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The Self-Deconstruction of the Liberal Order Jean-Pierre Dupuy Ecole Polytechnique and Stanford University Deconstruction as an all-encompassing reading method The world of ideas is a lot like the world of men. It has fighting for territory, cut-throat competition, struggles for prestige and recognition, jealousy, fear, and mutual fascination. Of course, when it is theories, hypotheses, conjectures—i.e. abstractions—which slaughter each other, it is not the same as if it were men. This is precisely one of the most important and famous theses defended by Karl Popper throughout his writings. The transition from violence to critical reason was an evolutionary leap forward. This leap was made possible by the emergence of a descriptive and argumentative language, and then of a particular form of society, the "open society." In the animal kingdom, theories or visions of the world are in a sense incorporated in the organism or the genetic system. Those which are bad, inaccurate or poorly adapted are ruthlessly eliminated through the destruction of the organism that carries them. A human being, especially the citizen of a society that permits critical and rational debate, has the ability to criticize his or her own theories, to maintain a distance from them. In the highly autonomous world of productions of the mind—the "third world" in Popper's terminology—theories shown to be erroneous disappear without their elimination implying that of their author or promoter. The eliminative function of violence is thus replaced by the eliminative function of rational criticism (see Popper 1979, 240). In his rationalist optimism, Popper goes so far as to suppose that a society that assigns a sufficient place to rational critical discussion will succeed in eradicating violence. 2 Jean-Pierre Dupuy I will not discuss this thesis here, but touch upon what it implies for the world of ideas. If men succeed in exorcising their violence by projecting it into the world of ideas, this "third world" must bear traces of the violence it has inherited. This is in fact what Popper explicitly states: "The art of argument is a peculiar form of the art of fighting—with words instead of swords . . ." (1983, 6). The reference to Hobbes is significant. Imre Lakatos compares the popperian conception of the "third world" to the hobbesian state of nature when he writes, in Popper's ruthless society of theories, where the law is the (shortlived) survival of the fittest, a theory can become a hero only through murder. A theory becomes testworthy on presenting a threat to some extant theory; it becomes "welltested " when it has proved its mettle by producing a new fact that realizes the threat and liquidates a rival. (380) It is from this perspective that I would like to speak of deconstruction. As Andrew McKenna has aptly shown, there are deep similarities between Derrida's deconstructive reading of philosophical texts and Girard's interpretation ofmyths. And my aim here is to focus on the founding myths of a society known in principle for being deprived of such myths: ours. The name deconstruction has chosen for itself expresses well enough the charge of violence within it, even if "deconstruction" appears insipid compared to its source, the heideggerian Destruktion. What is to be deconstructed or destroyed? The pretension of the Logos to affirm itself as complete and self-sufficient, the ambition of philosophy to have immediate access to pure truth (aletheia), the illusion of mastery on the part of human beings who put themselves in the place of God, etc. In their "deconstruction of Western metaphysics"—the intellectual enterprise launched by Jacques Derrida and his numerous epigones in the wake of Heidegger—the deconstructionists systematically debunked the concept of Logos which, like the bourgeois ridiculed by Marx in The Holy Family, "swells up to the point of taking himself for an atom, that is to say a being devoid of any relation, sufficient unto himself, without needs, absolutely complete, in a state of complete felicity." One should not, however, denounce deconstruction too quickly as a "post-modern" form of resentment—resentment which bespeaks a secret fascination for the apparent autonomy of the Other, and which cannot rest until it has demystified it. Things...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 1-16
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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