Derrida's Hegel and the Question of Politics

Dissertation, York University (Canada) (1999)

Abstract
This thesis works to 'deconstruct' the relationship articulated most definitively by G. W. F. Hegel, between 'politics' and 'philosophy'. For, as is already well known, among Hegel's most important philosophical manoeuvres was to assimilate the 'empirical' world of contingent action to the structure of philosophical thought itself. And while many have sought to detranscendentalize Hegel's philosophy, as I will argue, Derrida's contribution in this regard is to heed the necessary mutual contamination of the categories we refer to as 'politics' on the one hand, and 'philosophy' on the other; an attention he maintains by being equally preoccupied by the cost of attempting to keep them pure. My hypothesis is that the balance involved in maintaining, for example, the idea of the modern nation state, or the ideology of the family, was always, as Zizek says, "precarious and temporary"; the balance was always breaking down. From this point of view, contrary to the opinion of many contemporary critics, deconstruction is not the cause of that breakdown, but rather its name. On this view, Hegel's philosophical system is the most impressive attempt to domesticate that instability---that political 'deconstruction'---ever undertaken. For in a very precise sense, no one better understood the volatile other, at work in universal categories, nor understood more brilliantly how to domesticate it, than Hegel. ;Importantly, Derrida's reading of Hegel points directly at what Hegel's thought domesticates: it is what Derrida calls the 'singular'; which is to say, the impossible encounter between politics and philosophy. For as Derrida's analysis of Hegel bears out, while politics---the singular, unanticipatable event---has always been the occasion for philosophy, it can never appear as such, in its singularity, before philosophy. The view presented here is thus that as a pure singular, politics is strictly speaking, unintelligible. It is only through the necessarily general language of philosophy that the idiomatic specificity of politics is rendered into general circulation and therefore produced as intelligible. In fact, it is among the central arguments of this thesis that a point of contact between 'politics' and 'philosophy' is, strictly speaking, impossible. Nonetheless, in this thesis I bear out the paradoxical claim that while an encounter between philosophy and politics so understood is impossible, it is also demonstrably unavoidable. More precisely, explaining the paradoxical nature of, and the necessary costs of the impossible and yet unavoidable encounter between politics and philosophy constitutes the focus of this thesis
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