democracies Christian and otherwise

More than any other form of democracy, more than social democracy or popular democracy, a Christian democracy should be welcoming to the enemies of democracy; it should turn them the other cheek, offer hospitality, grant freedom of expression and the right to vote to antidemocrats, something in conformity with a certain hyperbolic essence, an essence more autoimmune than ever, of democracy itself, if “itself” there ever is, if ever there is a democracy and thus a Christian democracy worthy of this name.

This passage closes section three of the first part of Derrida’s Rogues, the section titled “The Other of Democracy.” That Derrida bring up the idea of a “Christian democracy” at this point is, if not a little bit puzzling, at least unexpected. It comes simply as a counterpoint to a previous mention of Nietzsche, who of course opposed the democratic heritage of Europe together with the Pauline-Christian heritage as being two facets of the clever triumph of weakness over strength.

The main theme of the section, though, is an exploration of opposition to democracy (largely in its modern, “globalatinizing” form) from without and from within. Considerations of religion in relation to democracy are never absent from here, but it isn’t Christian religions with which Derrida is mostly concerned. His focus is instead on Islam. He wagers toward the beginning of the section that Islam (but of course only “a certain Islam”) today provides “the only religious or theocratic culture that can still, in fact or in principle, inspire and declare any resistance to democracy.” Whether or not this is strictly true, it seems at least plausible, at least within the bounds of the questions Derrida is addressing. What Derrida doesn’t make explicit (even though I think it would be easily argued that he recognizes this implicitly) is that if Islam stands as the only culture capable of standing against democracy, it certainly doesn’t follow that it necessarily does so. This much should be practically obvious, and this asymmetry vis-à-vis the Western political heritage is perhaps more than anything else what enables Derrida to name “a certain Islam”: that community or tradition or interpretation which does resist democracy, as opposed to that other Islam which is not so much “other” insofar as it does not resist. One problem with such a bifurcation of Islam, though, is that it remains constituted by the language of resistance, and thus of force – of democracy as a force moving outward from a proper center (i.e., Europe… or Christendom). It undermines from the start the possibility of something like “democracy” that isn’t governed by the Western heritage of this word, and such an option might very well be a live one for Islam (see for example Abdulaziz Sachedina’s The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism).

The question, then, of whether there is or ever could be a “Christian democracy” goes farther than the question of whether there is or could be a “democracy itself.” Insofar as the movement of secularization that has been connected inextricably to the movement of democratization in the modern world has, in fact, been a result or outgrowth of Europe’s Christian heritage (whether as a direct result of it, a reaction to it, or as Jean-Luc Nancy analyzes it, its own self-deconstruction), it would both be impossible anymore to think democracy without it being Christian democracy in some sense and impossible to imagine democracy being actually Christian in the sense that Derrida describes. The aporia of the idea of Christian democracy today is that there can be no such thing because all that which we call democracy is already Christian. It is sometimes too easy to oppose theocracy to democracy (as Derrida does when he speaks of the “theocratic culture” of “a certain Islam”), but in this opposition we ought to be able to detect the opening of a conceptual gap the slippage across (or into) which is perhaps difficult but inevitable. Even the most secular democracy always borders (temporally, spatially, conceptually) on theocracy. Instead of retaining this opposition, the more radical way to think democracy (and this to be what Derrida intends when he invokes the “democracy-to-come”) is a democracy without an “other” – that is, a democracy that is other to itself, endlessly, in its own production of multiple democratic forms.

Posted on January 18, 2010, in Derrida and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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