DERRIDA ON THE DEATH PENALTY

Authors


  • Matthias Fritsch is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University in Montréal. He studied philosophy and literature in Cologne, New York, Berlin, and Philadelphia. His research in social and political philosophy focuses on historical justice, theories of democracy, and the critical theory of society. To date he has published The Promise of Memory: History and Politics in Marx, Benjamin, and Derrida (SUNY Press, 2005), co-edited Reason and Emancipation: Essays in Honour of Kai Nielsen (with Michel Seymour; Humanity Books, 2007), published a range of articles in scholarly journals, and translated authors such as Heidegger, Gadamer, and Habermas into English. He has won provincial and federal Canadian funding and in 2010–11 became an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany. At present he is completing a book manuscript on intergenerational justice; it proposes a reconsideration of moral and political relations with unborn generations from phenomenological and deconstructive perspectives (Asymmetrical Reciprocity and Taking Turns: What We Owe Future People).

abstract

Responding to Derrida's Death Penalty Seminar of 1999–2000 and its interpretation by Michael Naas, in this paper I argue that Derrida's deconstruction of the theologico-political concept of the sovereign right over life and death in view of abolishing capital punishment should be understood in terms of the unconditional renunciation of sovereignty that dominates Derrida's later political writings, Rogues (2005) in particular. My reading takes seriously what I call the functional need for a “theological” moment in sovereignty beyond a merely historicist or genealogical interpretation of the European monotheistic heritage. Further, I ask how Derrida can follow through on his goal of developing the allegedly first principled philosophical stance against capital punishment. To this end, I assemble some ingredients of this complex but “unconditional” abolitionism, one that doubts our comprehension of and active relation to death to the point of questioning the commonsense distinctions among murder, suicide, and legal putting to death. I conclude that, for Derrida, letting another die of hunger or AIDS may be understood as a form of a death sentence, so that a deconstructive abolitionism leaves no room for the development of a good conscience.

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