Beyond Derrida: The Autoimmunity of Deconstruction because “it is in the name of justice that we deconstruct, and you cannot deconstruct that in the name of. Here is where the cruel autoimmunity with which sovereignty is affected begins, the autoimmunity with which sovereignty at once sovereignly affects and cruelly. Derrida argues that the idea of democracy suffers from a fatal “autoimmunity”: its freedom and equality requirements cancel each other out.

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This difficult little syntagm is developed in a number of books, articles and interviews, most notably in Spectres of Marx and The Politics of Friendshipfinally given its fullest elaboration in Rogues: Two Essays on Reason None of this is attempted here. Derrida RoguesDerrida makes a sustained case for thinking of democracy as being autoimkunity by an autoimmune logic. So, to suggest that democracy is autoimmune is to claim that it is threatened internally by its very own logic.

I want to highlight two ways in which Derrida accounts for this self-inflicted dehiscence within democracy. The first issue involves the relation between democracy and sovereignty.

The Democracy To Come: Notes on the Thought of Jacques Derrida

Derrida suggests that in order for democracy, understood quite literally as the rule cratos of the people demosto have any discernable effect in ruling it must rely on some form of sovereignty. Sovereignty and democracy are inseparable but contradictory partners.

The efficacy of democracy relies on sovereignty: In striving to protect itself and guarantee its dominance through a co-option of sovereignty, democracy suffers from an autoimmune self-destruction.

In an attempt to immunise and protect itself from destruction, democracy destroys itself by closing off, unifying and essentialising the multiplicity that enables the formation of democracy in the first place.

The plurality of the demos must be contained and restrained in a sovereign community: In this move there are inevitable exclusions and elisions that morph a heterogeneous collectivity into a homogonous unit.

Democracy and sovereignty are bound in a destructive clasp that means democracy as such that is, a democracy without sovereignty remains an impossibility. The second issue turns on the canonical problem of the relationship between equality and freedom.


Derrida and the Immune System

Again, equality and freedom are two necessary but contradictory claims that unite in democracy. Equality hopes to guarantee that each actor within a community has equal value, most clearly this is seen in the ascription of one equal vote to each individual in a community.

Democratic freedom only makes sense, then, if everyone within the demos is equally free. So, equality becomes an integral part of freedom and because such equality is inscribed within freedom, equality is no longer merely a question of number and calculation but itself becomes incalculable. The two concepts are intrinsically bound but in an autoimmune relation. Equality confines every singularity to a measurable unit that is infinitely substitutable. Freedom, on the other hand, exceeds this calculation and enables each singularity to be heterogeneous to others, it is a guarantee of the singularity of each individual, enabling every other to treated as wholly other.

For democracy, these two competing factors are mutually dependent — liberty must take place in the context of liberty for all — so this represents an internal corruption within the very structure of democracy.

The Democracy To Come: Notes on the Thought of Jacques Derrida

Democracy, on this reading, is always at war with itself, never capable of resolving its inner tensions and contradictions. Democracy is, then, never fully present in the sovereign claim that democracy has arrived or been achieved. Are not all democratic efforts bound to a kind of self-destruction? Well, in a sense, yes.

But unlike in the biological or medical context where autoimmunity induces destructive and potentially deadly consequences, Derrida sees a different shade to the logic of autoimmunity. Importantly for Derrida, autoimmunity reveals that absolute immunity is impossible: If democracy were absolutely immune from compromise, it would be absolutely sovereign, unchanging, inert, lifeless.

His first gesture inquires into the conditions of possibility for democracy, revealing an aporia or contradiction at its heart. In this sense a critical distance must be observed when it comes to democracy as it is currently understood, practiced and reproduced. Lazy proclamations of democracy having been achieved or perfected in current regimes and practices must be radically questioned and displaced.


The autoimmuniary flaw to democracy is the very thing that opens the possibility of a democratic future.

Project MUSE – Derrida’s Politics of Autoimmunity

This opening to the future, it must be stressed, is not blindly optimistic, as if there are only better, more democratic days ahead. And whilst offering no normative guidance or assurances, Derrida does point to a aufoimmunity restlessness at the heart of democracy, the urgency of the need for ongoing work and engagement.

We might name this understanding of democracy, following a definition of socialism favoured by the recently passed Hugo Chavez, as democracy without end.

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Notify me autoimmhnity new posts by email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. Works by Derrida Spectres of Marx: The first two chapters are particularly useful for exploring the relationship between justice, presence and democracy.

On the democracy to come in particular see chapter 2, especially pp. The Politics of Friendship London: This difficult text engages readings of Aristotle, Schmitt, Nietzsche, Blanchot, and Nancy on the question of friendship, fraternity, community and democracy.

See particularly, chapters 1—4 and chapter 6, 9 and Two Essays on Reason Stanford: Stanford University Press, Routledge,pp. Derrida and the Time of Life. Fordham University Press, Particularly, chapters 6, 7, 8 and The Politics of Deconstruction London: Pheng Cheah and Suzanne Guerlac eds. Jacques Derrida and the Other of Philosophy London: Share with your friends. The article is called The Democracy To Come: Notes on the Thought of Jacques Derrida and is located at http: This just helped me with my dissertation.

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