Jacques Derrida, The Last European
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Jacques Derrida, The Last European

"Ce qu'on nomme algébriquement 'l'Europe' a des responsabilités à prendre, pour l'avenir de l'humanité, pour celui du droit international – ça c'est ma foi, ma croyance. Et là, je n'hésiterai pas à dire 'nous les Européens.'"

— Derrida, "Je suis en guerre contre moi-même"

In Paris of May 2004, at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of Le Monde diplomatique, in one of the last acts of his extraordinary public career, Jacques Derrida issued an impassioned call to resist globalization (mondialisation) and US unilateralism in the name of Europe. A year earlier, on May 31, he and Jürgen Habermas had published an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung invoking the "Wiedergeburt Europas" (the "rebirth of Europe"). Authored by Habermas and co-signed by Derrida, the publication signaled a startling gesture of unity between two philosophers who had, to say the least, failed to find common ground for the past several decades.

The Habermas-Derrida text calls upon the nations of Europe to formulate a common foreign policy and to forge a new European identity as a counterpoise to US global power. It cites February 15, 2003 – the day mass demonstrations against the Iraq war were staged in London, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, and Paris, among other cities across Europe – as the "sign of the birth of a European public sphere" (Derrida and Habermas). The emergent European political identity, the article suggests, bears a special responsibility to act as the "locomotive" for global peace and justice through international law and cosmopolitan democracy. "The avant-gardist core of Europe" must take up, in other words, precisely the principles that the US government has abandoned. Habermas and Derrida urge European citizens to draw on their shared memories of imperialism, colonialism, and the Holocaust as the basis for a new mentality of inclusion in a "post-national constellation." They propose some touchstones for a renewed European identity, including the limitation of state sovereignty, preservation of social welfare as a corrective to class conflict, and fidelity to international law. In the present context of US hegemony, Europe must "exert its influence in shaping a [End Page 140] coming global politics [Weltinnenpolitik]" by pressuring institutions like the UN, G8, WTO, World Bank, and IMF (Derrida and Habermas).

As admirable as these aims may be, Habermas and Derrida's proclamation inevitably raises the question of their global bias. Although their article closes by "renounc[ing] Eurocentrism," it seems nonetheless to reassert a particular European obligation to act on behalf of the world. American political philosopher Iris Marion Young objects to the publication's premise in an essay for the web-based journal openDemocracy. She asserts, "Europe needs not globalism but a provincialism that will enable a dialogue of equals with the rest of the world." Young points out that the anti-war rallies of February 15, 2003 were planned at a World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre in January 2003 and, moreover, took place in hundreds of cities throughout the world. Such a "coordination may signal the emergence of a global public sphere, of which European publics are wings, but whose heart may lie in the southern hemisphere." Indeed, she adds, "from the point of view of the rest of the world," the Habermas-Derrida article "may look more like a re-centering of Europe than the invocation of an inclusive global democracy" and their Europeanist call to challenge US global dominance "little more than sibling rivalry."

Though Young correctly calls into question their geopolitical assumptions, a closer evaluation of Derrida's key statements makes clear that his position on Europe is distinct from the one Habermas sketches in their jointly signed text.1 Indeed, Derrida's meditations on Europe are themselves internally differentiated, complicated, and often paradoxical. They are traversed by an array of ethico-political motifs such as democracy, justice, responsibility, and hospitality; embedded in intricate readings of seminal figures in the European tradition like Heidegger, Valéry, and Marx; and shaped by innovative theoretical attention to the teletechnological displacements of territorial politics. In this essay we propose to draw together the crucial moments in...


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