Reconsidering Derrida’s “Democracy to Come”

The recent issue of Postmodern Culture is devoted to Jacques Derrida. In it, Alex Thompson looks at what’s become of Derrida’s work and notion of “Democracy to Come”.

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). 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].) Second, that democracy may interrupt itself in order to seek to preserve itself: a suicide to prevent a murder.

The issue also has a review of Derrida’s Rogues: Two Essays on Reason.