Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Writing in Anamnesis , Lee Trepanier explores the divide between Kant and Derrida on the issue of cosmopolitanism:

The idea of the open city had been marginalized by the rise of the nation-state and Derrida wanted to recover it as a potential solution to the problem of European immigration. This “confessional” cosmopolitanism differed from Kant’s “triumphant” one in that Kant’s cosmopolitanism was dependent upon the sovereignty of the state, where all values became politicized and ultimately subordinated to the state’s ends. By contrast, Derrida recovered the notion of a “confessional” cosmopolitanism where unconditional hospitality should be offered to all immigrants, while, at the same time, recognizing that some limitation on the rights of residence had to be in place. By identifying the contradictory logic in Kant’s cosmopolitanism, the deconstructionist was able to offer an alternative that, instead of being paralyzed, sought political action and responsibility.

. . . cosmopolitan values as hospitality would always contain a kernel of violence, e.g., allowing some refugees in while refusing others. The impossibility of an unconditional hospitality meant that any attempt to open the globe entirely to anyone was simply impossible; and attempts that masked themselves as unconditional hospitality could actually be a form of the worst type of violence. For Derrida, the best one could do was practice a conditional and therefore violent hospitality; but this violence would be lessened when one approached hospitality in a religious mode of existence.

An intriguing debate that is certainly worth reading for anyone inclined to reflexive, tout court  dismissals of postmodernism. Without minimizing the serious problems this ideology (and it is that) poses for traditionalists of all stripes, it’s worth pondering whether this critique of a rigid universalism can have value for religious believers in an age ‘after’ unbounded progressive optimism and political liberalism (indeed, if it had no value, it’s hard to see why a journal like Anamnesis [dedicated to ”tradition, place, and ‘things divine’”] took it up). Indeed, whether or not one buys Derrida’s contention that globalization opens up unprecedented possibilities for violence (here liberal theorists might dissent), his suggested ameliorative (religion, with which he became more and more preoccupied in the final years of his life) is alluring.

Ironically for those who find the mere mention of his name repugnant, Derrida’s model may provide one theoretical framework for how an explicitly religious state or society can be fully itself and yet understand and practice charity towards “foreigners.” Indeed, rather than dismiss this type of tribal arrangement as “theocratic” or “provincial,” such a model can ultimately wind up justifying deference to religious attachment as the most natural and plausible alternative when set up against a faithless globalism that seeks merely to “eliminate heteronomies.”

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles