The Postmodern Condition of Cosmopolitanism

The advent of globalization has prompted both democratic and cosmopolitan theorists to reconceptualize democracy, citizenship, and political community, as “the ideals of citizenship clash with the sovereign nation-state in which they were first developed.”[1]No longer able to meet the pressures of globalization, notions like democracy must be transformed in order to continue to be relevant in this globalized age. Challenged by cosmopolitan thinkers, democratic theorists have been forced to reconceive what constitutes democracy and citizenship as the national community loses importance.

However, cosmopolitan theorists also have a set of their own problems with globalization. They have yet to explain how democracy, citizenship, or political community could be accomplished at the global level and why such a feat would be desirable. In other words, they neglect the possibility that globalization can pose a problem to democratic theory itself. With his philosophy of deconstruction, Derrida is such a theorist who addresses these concerns and provides us a path to navigate this debate between democratic and cosmopolitan theorists. For Derrida, democracy is a universal paradigm that transcends national community; and globalization has created a space for cosmopolitan values like hospitality to take the place of national ones. But Derrida also recognizes that any value, cosmopolitan or otherwise, inherently contains an aspect of violence and that globalization can actually make it easier for the worst rather than the least type of violence to occur. Globalization, with its implicit notions of cosmopolitan citizenship and values, therefore is neither a golden panacea nor an unsolvable problem for Derrida; rather, it presents new opportunities as well as dangers for us.

Critical to determining Derrida’s views on globalization and cosmopolitanism is first to understand his philosophy of deconstructionism as a call for a certain existential mode of existence rather than as another philosophy that attempts to explain reality. Deconstruction is an appeal to be existentially open to the possibilities of existence rather than privileging one value over another, thereby marginalizing and doing violence to other people, values, or institutions (“the other”).[2] This mode of existence Derrida names différance and messianic. Its contrary state is what I have called foundational. In a globalized world, the path of the least violence is one of deconstruction, and the path of the worst violence is foundational.

But before we explore these two divergent paths, an explanation of deconstructionism is required. After showing that deconstructionism is an existential mode of existence, I discuss some of deconstructionism’s cosmopolitan values that, in spite of their positive benefits, will always possess an aspect of violence. The three sections that follow that discussion speak of how these values are realized in the political and globalized context of democracy, violence, and law. The essay concludes with a discussion of Derrida’s place both in transcendental philosophy and in the debates between democratic and cosmopolitan theorists.

As a Mode of Existence

In his essay entitled “Et Cetera,” Derrida presents the principles that define deconstruction: Each time that I say “deconstruction and X (regardless of the concept or the theme),” this is the prelude to a very singular division that turns this X into, or rather makes appear in this X, an impossibility that becomes its proper and sole possibility, with the result that between the X as possible and the “same” X as impossible, there is nothing but a relation of homonymy, a relation for which we have to provide an account. . . .For example, here referring myself to demonstrations I have already attempted . . . gift, hospitality, death itself (and therefore so many other things) can be possible only as impossible, as the impossible, that is, unconditionally.[3] In other words, deconstructionism is a refusal to categorically define anything once and for all. It is a mode of existence that is never satisfied with conclusive definitions, aims, or ends, for such a task for Derrida is not only impossible but dangerous, because it would marginalize people, ideas, institutions—the “other”—keeping them from being acknowledged.

Deconstruction therefore rejects the foundational mode of existence that characterizes such philosophies as Platonic metaphysics, which assumes a transcendent reality that is transparent and structured in terms of oppositions, with one opposition more valued than another.[4] The marginalized other can be recovered by deconstructionism by first reversing the metaphysical hierarchies of power and then favoring the undervalued. In genealogically tracing the formation of the initial hierarchy to its first decision that privileged one value over another, the deconstructionist can reclaim and redefine the undervalued as the origin of the hierarchy itself.

This favoring of the undervalued at the point of origin destabilizes the original hierarchy of power and thereby allows resources that were originally excluded from the metaphysical tradition to be now included. An example of deconstructionism is Derrida’s critique of Husserl’s phenomenological project that emphasizes immediacy, transparency, and exhaustiveness of experience.[5] Husserl’s phenomenology relies upon a transcendental ego, where the internal ego corresponds with the exteriority of the “now” moment: the experience of reality is immediate, transparent, and exhaustive. To Derrida, such a moment is impossible because every experience, even the foundational “now” moment, has some prior reference point and thereby is precluded from being self-contained and exhaustive. By making the “now” moment the referential experience for all of existence because purportedly it is exhaustive, the phenomenologist is merely privileging one particular moment over another, since the finality of meaning of any experience can always be deferred to either the past or the future. Thus, every time the phenomenologist pursues a metaphysical meaning for such an experience, the meaning “itself, if there is anything at all of it, slips away.”[6]

It should be noted that the deconstructionist does not seek to replace one opposition value by another one, because doing so would only create a new hierarchy of power that would marginalize another set of “others.” Rather than offering a positive philosophical program, the deconstructionist silently affirms the parasitic critiques of existing hierarchies in the hope of creating a state of tension or oscillation between an existing hierarchy and a potential one.[7] This existential mode of existence is known as différance, where neither the existing hierarchy nor the undervalued or potential one is privileged. The objective for the deconstructionist is not to replace one hierarchy with another but rather to oscillate between these two in order to create an existential openness to the realm of possibility for a person to “go there where you cannot go, to the impossible[;] it is indeed the only way of coming or going.”[8]

The ethical underpinning of this mode of existence (différance), where the finality of meaning is continually deferred, is called messianic, meaning that we wait for ethical values like justice to arrive but do not expect them.[9] The state of tension does not exist for its own sake but for the hope of an ethical value to be realized. Structuring our existence as one of patience and openness to an indeterminate future, the messianic causes a certain skepticism toward such ideological movements as Marxism that purport to know a predetermined end to historical existence and consequently justify violence against others to achieve it. Opting for a mode of patience and openness rather than finality and certitude, the deconstructionist exists in a state of both tension and hope.

However, this existential mode of tension and patience should not be confused with passivity and abdication. For Derrida, when confronted with ethical demands, the deconstructionist should choose the path of responsibility rather than resignation, although in doing so, he would seem to adopt a foundational mode of existence and therefore be no longer open to an indeterminate future. The decision to accept responsibility is one that is beyond any type of rationality and does not emerge from any metaphysical or nonmetaphysical tradition. It is a decision that Derrida characterizes as madness, resembling a leap in faith that is beyond one’s control and yet demands that he should act.[10] Borrowing from Kierkegaard, Derrida calls this decision of responsibility an “undecidable leap.” It is beyond any and all preparation for such a decision and often places the participant in a zero-sum game, where one party will inevitably lose: “I cannot respond to the call, the request, the obligation, or even the love of another, without sacrificing the other other, the other others.”[11]

Cosmopolitan Values

But when the deconstructionist chooses responsibility over resignation in his “undecidable leap,” and recognizes that such a choice will prefer one party over another, how is it possible for him not to adopt a foundational mode of existence? Derrida addresses this problem in a paradox to show how ethical action is possible while also nonfoundational. For example, when one is asked to accept responsibility, he must submit to the conditions that make such ethical action possible while knowing that the same conditions also make such actions impossible. The conditions of possibility therefore are also the ones of impossibility. Derrida illustrates what he means by this when he examines certain ethical values such as giving, forgiveness, and hospitality, which are also for him cosmopolitan by nature. Thus, in order to understand Derrida’s paradox, and by extension how ethical action is both possible and nonfoundational, we first need to know what Derrida means by cosmopolitan.

In his essay “On Cosmopolitanism,” Derrida explores the relationships between the value of cosmopolitanism, especially in a world of banality and inhumanity, and the legitimate concerns of the police and the need for borders in controlling the immigration and the deportation of aliens.[12] The context of Derrida’s essay is 1996, when France’s Debret laws allowed police to extradite immigrations without right of residence. These laws provoked mass demonstrations of protest in Paris, with the International Parliament of Writers demanding that cities be established for immigrants. Addressing this audience, Derrida selects the concept of cosmopolitanism from the Western tradition to explore this specific and concrete issue. He ultimately proposes open or refuge cities for immigrants, where they will be protected from persecution, intimidation, or exile.

But this concept of the open city is an unfulfilled one. It is not new but emerged from a tradition that has been marginalized by the nation-state and consequently has never been conclusively defined. Derrida wants cosmopolitanism to resemble the ethic of hospitality, where one is more aware of one’s past mistakes and the likelihood that one could commit similar mistakes in the future. This confessional cosmopolitanism is different from the triumph cosmopolitanism of Kant, whose paradigm of the unconditional (the common possession of the earth) and the conditional (habitat, culture, institutions) only politicizes all hospitality. For Derrida, Kant’s paradigm has made all hospitality dependent upon the sovereignty of the state: “Hospitality signifies here the public nature of public space. . . . Hospitality, whether public or private, is dependent on and controlled by the law and the state police.”[13] By contrast, Derrida wants hospitality to exist in a state of différance and in the messianic rather than in the triumphant or foundational mode of existence. On the one hand, unconditional  hospitality should be offered to all immigrants; on the other hand,  hospitality has to be conditional, for there has to be some limitation on the right of residence. Again, Derrida’s identification of the contradictory logic at the heart of the concept of cosmopolitanism is not to paralyze political action but to enable it.

This contradictory logic of cosmopolitanism is also applied in his essay “On Hospitality,” which also deals with other ethical values.[14] Genuine hospitality demands that the host relinquish control over who will receive such hospitality, but to relinquish control makes it impossible to host anyone. But not to relinquish control is to have power over one’s guests, which is also contrary to hospitality. Likewise, a genuine gift can never be received, because the act of giving contains an implicit demand of taking.[15] The reception of a gift presumes that the giver is no longer indebted to the recipient, but such an acknowledgment actually draws both the giver and the recipient into a cycle of giving and taking. Wishing to escape this cycle, Derrida proposes that a genuine gift would require both the giver and the recipient to be entirely separated from each other, thereby nullifying any claims or obligations against each other. Of course, this is an impossible condition, for one cannot give without knowing it. The conditions of possible giving therefore are the same conditions of its impossibility.

Deconstructionism’s contradictory logic compels us to negotiate between the impossible or unconditional and the possible or conditional: the irreconcilable yet indissociable demands of unconditional purity and the pragmatic and quotidian concerns of a specific context. For Derrida, responsible ethical and political action consists in navigating between these two poles: pragmatic action has to be linked with the unconditionality of infinite responsibility if it is not to be reduced to merely prudential demands of the moment, while, at the same time, the unconditionality cannot dictate incontestable ethical precepts to a specific context. This link provides the paradox of how conditions of possibility are also ones of impossibility and how ethical action is possible but nonfoundational.[16]

The Universalizable Paradigm

These ethical values of hospitality and the like are inextricably linked with Derrida’s interest in global events, whether the International Criminal Court, the European Union’s immigration laws, or the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Derrida’s concern is not only to expose the hierarchies of power that “hide[s] its[elf]; by its essence it tends to organize amnesia, something under the celebration and sublimation of the grand beginning”; but also to recover the marginalized other and thereby expand our horizons both historically and globally of what is possible for ethical action.[17] For example, the ethical value of forgiveness needs to be left undefined to create the possibility of more meanings and more ways to forgive; otherwise, humanity will not be able to learn from its past. A definitive way of forgiveness may result in temporary good effects, but it will exclude other forms that would have long-term negative consequences.

But before tackling global hierarchies of power, Derrida critiques the state. Throughout both essays in On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, Derrida describes how legitimacy is created and sustained in the state: how the state is both a performance and a project in sustainable self-creation. What concerns Derrida is the state’s attempt at closure in order to secure its legitimacy: to preclude other possibilities (legitimacies) for its existence. While we may expect this of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, it is also a particular problem for democracies. The legitimacy of democracy rests upon the political concept of sovereignty.

But for Derrida, genuine sovereignty—ipseity—is prior to the political: “Before any sovereignty of the state, of the nation-state, of the monarch, or in democracy, of the people, ipseity names a principle of legitimate sovereignty, the accredited or recognized supremacy of a power or a force, a kratos or a cracy.[18] The concept of ipseity for Derrida is the power of the subject who is open to an encounter with the other; that is, he does not possess intentional consciousness that would privilege one set of values over another.[19] Ideally democracy should be a political form of a people’s ipseity: “Democracy would be precisely this . . . a force in the form of a sovereign authority . . . the power and ipseity of the people.”[20]

This openness to the other is coterminous with freedom understood as “the faculty to do as one pleases, to decide, to choose to determine oneself . . . and first of all to master oneself.”[21] However, this freedom can be suspended and destroyed in a democracy—whether from the democratic rule of majority tyranny or the election of totalitarian parties into power—and thereby produces the paradoxical result of destroying one’s own ipseity.[22] To preclude this outcome, Derrida proposes two subconcepts of a person’s ipseity: autoimmunity and the untimely. The former is the protection of oneself by destroying one’s own immune system; the latter is the affirmation of life that is rooted in ontology itself.[23] If either autoimmunity or the untimely were to exist by itself, then a person’s ipseity would be compromised: both are necessary for a person’s ipseity as well as for democracy to exist.[24]

These prior but weaker powers have the potential to become the basis of a genuine democracy. According to Cheah, democracy is “the only regime that is open to and welcomes the possibility of contestation and self-contestation. This openness stems from democracy’s radically improper character and its lack of self identity”;[25] or to quote Derrida: “What is lacking in democracy is proper meaning, the very meaning of the selfsame, the it-self, the selfsame, the properly selfsame or the it-self. Democracy is defined, as is the very ideal of democracy, by this lack of the proper and the selfsame. And so it is defined only by turns, by tropes and tropism.”[26]

Democracy for Derrida therefore requires both autoimmunity and the untimely to exist for themselves and as the basis for a person’s ipseity. Because it is structurally incomplete, democracy enables a questioning of its own idea and ideals. This right of public critique and radical self-critique reveals that democracy may be the only regime that can objectively express its autoimmune character. But public and radical self-critiques require a survival mechanism to sustain themselves, that is, the untimely; otherwise, they will collapse. The end result is that democracy becomes the structural condition of ipseity itself: an open-ended regime that allows self-critique while existing for the sake of a person’s ipseity.

It is should be clear that Derrida’s suggestion of autoimmunity as the right to critique is distinct from Habermas’s concept of Offentlichkeit: the public use of reason to legitimate political sovereignty.[27] For Habermas, the power of universal human reason enables individuals to transcend particular interests for an idealized objective, where autoimmunity is merely a by-product of this process. For Derrida, autoimmunity comes not from universal human reason but rather from the historicity of our finite existence. There is no “unconditional promise” of democracy from the future, but only what exists in the here and now.[28] Whereas Habermas postulates a future endpoint that individuals eventually reach through the public use of reason, Derrida rejects any speculation of the future in favor of a present temporal framework where both autoimmunity (the right to critique) and the untimely (the affirmation of life) are essential and not merely byproducts of a person’s existence (ipseity).

Democracy is “the only paradigm that is universalizable” for Derrida not because it includes all rational human beings or best articulates universal human interests, but because democracy best embodies a person’s ipseity: the person’s autoimmunity (the right to critique) and the untimely (his affirmation of life).[29] Democracy is the deferral of any ultimate meaning (autoimmunity) as well as the creation of binary oppositions and hierarchy (the untimely). This tension between critique and affirmation within the regime enables democracy to avoid the errors of finality, ideology, or what Derrida calls “the worst.”

The Globalization of the Worst

The “worst” is a concept that serves as a foil in Derrida’s philosophy of deconstruction. The phrase means that in auto-affection there is always more than one person, with the result that one treats the other with the worst type of violence.[30] Distinct from Kant’s notion of radical evil, the worst is when the other is completely appropriated by another and no other possibility exists. For Kant, radical evil is a phenomenon that is evil at its root, while for Derrida, radical evil consists of small, infinitesimal differences between one and another. These differences for Derrida are not absolute evil, because the other is still being acknowledged, while in the worst the other is completely absorbed by another.[31] The complete appropriation of the other results in the other’s complete extermination: a violence that is of the worst sort.

Globalization has ushered in an era when the potency of the nation-state is now questioned, with transnational organizations and institutions, for example, the International Criminal Court, usurping nation-state sovereignty over human rights. Although some may see this development in a positive light, globalization also affects concepts like war, enemy, and terrorism negatively, where the traditional distinctions, such as civilians and military or friend and foe, lose their pertinence. With globalization there is no identifiable enemy in the form of the state, with whom one could wage something previously called war; instead, a “new violence is being prepared and in truth has been unleashed for some time now, in a way that is more visibly suicidal or auto-immune than ever. This violence no longer has to do with world war or even with war, even less with some right to wage war. And this is hardly re-assuring—indeed, quite the contrary.”[32]

What Derrida means by more “visibly suicidal” is simply to kill oneself more, since the distinctions between states and therefore between friend and foe and civilian and military are no longer significant. For example, to immunize oneself against terrorists, one must discover and kill terrorists, whether domestic or abroad. But the more one destroys terrorists, the more one destroys oneself, in an era when borders are meaningless. By contrast, in the era of the cold war, the other was clearly delineated and therefore could be identified as an enemy to be killed. But in a globalized world, the enemy cannot be identified and consequently can never be killed. In fact, the number of enemies has multiplied to a point where they are unlimited. The result is one of global genocide, since the absolute threat no longer can be contained in the state. The threat of the worst is more possible in the era of globalization than in the period of the cold war.[33]

The purpose of deconstructionism in this globalized world is to push people away from the worst violence to the least one, for Derrida does not believe that violence itself can be eliminated: such elimination would be a rejection of the différance and messianic modes of existence for a foundational one.[34] For a globalized world, Derrida advocates a “return to the religious” as the path of least violence.[35] When examining the etymology of the Latin word for religion, Derrida discovers there are two sources of religion: religio, which implies restraint or remaining safe, and re-legere, which suggests a link with another through faith.[36] As in other concepts, Derrida teases out the oppositional values and the contradictory logic in these ideas. More importantly, he explores the link that defined religion before it became associated only with the bond between man and divinity. In other words, Derrida attempts to reconceive the link to be as open-ended as possible, such that the concept of religion can encounter the other without doing the worst violence to it.[37]

Violence will always occur when a person encounters the other, because an unconditional encounter is impossible for Derrida. There are always conditions when one encounters the other; therefore, the best one can do is determine which means are available for such an encounter and choose the one of least violence. Thus, such cosmopolitan values as hospitality will always contain a kernel of violence, for example, allowing some refugees in while refusing others. The impossibility of an unconditional hospitality means that any attempt to open the globe entirely to anyone is simply impossible; and attempts that mask themselves as unconditional hospitality could actually be a form of the worst type of violence. What we are left with is to practice a conditional and therefore violent hospitality; but this violence can be lessened when one approaches hospitality in a messianic rather than a foundational mode of existence. If the person is aware of his paradoxical situation and nevertheless still acts, then he will exist in a mode that is open to his encounter with the other as much as possible.

Decision and Justice

According to Derrida, globalization makes possible both democracy and the worst as genuine paths for us to follow. Democracy for Derrida can be all-inclusive of all human beings, and possibly even of all living things, if we are guided by the “link” of religion to the course of least violence, while the worst can lead us to a global suicide because such distinctions of the cold war as friend and enemy are no longer applicable. The question that now confronts Derrida is how one can distinguish between these two paths: “between the force of law of a legitimate power and the supposedly originary violence that must have established this authority and that could not itself have been authorized by any anterior legitimacy.”[38] If violence is inescapable for political action, then how can we distinguish the dualisms of the worst and the least violence, illegitimate and legitimate power, and law and justice?

In his essay “Force of Law,” Derrida addresses these issues directly. He distinguishes two types of violence: the genealogical (Greek, Christian, Enlightenment) and the expectant (Jewish and messianic).[39] With respect to the question of law and justice, Derrida argues that force is a necessary component of the law for its establishment and enforceability, but it is a threat to justice, for if justice were to partake in annihilation, it could not be justice. The most the deconstructionist could aspire to is the recovery of lesser forms of violence in the Western metaphysical tradition.

For example, deconstructionism could show us that genealogical violence is heterogeneous rather than homogeneous and therefore capable of less violent forms than previously thought.[40] One of these lesser forms of violence can be found in Derrida’s comments about Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence.” Benjamin’s sanctioning of the workers’ right to a general strike is a form of lesser violence when compared to the violence of the state.[41] However, Derrida distances himself from Benjamin’s position by associating him with the conservatives of Weimar Germany such as Carl Schmitt. Although such an association initially appears incorrect—Benjamin’s general strike may undermine the state without triggering the disorder of civil war, as Schmitt had argued—the two thinkers for Derrida are both representative of a messianic type of violence: Benjamin passively, Schmitt actively. Benjamin waits for someone, whether the state sovereign or the divine, to intervene, while Schmitt aggressively encourages some entity to intervene. Both are asking for the messianic to appear.

But for Derrida, the messiah will never arrive: justice will continually be delayed forever. Absent this arrival, we cannot abandon the first type (the genealogical) of violence about law; nor can we abandon the expectant, as was attempted in Nazism and the Holocaust.[42] Both types of violence are necessary, such that one exists in a state of oscillation between them.[43] When we do decide, this decision is part of the “undecidable” that can never be justified but nonetheless still must be made. Yet how does this decision differ from Schmitt’s theory of decisionism, where the sovereign is able to decide the state of exception (Ausnahmezustand) and thereby becomes free from all legal constraints? How does Derrida’s “undecidable” have an affinity with an ethics of responsibility rather than one of nihilism?[44]

For Derrida, deconstructionism’s destabilization of oppositions always contains an element of risk: “Without the possibility of radical evil, of perjury, and of absolute crime, there is responsibility, no freedom, no decision.”[45] By embracing such a risk, Derrida is able to make us conscious of the origin of violence and therefore minimize our reliance upon it, in the hope of leading us toward a justice beyond law. Because justice can never be an object of cognition, we will never be able to identify the law with justice, although we try our best to conform law to a justice that will never come.[46] But when we recognize the contingency and origins of the law, we will make the law less arbitrary in its establishment and enforcement.

Decision in deconstructionism differs from Schmitt’s decisionism in that Derrida forces a person to reconceptualize what constitutes law itself: “For a decision to be just and responsible, it must, in its proper moment if there is one, be both regulated and without regulation: it must conserve the law and also destroy or suspend it enough to have to reinvent it in each case, rejustify it, at least reinvent it in the reaffirmation and the new and free confirmation of its principle.”[47] Decisions are simultaneously legal and extralegal, with the rules suspended not for license but for the possibility of responsibility. Derrida’s theory of decision is associated with the expectation of justice; he is able to broaden the horizons of law, whereas Schmitt reduces it to power. Rather than restricting the realm of possibilities, deconstructionism seeks to expand it, and, in this manner, hopes to pave a path of responsibility for our decisions.


By being open to the realm of possibility, especially toward an indeterminate future where justice may (but never will) arrive, Derrida differentiates himself from transcendental philosophers like Kant and his heirs, whose philosophies are foundationalist: they subscribe to a universal and transparent rationality as a mode of operation, with a constructed endpoint in time that will be achieved by using this rationality.[48] Derrida thinks that unconditionality—whether justice, divinity, or any eschatological meaning—is beyond our cognitive faculties. Contrary to Kant, who argues that unconditionality enhances the power of finite reason, Derrida argues the opposite and instead liberates unconditionality from historicity: “not only from the Idea in the Kantian sense but from all teleology, all onto-theteleology.”[49] The entrance of the unconditionality into the present would neutralize and annul any current action, because our anticipation would be destroyed. It must remain beyond the horizon for which we patiently wait.

This other world that we wait for is not the one of the current globalization, where present hierarchies of power are exacerbated, such as the economic inequalities between North and South; but rather a globalization where unconditionality like the cosmopolitan value of hospitality can be implemented transnationally.[50] What Derrida is calling for is a dynamic process of humanization across the world: “a particular space-time, a certain oriented history of human brotherhood, of what in a Pauline language . . . one calls citizens of the world, . . . brothers, fellow men, neighbors.”[51] The present globalization deprives humanity of a genuine one, where international human rights, institutions, and law can be used to oppose the global political and economic institutions that exploit and dehumanize people.[52] For Derrida, a truly cosmopolitan citizen is not a product of the current age of globalization but one who exists between this world and the one that he waits for.

Derrida’s deconstructionist philosophy therefore proposes a way out of the debates about globalization between democratic theorists, who contend that the national community must be the foundation for democracy, and cosmopolitan theorists, who advocate a cosmopolitan citizenship based on a global community.[53] Derrida rejects the democratic theorists’ contention that the national community can be the only basis for democracy as well as the argument of cosmopolitan theorists, for example Habermas, that citizenship can be grounded in a universally accepted rationality. For Derrida, globalization presents the opportunity for democracy, justice, and other cosmopolitan values to be accepted if one accepts the deconstructionist mode of existence; but globalization can also lead to the danger of the worst forms of violence, with the ultimate result of global suicide. Thus, with the implicit claims of cosmopolitanism for citizenship, democracy, and political community, globalization is a source of both hope and despair for Derrida’s deconstructionist philosophy.

This introduction is from a book Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Globalization: Citizens without States by Lee Trepanier and Khalil M. HabibThe University Press of Kentucky (August 30, 2011).This paper was published by authors with the permission of The University Press of Kentucky and Voegelinview. It appears here with theirs permissions.​

© The University Press of Kentucky (August 30, 2011)




[1] Andrew Linklater, The Transformation of the Political Community: Ethical Foundations of the Post-Westphalian Era (Oxford: Polity, 1998), 182. For more about this debate, refer to Martha Nussbaum, For Love of Country (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996); David Held, “The Transformation of the Political Community: Rethinking Democracy in the Context of Globalization,” in Democracy’s Edges, ed. I. Shapiro and C. Hacker-Cordon (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998); A. McGrew, ed., The Transformation of Democracy? Democratic Politics in the New World Order (Cambridge: Polity, 1997); Jurgen Habermas, “The European Nation-State: On the Past and Future Sovereignty and Citizenship,” in Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory, ed. C. Cronon and P. DeGreiff (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998); B. Yack, “Popular Sovereignty and Nationalism,” Political Theory 29, no. 4 (2001): 517–36; Catherine Lu, The Political Theory of Global Citizenship (New York: Routledge, 2001); Kok-Chor Tan, Russell Hardin, and Ian Shapiro, eds., Justice without Borders: Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Patriotism (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004); Seyla Benhabib and Roberet Post, eds., Another Cosmopolitanism: Hospitality, Sovereignty, and Democratic Iterations (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006); Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (New York: Norton, 2007); Stan van Hooft, Cosmopolitanism: A Philosophy for Global Ethics (Montreal: McGill-Queens Univ. Press, 2009).

[2] For more about how Derrida’s philosophy of deconstruction is a mode of existence and its place in modern Continental philosophy, refer to David Walsh, The Modern Philosophical Revolution: The Luminosity of Existence (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008), 335–90.

[3] Nicholas Royle, Deconstructions: A User’s Guide (London: Palgrave, 2000), 300. For more about deconstructionism, refer to John Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 1996); John Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1997).

[4] Jacques Derrida, Positions, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1981), 41–42; also refer to Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1981), 4–6.

[5] Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs, trans. David B. Allison (Evanston, IL: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1973), 64–75.

[6] Ibid., 104.

[7] Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995), 65.

[8] Jacques Derrida, On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1995), 75; also refer to Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1978).

[9] Jacques Derrida, “Psyche: Inventions of the Other,” in Reading De Man Reading, ed. Lindsey Walters and Wlad Godzich (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1989), 60; also refer to Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994).

[10] Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, ed. Drucilla Cornell, Michael Rosefeld, and David Gary Carlson (New York: Taylor and Francis, 1992), 26; also refer to Derrida, The Gift of Death, 65–80.

[11] Derrida, The Gift of Death, 70.

[12] Jacques Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness (New York: Routledge, 2001), 6–8, 15.

[13] Ibid., 22.

[14] Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2000), 151–55.

[15] Derrida, The Gift of Death, 30; also refer to Jacques Derrida, Memories for Paul de Man, trans. Cecile Lindsay, Jonathan Culler, and Eduardo Cadava (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1989), 149. For similar logic with respect to other values, such as mourning, see Memories for Paul de Man, 6.

[16] Perhaps the best formulation of this paradox is Derrida’s comment about forgiveness as forgiving something that is unforgivable: “I must then and only then respond to this transaction between two contradictory and equally justified imperatives.” Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 54; also see 39–49.

[17] Ibid., 57.

[18] Jacques Derrida, Rouges: Two Essays on Reason, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Nass (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1998), 12.

[19] Jacques Derrida, “Signature Event Context,” in Limited Inc., ed. Samuel Weber (Evanston, IL: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1988), 12, 18–19.

[20] Derrida, Rouges, 13.

[21] Ibid., 22–23.

[22] Ibid., 24, 33–34.

[23] Jacques Derrida, “Je suis en guerre contre-moi-meme,” Le Monde, August 18, 2004. The untimely is “the emergence of radically affirmative views of surviving that . . . is derived neither from life nor death”; rather, the untimely is rooted in “survival [which] is an original concept that constitutes the very structure that we call existence, Dasein, if you will.”

[24] Derrida, Rouges, 45; also refer to Jacques Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone,” in Religion, ed. Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vattimo, trans. Samuel Weber (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1998), 73; and Jacques Derrida, “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides: A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida,” in Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, ed. Giovanna Borradori (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2003), 94.

[25] Pheng Cheah, “The Untimely Secret of Democracy,” in Derrida and the Time of the Political, ed. Pheng Cheah and Suzanne Guerlac (Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2009), 79–81.

[26] Derrida, Rouges, 37.

[27] Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, trans. Thomas Burger with Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991); also refer to Jurgen Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Polity, 1986); and vol. 2, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Cambridge: Polity, 1989).

[28] John Caputo, “Without Sovereignty, without Being: Unconditionality, the Coming God, and Derrida’s Democracy to Come,” in Religion and Violence in a Secular World, ed. Clayton Crockett (Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 2006), 137–56; also refer to Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror.

[29] Derrida, Rouges, 87.

[30] Derrida, Religion, 65.

[31] Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans., Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1974), 234; also refer to Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror, 99.

[32] Derrida, Rouges, 156.

[33] Ibid., 105.

[34] Derrida, Writing and Difference, 130.

[35] Derrida, Religion, 42–43.

[36] Ibid., 16.

[37] Derrida even expands a person’s link to animals. Jacques Derrida, Points . . . Interviews, 1974–1994, trans., Peggy Kamuf et al. (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1995), 279.

[38] Derrida, Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, 6.

[39] Ibid., 21.

[40] McCormick and Corson debate whether lesser violence could ever be transformed into nonviolence. Corson argues that this is not possible, a position with which I agree. Ben Corson, “Transcending Violence in Derrida: A Reply to John McCormick,” Political Theory 29, no. 6 (2001): 866–75.

[41] Derrida, Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, 34–35; also refer to Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” in Reflections, ed. Peter Demetz (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1978), 277–300.

[42] Derrida, Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, 60.

[43] Corson speaks of a third form of violence. Regardless of how one counts the types of violence possible, my point is that Derrida would not privilege any type of violence. Corson, “Transcending Violence in Derrida,” 870–71.

[44] Lilla portrays Derrida’s theory of decision as the same as Schmitt’s. Mark Lilla, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (New York: New York Review of Books, 2001), 174, 184, 190.

[45] Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London: Verso, 1997), 219.

[46] Derrida, Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, 44.

[47] Ibid., 58.

[48] An example of this view is Jurgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. William Rehg (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998).

[49] Derrida, Rouges, 87. Kant’s “regulative idea” was that the opposition between finite reason and infinite generated a temporality that was inherently teleological. This opened the horizon for human capacity to develop and rationally progress toward an infinite goal in time: “That opens up the comforting prospect of the future . . . in which we are shown from afar how the human species eventually works its way upward to a situation in which all the germs implanted by nature can be developed fully, and in which man’s destiny can be fulfilled here on earth.” Immanuel Kant, “Idea of a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose,” in On History, trans. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963).

[50] Derrida refers to this first type as antiglobalizaiton in Jacques Derrida, “Une Europe de l’espoir,” Le Monde diplomatique, November 2004, 3,, translated in Michael Naas, “A Last Call for ‘Europe,’” Theory and Events 8, no. 1 (2005): 96–108; also refer to Jacques Derrida, “The University without Condition,” in Without Albibi, trans. Peggy Kamuf and others (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1995), 203–23, 225.

[51] Jacques Derrida, “Globalization, Peace, and Cosmopolitanism,” in Negotiations: Interventions and Interviews, 1971–2001, ed. and trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2002), 375.

[52] Derrida, “Une Europe de l’espoir.”

[53] Derrida’s unexplained dismissal of nationalism as a potential basis for a political community in the world yet to arrive has troubled some. Refer to Cheah, “The Untimely Secret of Democracy,” 91–94.


Lee Trepanier

Professor of Political Science at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan where he teaches political philosophy and is the university's pre-law adviser. He is editor of VoegelinView (2016-present) and the editor of Lexington Books series Politics, Literature, and Film (2013-present). He is author and editor of over fifteen books, the latest being the Free Market and the Human Condition (Lexington Books, 2014) and the textbook, Political Science: Concepts, Methods, and Topics (Kendall Hunt, 2016).

Khalil M. Habib

Dr. Khalil M. Habib is associate professor of philosophy and Director of the Pell Honors Program at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island (USA), where he also teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in Islamic philosophy, ancient, medieval, early and late modern political thought. He received his B.A in political science from the University of Maine, his M.A. in political science from the University of Toronto and Ph.D. in philosophy in philosophy from Boston University. His essay on Aristophanes' "Birds" was published in The Grotesque (Bloom's Literary Themes), edited by Harold Bloom and Blake Hobby, and his essay on Tocqueville and Machiavelli was recently published as a chapter in Alexis de Tocqueville and the Art of Democratic Statesmanship, edited by L. Joseph Hebert, Jr. and Brian Danoff. His essay on Ibn Khaldun, entitled, "Federalism of Islam: Ibn Khaldun on Islam and Politics," appears as a chapter in The Ashgate Research Companion to Federalism, edited by Ann and Lee Ward. Dr. Habib is an award winning teacher and is available to speak to groups, facilitate workshops and lead retreats.