Thursday, January 13, 2011

Liberals – Essential Beliefs Deconstruction 133

Deconstruction (or deconstructionism) is an approach, introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, which rigorously pursues the meaning of a text to the point of exposing the supposed contradictions and internal oppositions upon which it is founded - supposedly showing that those foundations are irreducibly complex, unstable, or impossible. It is an approach that may be deployed in philosophy, literary analysis, or other fields.
Deconstruction generally tries to demonstrate that any text is not a discrete whole but contains several irreconcilable and contradictory meanings; that any text therefore has more than one interpretation; that the text itself links these interpretations inextricably; that the incompatibility of these interpretations is irreducible; and thus that an interpretative reading cannot go beyond a certain point. Derrida refers to this point as an aporia in the text, and terms deconstructive reading "aporetic." J. Hillis Miller has described deconstruction this way: “Deconstruction is not a dismantling of the structure of a text, but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself. Its apparently-solid ground is no rock, but thin air."

Sources of deconstruction

Deconstruction emerged from the influence upon Derrida of several thinkers, including:
  • Edmund Husserl. The greatest focus of Derrida's early work was on Husserl, from his dissertation (eventually published as The Problem of Genesis in Husserl's Philosophy), to his "Introduction" to Husserl's "Essay on the Origin of Geometry," to his first published paper, "'Genesis and Structure' and Phenomenology" (in Writing and Difference), and lastly to his important early work, Speech and Phenomena.
  • Martin Heidegger. Heidegger's thought was a crucial influence on Derrida, and he conducted numerous readings of Heidegger, including the important early essay, "Ousia and Gramme: Note on a Note from Being and Time" (in Margins of Philosophy), to his study of Heidegger and Nazism entitled Of Spirit, to a series of papers entitled "Geschlecht."
  • Sigmund Freud. Derrida has written extensively on Freud, beginning with the paper, "Freud and the Scene of Writing" (in Writing and Difference), and a long reading of Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle in his book, The Post Card. Jacques Lacan has also been read by Derrida, although the two writers to some extent avoided commenting on each others' work.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche's singular philosophical approach was an important forerunner of deconstruction, and Derrida devoted attention to his texts in Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles and The Ear of the Other.
  • André Leroi-Gourhan. Of Grammatology makes clear the importance of Leroi-Gourhan for the formulation of deconstruction and especially of the concept of différance, relating this to the history of the evolution of systems for coding difference, from DNA to electronic data storage.
  • Ferdinand de Saussure. Derrida's deconstruction in Of Grammatology of Saussure's structural linguistics was critical to his formulation of deconstruction, and his insertion of linguistic concerns into the heart of philosophy.

[Michel Foucault was infuriated that Derrida took a small section of Foucault's book, The History of Madness, dealing with the first of Descartes' Meditations, and problemitized Foucault's entire book. Wikipedia states,] “Foucault's reference to Derrida's assertion that "there is nothing outside the text" is undoubtedly the basis of much criticism of deconstruction as being nihilistic, relativistic, a-political, or confined to the ivory tower of academia.”

John Searle criticized Derrida for "the low level of philosophical argumentation, the deliberate obscurantism of the prose, the wildly exaggerated claims, and the constant striving to give the appearance of profundity by making claims that seem paradoxical, but under analysis often turn out to be silly or trivial."

Jurgen Habermas criticized what he considered Derrida's opposition to rational discourse.
Further, in an essay on religion and religious language, Habermas criticized Derrida's insistence on etymology and philology.

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Jürgen Habermas born June 18, 1929) is a German sociologist and philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theory on the concepts of 'communicative rationality' and the 'public sphere'. His work focuses on the foundations of social theory and epistemology, the analysis of advanced capitalistic societies and democracy, the rule of law in a critical social-evolutionary context, and contemporary politics—particularly German politics. Habermas's theoretical system is devoted to revealing the possibility of reason, emancipation, and rational-critical communication latent in modern institutions and in the human capacity to deliberate and pursue rational interests. Habermas is known for his work on the concept of modernity, particularly with respect to the discussions of "rationalization" originally set forth by Max Weber. While influenced by American pragmatism, structural functionalism, and even poststructuralism, many of the central tenets of Habermas' thought remain broadly Marxist in nature.

Habermas versus Postmodernists

Habermas offered some early criticisms in an essay, "Modernity versus Postmodernity" (1981), which has achieved wide recognition. In that essay, Habermas raises the issue of whether, in light of the failures of the twentieth century, we "should try to hold on to the intentions of the Enlightenment, feeble as they may be, or should we declare the entire project of modernity a lost cause?" Habermas refuses to give up on the possibility of a rational, "scientific" understanding of the life-world.
Habermas has several main criticisms of postmodernism.
  • First, the postmodernists are equivocal about whether they are producing serious theory or literature.
  • Second, Habermas feels that the postmodernists are animated by normative sentiments but the nature of those sentiments is concealed from the reader.
  • Third, Habermas accuses postmodernism of being a totalizing perspective that fails "to differentiate phenomena and practices that occur within modern society".
  • Lastly, Habermas asserts that postmodernists ignore that which Habermas finds absolutely central - namely, everyday life and its practices.

[At one point Habermas] “described Derrida’s method as being unable to provide a foundation for social critique.” [referring to Thomassen, L. “Introduction: Between Deconstruction and Rational Reconstruction” in ‘’The Derrida-Habermas Reader’’ ed. Thomassen L. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago Ill. Pp. 1-7. P.2].

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Example of a Deconstructionist Political Argument

“This antagonistic dimension – which I have proposed to designate as the political – is precisely what the consensus approach is unable to acknowledge. The distinction is overlooked by rationalists like Habermas, because their conception of democracy must postulate the availability of a consensus without exclusion, ie, a consensus that is the expression of a rational agreement and that would have completely eliminated antagonism...the result is... a conception of the well-ordered democratic society as free from antagonism and without exclusion – in other words, the illusion that it is possible to establish a 'we' that would not imply the existence of a 'them.'

Deconstruction and Democracy

This privileging of the 'consensus' with the different forms that it currently takes in the numerous versions of 'deliberative democracy' represents in my view a serious misconception of the nature of democracy. This is why an approach like deconstruction, which reveals the impossibility of establishing a consensus without exclusion is of fundamental importance for grasping what is at state in democratic politics. Because it warns us against the illusion that Justice could ever be instantiated in the institutions of any society, deconstruction forces us to keep the democratic contestation alive. To pointing to the ineradicability of antagonism, notions like undecidability and decision are not only fundamental for politics, as Laclau indicates, they also provide the very terrain in which a democratic pluralist politics can be formulated.

As Derrida stresses, without taking a rigorous account of undecidability, it is impossible to think the concepts of political decision and ethical responsibility. Undecidability is not a moment to be traversed or overcome and conflicts of duty are interminable. I can never be completely satisfied that I have made a good choice since a decision in favour of one alternative is always to the detriment of another one. It is in that sense that deconstruction can be said to be 'hyperpoliticizing.' Politicization never ceases because undecidability continues to inhabit the decision. Every consensus appears as a stabilization of something essentially unstable and chaotic. Chaos and instability are irreducible, but as Derrida indicates, this is at once a risk and a chance, since continual stability would mean the end of politics and ethics.”

-- Deconstruction and Pragmatism by Simon Critchley and Chantal Mouffe, ppg. 9-10

Blog author's comments on this excerpt from Deconstruction and Pragmatism

Surfing the web for “deconstruction” and rational argument or logical argumentation will reveal a forest of these kinds of discussions. What should be striking are the errors of categorization and the telling generalizations.

The goal of “rationalists like Habermas” is the presentation of sound rational arguments – and argumentation is a contract to arrive at the truth, not a consensus. Arrival at such a truth does not mean that disagreement or conflict will cease, only that a rational answer has been achieved based on sound methodology. The result of rational argument is most-likely-truth and decision, not merely consensus.

The idea that justice is an illusion is itself an illusion. Due process and common law result in a society that always wins wars on its own soil, because the citizens would rather die than live under another legal system. Due process came about through Magna Carta (when cross-cultural elements of society united against arbitrary power; the left never acknowledges powerful agreements that cross class lines, a bias inherent in the denial of the existence of justice). Common law is inter-generational in source and is applied through use and application of the strongest analogy, a methodology having nothing in common with deconstructionism.

“...continual stability would mean the end of politics and ethics.” A rationalist or empiricist would almost certainly content that political stability would maximize change and economic growth, leading to on-going political adjustments and constant ethical questions based on new technologies and discoveries.

I think we can infer from this and other discussion about deconstruction versus argumentation that deconstruction places its highest value on chaos.

There is a philosophical legacy of modern liberalism being detailed here – from Schopenhauer to Nietzsche to Heidegger to Derrida. These and Freud are the major forces of modern liberalism, the apostles who wrote the tenets of the civil religion followed by today's liberals.

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If you doubt the close association between Heidegger and Derrida, consult the January, 2010, 13 page document, “The Deconstruction Theory of Derrida and Heidegger – A Study” by Chung Chin-Ye, a teaching assistant and research scholar at the National University of Singapore, January 2010. This study is available on the web as a pdf document at


  1. we can also use the deconstructionist against himself--if all is meaningless, if no truth can be found, than what he's saying certainly isn't true either!

    Likewise if all text contains internal inherent contradictions, this must apply to them as well, thus all thinking of the deconstructionists, based on what I've gleaned from your blog, are not just meaningless, but ironically, philosophical suicide.

    However we can clearly see the unfortunate impact is that liberals apparently base their science on consensus rather than scientific method, i.e, global warming.

  2. One more thing: in my reading of this German philosophy so far, it seems chock full of resentment. Resentment what for exactly I'm not sure, but the flavor is there.