romantic lightning-flash in the night). or whomever. Ce qui annule l’eschatologie et la téléologie. . i appear in fact to have started. to the sometimes very minimal dignity of what often bears the probably misleading name of “thought”? What minute arrival or advent blipping the otherwise flat line of a life not perhaps worthy of the name “life” could perhaps be considered event enough to bear thinking. A Life. is made either toward the worse. . but still apparently enough. start again. however ambivalent it be. might come to open something again that might lay some claim.1–2: 92–103 . 1. . or for ill. in fact—who or what. much more melancholic. Which annuls eschatology and teleology. before even the quod-beforethe-quid. a certain refusal of the “normal” work of mourning and its “normal” dealings with the death of the other3—a proudly militant melancholia that soon however settled into something much less glorious. . however modest. in my paper “Jacques Derrida . se fait ou bien vers le pire.” presented to the March 2005 Georgetown conference derrida. nothing perhaps except the perhaps itself: perhaps nothing—and so perhaps something. 92 diacritics 38. si ambivalent soit-il. just as difference—or originary articulation—annuls archeology. in spite of everything. clinamen perhaps. nothing and no one.” (All translations from Derrida in this paper are my own. . perhaps nothing after all. cosa mentale. de même que la différence—ou articulation originaire—annule l’archéologie. [. . —Jacques derrida. from an entirely other plane or place? or perhaps it was nothing. soit en mal. At one and the same time. to make me start. with Jacques himself. À la fois. 3. to bear thinking about. or toward the better. perhaps what. much less proud.] Mais rousseau décrit ce qu’il ne voudrait pas dire: que le progrès se fait et vers le pire et vers le meilleur. barely.
the start. Derrida says that one day he will write at length about his use of this idiom. And yet he comes to see clearly that the appropriate figure for perpetual peace is in fact a cemetery. say. that the start start and make a start is unconditionally better. will turn out to have been.” “worthy of this name” in Derrida’s later work (especially from the early 90s). perhaps. however refined. leaves open the necessary 4. and more serious. one thing i learned from Jacques derrida would be a radical suspicion (which is not quite the same as a rejection) of all teleological schemas. that the grey horizon be surprised. so something that might be no more than a federation of states. that’s better.Just this intolerability makes a start. says that it remains “infected with contingency” (on the grounds that the arrangement that was supposedly to secure peace in the strong sense that can only be perpetual peace.5 Kant posits “perpetual peace” as the only rational purpose for the cosmopolitical history of mankind. diacritics / spring–summer 2008 93 . What follows on Kant is a somewhat brutal summary of what is argued more carefully in my Frontières kantiennes: see too the preliminary version of the same argument in Frontiers: Kant. Let me try again. prior to any axiological determination whatsoever (as he might have said). this means that the teleological drive toward what we can always more or less modestly. absolutely. picking up dropped threads. commenting acerbically on Kant’s fallback position (the federation position) in the Philosophy of right [§333]. “beyond good and evil. not the good. or rather. de la grammatologie 442. but let us now be satisfied (and more than satisfied) with a situation somewhat before the apparent endpoint of that push is reached. than the mere and quite traditional and comforting difficulty of making the real conform as much as possible to the idea or the ideal.” hegel. each time the start starts out. all one single state. 5. But “better” can’t straightforwardly mean a process of “getting better” in the sense of getting better and better. that it start—that the start start and make a start is. hegel. this side of good and evil.”4 or rather before good and evil. that there be something rather than nothing. on the basis of some more or less familiar examples. before even good and bad. but it doesn’t get any better than that.”6 in spite of the reservations about it he goes on to lay out in that text. and which in a sense his entire oeuvre is concerned to lay out from the start)—that that teleological drive is affected by an essential and internal trouble which is more. this dignity certainly communicates with the pervasive idiom “digne de ce nom. it’s better to start than not to start. Wittgenstein. and even a tolerable start. each moment better than the last which was better already than the one before. it’s good to start. Like writing in derrida’s special sense. perhaps happen. that is. he seems to think. for example. Frege. to give a sense of the minimal logical structure of this situation. in that it starts. there are many ways of characterizing this “trouble. is better. Let us then. not epikeina tes ousias. long before i know what kind of start it will have been. a single unified world. volens nolens. willy nilly. that there be something rather than nothing. minimally but by definition absolutely. maintain the teleological push toward perpetual peace. in something that falls short of. however tricked out with dialectical concessions to negativity and uneven developments. starting again. i discuss this in some detail in “Dignitas” (forthcoming). the arrangement of states into a federation. more or less resignedly recognize to be of the order of the idea of reason (that idea of reason that derrida says in Voyous “retains a dignity. or rather that something happen. because this is not god. even though i know nothing yet about how good or bad the start is. unconditionally (for just this is the unconditional itself “beyond” or before sovereignty)—that it start is unconditionally good. in Voyous . 6. achieved perpetual peace would be a universal graveyard. nor any type of dialectical complication of this schema.
and so. a contingency that can. wants to say that democracy to come. for analysis of this structure. 94 . but participates in the nature of the event worthy of its name (“tout événement digne de ce nom” ). this im-possible is thus not a (regulative) idea or a (regulative) ideal. Point out that responsibility cannot simply consist in following a rule. 2. this measured suspicion of the motif of the idea gives rise to a new summary attempt to deploy the resources of the idiom “democracy to come. some of them (he doesn’t exactly specify which. as follows: (1) “Democracy to come.possibility of violent unilateral action by any one of the partners to the federation. Comme la différance irréductible et non réappropriable de l’autre” (this urgency does not allow itself to be idealized. Like the irreducible and nonreappropriable différance of the other) . which by definition surprises absolutely all my capacities and powers. it is what is most undeniably real. third and somewhat different reason or type of reason: in the strict Kantian sense of the idea. and indeed of what he increasingly calls “ipseity” more generally). pas plus que l’autre en tant qu’autre. Cet im-possible n’est donc pas une idée (régulatrice) ou un idéal (régulateur). See for example apories 37–38. (3) this also implies that democracy cannot be contained within the frontiers of the nation-state (which. if i knew what to do because i had a rule to tell me what to do. et sensible. inso7. derrida himself. as absolutely unpredictable and unmasterable). philosophically speaking at least. or Politiques de l’amitié 87.” and there would therefore be no responsibility. also affirms the intrinsic (and unique) historicity of the concept of democracy. for example. having quoted himself in earlier work regularly hedging the idiom “democracy to come” with the predicates “urgency-here-and-now” and “not-simply-regulative-idea-in-the-Kantian-sense. i would really have to buy into the whole of Kant (“souscrire à toute l’architectonique et à toute la critique kantienne” (subscribe to the whole architectonic and the whole Kantian critique) ). is not ideal at all. Such an event by definition exceeds me (whence Derrida’s ongoing—since ever. which also means that democracy will never exist in the present.7 3. any onto-theo-teleology” . “in the form of an injunction that does not wait on the horizon. three reasons or “sorts of reasons” are given. be sublated into the different level of necessity of Universal history. Like the other.” he gives a more explicit and argued sense of why the assimilation to the Kantian idea should be resisted. as one of the more difficult of his thoughts has it. always careful to distinguish his own thinking of a “democracy to come” from the schema of the Kantian idea. but incontrovertibly real (just as democracy to come is always now and not in the future. then i would have no decision left to take. (2) this implies the other way of thinking about the event that we have already mentioned (that is. solves nothing at all. it would be already taken “automatically. in Voyous. resist this tempting assimilation of “democracy to come” to the Kantian idea by bringing out the sense in which it is impossible. and sensory. but does so precisely by befalling me in a here and now. C’est ce qu’il y a de plus indéniablement réel. in the sense that it does not belong to the order of what is possible for me.” while demanding a militant political critique in the name of the promise of democracy. but from “any teleology. Comme l’autre.” but comes as an absolute urgency: “Cette urgence ne se laisse pas idéaliser. this historicity entails that it be withdrawn not only from the schema of the Kantian idea. not of the order of the idea. but it seems clear it’s the first two of these three) bearing on a “loose” usage of the notion of regulative idea conceived of as something still belonging to the order of the possible: 1. is a mere empirical expedient). and i can’t really do that.” which attempt derrida organizes around five focal points. always a matter of absolute urgency and never something to be put off until tomorrow). immemorial—suspicion of the category of the subject. however. any more than the other qua other.
but then uses aristotle’s invocation of homer at the end of Book Lambda of that work to make a transition to the political. but oscillates undecidably between a constative or analytic modality and a performative: and this oscillation. breaks or ruptures the horizon or the teleological perspective within which metaphysics has always. je continue de croire qu’elle figure la seule possibilité radicale de décider et de faire advenir (performativement) ou plutôt de laisser advenir (méta-performativement).’ with a necessarily excessive responsibility from which no one can be exonerated. or at least pay a little more attention to. dispersion. menacée et menaçante qu’elle reste en son “peut-être. a call to think something worthy of that name).” as a tentative inherited name for the political as such. 8 * * * i want to back up a little now. the Prime Mover. pour quiconque. it therefore already opens. my paper “La démocratie à venir. would have to attempt to secure itself against that very thought of the event we have just mentioned). Aristotle figures most often alongside Plato as a thinker of the One. in Voyous. working hypothesis is that this moment just is the moment of difference. l’arrivance de qui arrive. if we can identify it in this constellation of “late” derridean thinking. “i continue to believe that this undecidability accorded. Derrida draws this first from the Metaphysics. for whomever.” avec une responsabilité nécessairement excessive dont nul ne saurait s’exonérer. elle ouvre donc déjà. at which “democracy. after all.” diacritics / spring–summer 2008 95 . the unity of what disrupts the origin and also thereby opens the undecidability of better and worse as the permanent internal ruin or catastrophe of teleology. however ambiguous and worrying it remains in its ‘perhaps. the precise moment. comme la liberté même. whence perhaps the attraction of looking to him for the best evidence of trouble around teleology). or of multiplicity as such. figures the only radical possibility of deciding and bringing about (performatively) or rather letting advene (meta-performatively). par la démocratie. constitutively. precisely on the grounds of their refusal of teleology—we might say in fact that aristotle. of those materialists. attempted to think and control politics. (5) “democracy to come” does not announce anything. is already democracy in its constitutive irony. in the light of my epigraph from derrida on rousseau. (4) “democracy to come” is linked to justice. une expérience de la liberté. and put a little more pressure on. to Plato’s Statesman and to aristotle’s own Politics. an experience of liberty. toute ambiguë et inquiétante. and the way in which that break or rupture leaves traces in the texts of that tradition (which have. My simple. like Kant. almost simple-minded. whence: Cette indécidabilité accordée. the transition from the more metaphysical to the more political goes like this: 8. like liberty itself. donc de penser ce qui vient et “qui” vient. by democracy. and thus of thinking what comes and ‘who’ comes. bequeathed the “old name” of “democracy” to us as a call to thinking. i want to look at this today less with the materialists or quasi-materialists to whom i believe this moment can and should also be referred (and to whom i have indeed tried to refer it). Cf. the arriving of what arrives. but with aristotle (himself no particular friend of course. or. which makes politics as public space possible. a thinker essentially of ipseity and sovereignty.9 nor indeed with Kant.” 9. is a great champion of a certain teleology.far as it aspires to the form of an ipseity.
’” 11. parmi nous les Achéens. performative. the Unique. avant d’en venir à sa Politique. et un Ulysse comparé à Zeus. at a place where Homer himself is quoting a statement of sovereign authority. après l’avoir averti que “chacun ne va pas devenir roi. [Voyous 36–37]10 as derrida’s essay progresses. Après avoir réprimandé l’homme du peuple (demou andra). Aristote cite l’iliade (ii. 8. and crowd—and democracy. it cites a verdict and is thus placed under the guard of a sovereign authority. c’est que la dernière phrase de ce livre propose une analogie politique. they named God. Ces vers mettent en garde contre le gouvernement de plusieurs.’ the two lines proffer a sententious. the end of this book Lambda seems to be signed. as a paradigm or a constitution. qu’un seul soit roi” (ouk agathon polukoiraniè. de la multitude ou de la foule—et de la démocratie. and thus as a political regime. eis koiranos estô. eis basileus). above and beyond the dispersion of the plural. aristotle is most often lined up alongside Plato: both are suspicious or at least reserved about the association of liberty with democracy. Present on this stage are an Athena.Si. “As for Plato and Aristotle. chaque fois que. “if. pronounces itself by pronouncing the one and the sovereignty of the one. La fin de ce livre Lambda parait signée. Aristote les extrait donc d’une longue tirade. ils ont nommé Dieu. de l’Unique. [Voyous 110–11]11 10. ce fut toujours en lui reconnaissant une exceptionnelle et indivisible unicité. refer its multiplicity to the supposed excellence of the one indivisible god: Quant à Platon et à Aristote. against polykoirania. performative et jussive sentence : “Avoir trop de chefs n’est pas un bien: qu’un seul soit chef. donc comme régime politique. or que dit-elle? elle prononce. comme paradigme ou comme constitution. after having warned him that ‘not everyone is going to become King among us Acheans. Le politique de Platon (303 a–b) et La politique d’Aristote (iii. and jussive sentence: ‘to have too many chiefs is not good: let one alone be chief. 13–15). each time when dealing with democracy as government. from a long tirade. contre la polykoirania. Ce salut politique au Dieu Un signe tour à tour Le politique et La politique (Politikos et Politikon). the statement is elliptical and thereby sententious. and both. 204). it was always to acknowledge his exceptional and indivisible oneness. elle cite un verdict et se trouve ainsi placée sous la garde d’une souveraine autorité. elle se prononce en prononçant l’Un et la souveraineté de l’Un. trying to announce to you the torturing question. 1283 b.” 96 . this political salute to the one God signs both the statesman and the Politics (Politikos and Politikon). then. multitude. je me réfère ainsi à la Métaphysique d’Aristote. this is at the moment it is a question of number. Sur cette scène sont présents une Athéna. traitant de la démocratie comme gouvernement. After having reprimanded the man of the people (demou andra). this is because the last sentence of this Book proposes a political analogy. en un lieu où Homère lui-même cite une parole d’autorité souveraine. 8. Chaque fois. c’est au moment où il est question du nombre. par-dessus et par-delà la dispersion du pluriel. And what does it say? it pronounces. daughter of Zeus. each time. 1283b. Plato’s statesman (303 a–b) and Aristotle’s Politics (iii. soussignée sous l’autorité souveraine d’Homère. de son dit et de son verdict. La parole est elliptique et donc sentencieuse.” les deux vers profèrent une sentencieuse. one alone be King. these lines warn against the government of many. his dict or his verdict. and an odysseus compared to Zeus. i am referring in this way to Aristotle’s Metaphysics. undersigned under the sovereign authority of Homer. tentant de vous annoncer la question torturante. 13–15). fille de Zeus. Aristotle extracts them. in the context of their explicit discussion of democracy. 204). Aristotle quotes the iliad (ii. before coming to his Politics.
on which derrida focuses. and that that sovereign individual be King. whereby an individual or a small group might (just might) present a “transcendental virtue” (an outstanding. indeed a man would be ridiculous if he tried to legislate for them. the reference to god or to a god in this section comes in the following hypothesis. this limit case of course cannot fail to refer us to some of the very opening considerations of the Politics.12 Such an individual would indeed be naturally like a god among men. whatever form it in fact take. Derrida does not pursue this “beast and sovereign” reference. i argue this more fully in “Demo” (forthcoming). As far as i know. According to rackham’s edition. and. But aristotle consistently opposes a simple but telling argument against Plato. according to which the self-sufficient (we might be tempted to say sovereign) individual is “either a brute beast or a god” [1253a 29]. for aristotle insists that the State simply cannot by definition be thought under the sign of the One. against this. aristotle in the Politics (a text derrida hardly 12.Although this general alignment of Plato and Aristotle seems justified and necessary in the very general picture that derrida is sketching. 14. seems relatively straightforward in Plato. In the republic. i am inclined to think (and this. for fear of license and disorder. a little later. and so the “natural” solution is that such a state be a monarchy. the lions are supposed to have replied. in an analogy which is no doubt definitive for the metaphysical concept of politics: “the best city [is the one] whose state is most like that of an individual man” [462c]. for probably they would say what in the story of Antisthenes the lions said when the hares made speeches in the assembly and demanded that all should have equality. for they are themselves a law. in the logic of how derrida himself taught us to think about legacies and inheritance and the irreducible secret that always goes along with the structure of legacy and inheritance) that we can learn something by gently disassociating Plato and aristotle here. just because by definition it is a plural or multiple entity.13 Let me simplify this quite complex issue a little for the sake of brevity. But other passages in the Politics show Aristotle to think that finding such an instance of hyperbolic virtue is a rare and unlikely occurrence. i believe. the tendency of democratic states especially (but not exclusively) to practice ostracism or temporary exile with respect to individuals who are seen to achieve by some means such a “hyperbolic” position with respect to the law. to govern and be governed. or a greater good than that which binds it together and makes it one?” [republic 462a–b]. socrates says: “do we know of any greater evil for a state than the thing that distracts it and makes it many instead of one. at which point such an individual or group could not be considered as part of the state on the same footing as all the others. because (quoting aristotle in rackham’s translation): it is clear that legislation also must necessarily be concerned with persons who are equal in birth and in ability. “Where are your claws and teeth?” 13. he cannot simply be excluded nor subject to the common rule (which would be like asking to share command with Zeus). [1284a 10] Whence. the in fact rather troublesome godlike quality of the superior virtuous individual is in extremis compatible only with a monarchical government—after some concessions and complications around the practice of ostracism. citizens should have the ability both to command and to obey. notes aristotle. aristotle indeed concludes that if and when such an individual arises. literally “hyperbolic” virtue) with respect to all the other members of the state combined.14 the reduction of the multiple to the authority of the one. and without a doubt lays down the metaphysical bases for subsequent philosophical thinking about sovereignty and politics more generally. aristotle’s reasoning through the section of the Politics to which derrida refers here [1283b] leads to the thought [1284a] that in the ideal state. diacritics / spring–summer 2008 97 . but there can be no law dealing with such men as those described.
this principle of multiplicity that is definitive of the polis gives rise to the very possibility of the plurality of types of regime. the polis is composed not only of a plurality of individuals [pleionon anthropon].15 this principle of plurality as named by democracy. because it would lead the polis to its ruin. say) as at least apparently more “natural” than other forms of regime. Hobbes. which. and if its unification is pushed too far [this “pushing too far” already contains the seed of my insistence on “self-limiting” as the ruin of the teleological motif]. Just because of the irreducible factum of plurality. more than two—or maybe more than three). but in some respects only. See my paper “Sovereign Stupidity and Auto-immunity. both of the family and of the state. which would scarcely be a plurality otherwise. be that proximity for better or for worse. democracy is presented (in Bodin. democracies]. and the family an individual: for we can affirm that the family is more unified than the polis. we might be tempted to say. i want to say that it is this irreducible element of plurality that will give the concept of democracy its always curious and eccentric position in political thought. and which i am suggesting in Voyous is perhaps a little rapidly aligned with Plato) has a crushing common-sense argument: Yet it is clear that if the process of unification proceeds with too much rigour. this is presumably why. like harmony passing into unison. opens the plurality of different types of constitution. in that in a sense it names just this plurality or dispersion itself. democracy has a privilege. as close as can be to nature. . a kind of zero degree of politics. in a way that other regime names do not. even supposing that one were in a position to operate this unification. then. and they all relate to this irreducible element of plurality. and rousseau. one should refrain from doing so. We should note especially here the motif of “too much” or “too far”: and he returns to the point a little later in criticizing Plato’s recommendations for the community of possessions: the error of Socrates must be attributed to the false notion of unity from which he starts. [1261a 17–33. there will be no polis left: for the polis is by nature a plurality [plethos]. and the individual more unified than the family. Spinoza. cf. this differentiation must exist. . aristotle says. “the reason why there are several sorts of constitution is that every polis includes a plurality of elements” [1289b 27]. for example. For example. But it also immediately compromises the purity of each of 15. for there is a point at which a state may attain such a degree of unity as to be no longer a state.mentions in Politiques de l’amitié. 1277a 5–10] this is perhaps even the leitmotif of aristotle’s political thinking in its quite energetic and consistent efforts to distance itself from Plato. there are different possible ways of organizing that plurality. that is. or rhythm which has been reduced to a single foot. just is the specifically political feature of politics (no politics without plurality. Consequently.e. and therefore of god. But among the spread of possibilities this opens up. too. even in poleis founded on the liberty and equality of the citizens [i. [my emphasis. without actually ceasing to exist. 1263b 30–35] A number of consequences flow from this critique. Unity there should be. and i want to say that it is this that places aristotle’s thinking less readily under the sign of the one. or at which. it will become an inferior state. but also of specifically distinct elements . in the subsequent tradition. the polis will become a family.” 98 .
insofar as the mass tends to become identified with the totality. and “constitution” (politeia: though this is just the generic name for any sort of constitution. as will regularly be the case in the ensuing tradition. many forms of oligarchy. aristocracy. but with an inverted order of valuation. but each of these classifications is in turn affected by plurality. so that the plurality is not ever quite going to be a plurality of atomic or self-identical elements. and many forms of democracy. Just as. It is not difficult to imagine on the basis of Aristotle’s analysis that democracy. he places it among the perversions or deviations (parekbaseis) of the different constitutions rather than as a pure or “correct” form. the nobility. and democracy the corresponding deviations or perversions. as is well known.these types. as the “least bad” of the deviant forms. and (2) it is difficult in the case of democracy to understand exactly what the distinction between the common and the particular interest would be. and one can say as much of the other constitutions). in the two other cases (monarchy and aristocracy). indeed. cf. including itself. whereas the deviant forms all govern in view of a particular interest. again. the discriminating factor for deciding whether a form is correct or deviant is that the correct forms all govern in view of the common interest. so the concept of demos as defining the locus of power in democracy is paradoxically both inclusive and exclusive: inclusively. aristotle is not concerned directly to defend democracy as a form of constitution to be preferred to others (though he talks about it at great length. the elite. tyranny. . aristocracy. too 1316b 36] now. not by chance. and democracy because of this plurality at the root of the polis. or the rabble. the bazaar that democracy is includes all forms of regime. . for tyranny is the worst of all (on the general grounds that the worst is the perversion of the best (lilies that fester smell worse than weeds). Aristotle plays on this difficulty (or is plagued by this difficulty) by associating “the many” implied in democracy with the poor. especially in the case of democracy. but exclusively it names the people as opposed to something else—the rich. and it provides him with his basic definition of a citizen as participating in public office [1275b 6]). and why there are some apart from those which have a name (for democracy is not numerically one. and so on. but in the case of democracy. might always be going to turn out to be the best case of all. democracy here occupies an eccentric position with respect to the others. the demos names all the people. and indeed the “many forms” that flow directly from the originary plurality exceed the capacity of these names to name them properly at all—and this excess. in Plato’s description of democracy as quoted by derrida in Voyous (and already in fact in “La pharmacie de Platon”). [1297b 28-31. whereas the perversion of the merely middling is not so bad). and there seem to be two reasons for this: (1) there is no real proper name for its corresponding “correct” form (which aristotle just calls politeia). . not only can there be monarchy. oligarchy. the distinction between the particular and the general or the common is harder to grasp. the distinction between the one (or the few) and the many automatically opens the possibility of a particular interest coming into opposition with a common interest. where the “particular” interest defining the perversion is itself that of the mass [1279a 31]. if for example one could show that the “correct” forms were in some sense unattainable: perhaps in the sense of being idealizations which could never be instantiated in pure diacritics / spring–summer 2008 99 . i think. royalty. and its particular interest would then be identical with the common. still surfaces in aristotle’s text around the example of democracy itself: We have in this way explained why constitutions take on many forms. again generating a paradoxical structure of excess and inclusion) are the “correct” forms (in declining order of excellence). so that there are many forms of monarchy. or the indigent. But the logic of this “perversion” turns out to be complex and quite disconcerting.
under the title of multiplicity. the polis is in essence plural. by Clifford A. but rather what we all now call more or less loosely a quasi-transcendental. this possibility could look for support to Spinoza or Machiavelli. not only of a plurality of possible regimes or constitutions. i reserve for a future occasion a discussion of the relationship between this argument and that put forward. But this transcendental. and the rule of Law. Here. democracy. could not of course strictly be a transcendental at all. souveraineté. against the traditional Aristotle scholarship. 100 . and indeed more generally according to the “originary synthesis” or “originary articulation” argument that i suggested is itself something of the originary synthesis or articulation of all derrida’s work). Bates in aristotle’s “Best regime”: Kingship. . [1294a 32–1294b 18] so where Plato tends to resolve the issue of plurality by a dialectical weaving of opposites into a unity. for manifestly this is so when it is said because they have been mixed well. which would have to allow for the logic of generalized deviance or perversion we are interested in. is called simply politeia in the absence of another or better name) is thought of as a mix of democracy and oligarchy (that is. taking. this means that it is from the start contaminated by something of the order of democracy.18 We have also seen that this leads aristotle to a sense.form. this principle of contamination gives rise to the thought that the polis is in principle always a mixture of some sort. for each of the two extreme forms can be seen in it. droit et gouvernementalité. [. as often. and the mark of a good mixture of democracy and oligarchy is when it is possible to speak of the same constitution as a democracy and as an oligarchy. and the principles of this mix are themselves already plural (themselves mixed): next to what has been said let us state the way in which what is called constitutional government comes into existence by the side of democracy and oligarchy. aristotle. i am close to positions argued forcibly by Jacques rancière. 17. so if all regimes were in fact deviant with respect to the supposedly “correct” forms. insofar as democracy names something of this essential plurality at the root of politics.16 something like ideas in the Kantian sense. who appears to go much further toward a thought of multiplicity 16. and. two deviant forms). and if all regimes were in some sense transcendentally “deviant” then democracy would turn out to be “transcendentally” the best form of all. in our reading. this “correct” form is a combination of two “bad” or “deviant” forms. and maybe even the resources of naming itself. but also to the thought that that plurality exceeds the available named forms. a contribution from each.] this then is the mode of the mixture. i cannot here bring out the nonetheless very significant differences in the consequences we draw from this initial point. For it turns out that aristotle’s unnamed or generic constitution (which. and how it is proper to establish it. 18. or perhaps rather—and just this would be the upshot of our earlier sniffing around Derrida’s reservations about the motif of the Kantian idea—because of a general logic of deviation or perversion affecting all supposedly pure cases from the start (and this is of course what i am suggesting.17 You will remember that the explicit ground for aristotle’s disagreement with Plato is that the defining characteristic of the polis is autonomy (or “all but” autonomy). See for example the appeal to Machiavelli in this sense in thomas Berns. as we have seen. democracy would turn out to be the best form in fact. and this is the case with the form that lies in the middle. then. and not unity. for we must grasp the distinction between these and then make a combination out of them. perhaps. At the same time the defining characteristics of democracy and oligarchy will also be clear. . so to say.
it follows quite naturally that the pursuit of the mean should itself not fall into excess (so that there should not be an excessive avoidance of excess or an excessive pursuit of the nonexcessive)—but this measured (nonexcessive) pursuit of the mean will. it is well said. The reason for this is. and there can be no mean. at the other end of the question of plurality. theft. famously the fundamental operator of the nicomachean ethics. diacritics / spring–summer 2008 101 . that it is by doing just acts that the just man is produced. but it is not the man who does these that is just and temperate. it is difficult to see why “moderation” or “temperance” can be lost in default or excess.19 Just as rousseau in spite of himself has progress going for better and for worse. having defined virtue in terms of the mean. and by doing temperate acts the temperate man. however. and just that quality is an essential component of moral virtue as Aristotle defines it. but the man who also does them as just and temperate men do them. but transcendentally in fact. as it were.” But if we do allow the reapplication of the logic of the mean to the thought of the mean. especially as what is translated here as moderation or temperance is sophrosyne. are called just and temperate [sophrona] when they are such as the just or the temperate [sophron] man would do. so we can’t reapply default or excess to the mean itself. need to act excessively or immoderately. where “tout autre est tout autre. opens the dual face-to-face already to the third party (and therefore all the others. and cannot be taken to master or dominate the basic thought of plurality or multiplicity that we have seen to have an affinity with the concept of democracy. i want to say that it is this irreducible residue of plurality that constitutes the political as such. for example in the work of derrida. this reading. but virtue itself cannot. excess.as definitive of the polis. if i can put it that way) in plurality or dispersion.” and not just in their moments of excess and default. and excess cannot be reapplied to themselves—so just as we can’t rehabilitate murder as a virtue by applying the mean to it. just because of its supposedly “measured” nature. Urmson in aristotle’s ethics. Virtue may be defined in terms of a mean used to measure actions. but is not itself to be measured in terms of the mean. forcefully defended by J. See for example 1105b 1–12: “Actions. just as. this is because such actions are already in the domain of excess or default. and indeed this would help us make sense of what happens in aristotle when the quotation from homer that derrida used as a transition to the Politics from the Metaphysics returns in the Politics itself. mean. points out that not all actions admit of a virtuous mean at all [2: 6].” of the political). to the charge of dogmatism. For example. Aristotle. and homicide are “perverse in themselves. perversely. so that virtue would consist in a sort of moderate moderation. is vulnerable. which gives a full definition of moral virtue. or default of excess itself. as one state in a plurality of states. so in aristotle the paradoxical logic of the mean entails that we stop somewhere short of the mean (which thereby itself becomes excessive) and therefore always remain (in fact. logical: aristotle’s central ethical principle prescribes the avoidance of excess in the name of the mean. this is taken to disallow the type of second-level argument i have just put up: Aristotle is essentially saying that default. o. for example. this would be what opens ethics to politics. then. and the connivance of this motif of plurality with the concept of democracy is what motivates its deconstructive survival or living on. and just as Kant comes to see that to realize the apparent ideal of Perpetual Peace would be to realize the worst (the universal graveyard). without doing these no one would have even a prospect of becoming good. adultery. with no god to save us. in the nicomachean ethics. on occasion (and of course Aristotle does also leave open here a thought of the occasion or the kairos). tries to resolve that multiplicity by appealing to the familiar operator of the mean or medium. never quite reach the mean or median point at which plurality could be said to be mastered. then. in a section a little further on than the “god among men” remark that allows derrida to assimilate aristotle and Plato under the sign of a “salut 19. then the paradoxes we are looking at cannot be repressed: a virtue of moderate moderation or a mean mean always might. for better and for worse. this is a complex point which i cannot fully develop here. But this thought of the medium or the mean is intrinsically unstable. as inherently and irreducibly plural—it would be easy to show that this is also what opens the polis to its outside.
is described as follows: Another kind of democracy is where all the other regulations are the same. if then democracy really is one of the forms of constitution. far from being a salvation of the multiple in and by the one. and this comes about when the decrees of the assembly over-ride the law. for the multitude believes them. but the best classes of citizens are in the most prominent position. for better and for worse) whereby democracy pushed to a certain limit. to the point at which one might. in which all things are administered by resolutions of the assembly. as being monarch. but the multitude is sovereign and not the law. yet what kind of democracy Homer means by the words “no blessing is the lordship of the many”—whether he means this kind or when those who rule as individuals are more numerous. which leads Aristotle again to quote the tag from homer.politique au dieu Un. but where the laws are not sovereign. what is really being criticized is a movement (that is of course part of democracy. and we ought to judge this to be constitutional government. is not even a democracy in the proper sense. closest to conformity with its idea. for where the laws do not govern there is no constitution. part of its intrinsically deviant or perverse character. in fact flips catastrophically into monarchical and thereby tyrannical form. is not clear. for it is impossible for a voted resolution to be a universal rule.” here aristotle is talking about the different kinds of democracy (in this section at least. because their spirit is the same. the flatterers with the tyrants and the demagogues with democracies of this kind. Moreover those who bring charges against the magistrates say that the people ought to judge the suits. for in the states under democratic government guided by law a demagogue does not arise. is in fact the internal ruin of the (always gathered) dispersion that democracy more “properly” (but democracy cannot really be proper in the light of all we have seen about deviancy) would “be. he seems to think that there are five) and is led to something that looks as if precisely the tendency to the one. so that all the magistracies are put down. a kind of sovereignty that. far from being the antidote to democracy and its dispersion. seeks to exercise monarchic rule through not being ruled by the law. 102 . and either set has the very strongest influence with the respective ruling power. precisely. by referring all things to the people. And a democracy of this nature is comparable to the tyrannical form of monarchy. is precisely the end and ruin of politics as such. And it would seem to be a reasonable criticism to say that such a democracy is not a constitution at all. However. and the decrees voted by the assembly are like the commands issued in a tyranny. in a teleological spirit. since the many are sovereign not as individuals but collectively. a people of this sort. be inclined to think it would become most itself. so that flatterers are held in honor. for the common people become a single composite monarch. And these men cause the resolutions of the assembly to be supreme and not the laws. and the people receive the invitation gladly. it is manifest that an organization of this kind. for they owe their rise to greatness to the fact that the people is sovereign over all things while they are sovereign over the opinion of the people.” The fifth type of democracy. and the demagogues and the flatterers are the same people or a corresponding class. and both exercise despotic control over the better classes. then demagogues arise. as the law ought to govern all things while the magistrates control particulars. [1292a 3–37] in the now undecidable “deviancy” or “perversion” that democracy is. most democratic. and becomes despotic. this state of things is brought about by the demagogues.
” La démocratie à venir: Autour de Jacques Derrida. sans indemnité. Jacques. . in this respect. “if an event worthy of the name is to happen.Which. frontiers: Kant. [Voyous 210]20 Who. avec l’immunité absolue.uk. Aristotle’s ethics. Voyous. droit et gouvernementalité. 2004. 1932. Souveraineté. ed. ________ . and the rule of Law. 2000. elle permet l’exposition à l’autre. Hegel. J. on ne s’attendrait plus. Politiques de l’amitié. 1994. 69–197. Bennington. no longer expect. ________ . Paris: Léo sheer. à ce qui vient et à qui vient—et doit donc rester incalculable. on n’attendrait plus. Paris: galilée. “for Better and for Worse (there Again . is also what derrida is trying to capture with the pervasive late thought of “auto-immunity. bennington. il doit toucher une vulnérabilité exposée.” as good as it is bad. Copyright © 2009 Wayne State University Press. Pheng Cheah and suzanne guerlac. 1–2. “sovereign stupidity and auto-immunity. ________ . Paris: galilée. Paris: galilée. il lui faut. Urmson. 2009.” La dissémination. Clifford a. beyond all mastery. Paris: galilée. dans sa finitude et de façon non horizontale. vol. Without auto-immunity. 39.” discourse: Journal for theoretical studies in Media and Culture. durham. 2002. it must. au-delà de toute maîtrise. “La démocratie à venir. Paris: galilée. Sans auto-immunité. h. frontières kantiennes. ________ . Cambridge. in its finitude and in a nonhorizontal way. Politics. et de faire front. 1967. to what comes and to who comes—and must therefore remain incalculable. it allows exposure to the other. Apories.” diacritics / spring–summer 2008 103 . . trans. À cet égard. Paris: Minuit. worse. WorKs Cited aristotle. là où il n’est pas encore ou déjà plus possible de faire face. no longer expect each other. Paris: seuil. where it is not yet or already no longer possible to face. one would no longer wait. nor any event. to face up to. without absolute immunity. plus rien n’arriverait. if i am not mistaken. 1988. Democracy. ni à aucun événement. 2005.nC: duke UP. 599–613.). Bates. ________ . Simultaneously appearing in Bennington. 20. Aristotle’s “Best regime”: Kingship. ________ . Geoffrey. auto-immunity is not an absolute evil [my emphasis]. affect a passivity. electronic book. or what? Better. 2003. Paris: galilée. De la grammatologie. à l’imprévisibilité de l’autre.” Derrida and the time of the Political. derrida. l’auto-immunité n’est pas un mal absolu. 1972. ed. 1996. no. with the permission of Wayne State University Press. ________ . Wittgenstein. Béliers. Baton rouge: Louisiana state UP. nothing would ever happen. on ne s’attendrait plus l’un l’autre. rackham. without indemnity. the unforeseeability of the other. affecter une passivité. frege.zsoft. Marie-Louise Mallet. it must touch a vulnerability that is exposed. with absolute immunity. sans immunité absolue. Ma: harvard UP. o. 2003. oxford: Blackwell. thomas. geoffrey. “La pharmacie de Platon. Berns. ________ . 2004. for better and for worse: Si un événement digne de ce nom doit arriver. co.
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