In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • What’s to Become of “Democracy to Come”?
  • Alex Thomson (bio)

Does thinking a politics of the future depend on there being a future for democracy? In Voyous (2003), Derrida remarks that the enemies of democracy will often present themselves as its friends. If in the wake of Politics of Friendship (1994) and numerous other texts we are to understand the politics of deconstruction in terms of democracy-to-come, the suspicion with which we ought always to greet the self-proclaimed democrat needs to be turned on Derrida himself. In recent writings, Derrida stresses what he calls democracy’s autoimmunity: its tendency to destroy its own forms of protection against the worst. This essay considers whether this account of democracy’s suicidal tendencies marks a significant change or a minor clarification of Derrida’s previous discussions of “democracy to come.” Any answer must hinge on the equivocal status in those earlier works of the word “democracy”: it is the name of both a particular political regime and something like a quasi-transcendental condition of possibility for there to be politics at all. In the post-Cold War context, to stress the fact that democracy must always remain “to come” served to defer any possible democratic triumphalism. But as Derrida notes in Politics of Friendship, democracy is only one of the possible names under which we might seek to prepare a space for the invention of another politics. Voyous and other late texts suggest that Derrida’s own negotiation with democracy hardened: democracy’s potential for self-destruction becomes both its most terrifying and its most valuable feature.

There is something of a rogue state in every state. The use of state power is originally excessive and abusive.

—Jacques Derrida, Rogues 156

Faced with an apparently inevitable and overwhelming victory for the Islamist Front Islamique du Salut party, and following the resignation of President Chadli on 11 January 1992, democratic government in Algeria was dissolved between the first and second round of elections, to be replaced by military rule. Jacques Derrida draws our attention to these events in the third chapter of “The Reason of the Strongest (Are There Rogue States?)” (2002), the first of two texts collected in Rogues (2003).1 Derrida does not go into any great detail about the event, whose interpretation is extremely complex: neither Chadli, nor the ruling Front de Libèration Nationale, nor the Islamist party that looked set to gain nearly seventy-five percent of the available parliamentary seats with the support of barely a quarter of the electorate could have formed what might be comfortably described as a legitimate government (Roberts 105–24). But Derrida’s attention is elsewhere, concerned not so much with the specific history of his homeland as with what it might tell us about the idea of democracy itself. This is an example, he suggests, of a suicidal possibility inherent in democracy. Derrida appears to mean this in two senses. First, it highlights a risk to which a democracy is always exposed: the apparently suicidal political openness that allows that a party hostile to democracy might be legitimately elected. (Derrida acknowledges that this is itself a matter of interpretation, noting “the rise of an Islamism considered to be anti-democratic” [Rogues 31, emphasis added].2) Second, that democracy may interrupt itself in order to seek to preserve itself: a suicide to prevent a murder. In either sense, this seems to be both a threatening and unsettling way to describe any political regime. Moreover, a stress on the end of democracy would appear to be at odds with the emphasis on its future that had previously characterized Derrida’s political writing, pithily encapsulated in a phrase borrowed for the title of the Cerisy conference at which this troubling essay was first presented: “democracy to come.” Disentangling this puzzle means posing a question that is crucial for the political future of deconstruction: in the final years of his life, did Derrida change his stance on the relationship he had asserted so memorably in Politics of Friendship: “no deconstruction without democracy, no democracy without deconstruction” (105)?


Derrida’s account of suicidal democracy is closely linked in Rogues to the...

Additional Information

Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.