Taking Turns: Democracy to Come and Intergenerational Justice

Derrida Today 4 (2):148-172 (2011)

Matthias Fritsch
Concordia University
In the face of the ever-growing effect the actions of the present may have upon future people, most conspicuously around climate change, democracy has been accused, with good justification, of a presentist bias: of systemically favouring the presently living. By contrast, this paper will argue that the intimate relation, both quasi-ontological and normative, that Derrida's work establishes between temporality and justice insists upon another, more future-regarding aspect of democracy. We can get at this aspect by arguing for two consequences of the deconstructive affirmation of sur-vivre, of the alterity of death in life. Firstly, justice is not first of all justice for the living, but intergenerational from the start. This is so because no generation coincides with itself; rather, it dies and is reborn at every moment, and so – and this is the second consequence – consists in taking turns. Affirming life as living-on means affirming that it involves exchanging life's stations, as the young become the old, and the unborn become the dead. In this sense, the justice of living-on, I will argue, shares an essential feature with democracy, whose principle of exchanging the rulers with the ruled led Derrida to characterize it in terms of the wheel. Democracy consists in the principled assent to power changing hands, a switchover life demands of every generation at every turn. This assent further requires an acceptance of the gift of inheritance without which no life can survive. But as the gift can also never be fully acknowledged or appropriated, it must be passed on to the indefinite, unknown future, in a turning that is the time of life.
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DOI 10.3366/drt.2011.0015
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References found in this work BETA

Political Liberalism.John Rawls - 1993 - Columbia University Press.
Writing and Difference.Jacques Derrida - 1978 - University of Chicago Press.
The Gift of Death.Jacques Derrida - 2008 - University of Chicago Press.

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