Radical Atheism, Part 3: The Autoimmunity of Democracy

Originally Discussed on February 25, 2012

In the final chapter of Radical Atheism, Martin Hagglund spells out the political consequences of radical atheism and the desire for mortal survival.  He first argues that even the most democratic system is essentially corruptible, and so is always open to critique.  He then goes on to argue against Ernesto Laclau’s concept of radical investment: it is not the desire for a perfectly just society that drives political struggle, rather it is the desire for ourselves and our values to live on as finite and mortal.

Continue reading


Radical Atheism, Part 2: Arche-Violence

Originally discussed February 11 2012

Derrida and Levinas

Emmanuel Levinas was a French philosopher who emerged into prominence into the mid-20th century.  He developed an ethical philosophy that actually sought to make ethics into first philosophy – all thought and life proceeds from the face to face relation with the other.  The other person before us places an unavoidable ethical injunction upon our lives.  For Levinas, the world is a totality, a complete unit of competing interests wherein I constantly attempt to assimilate you and reduce you to an object.  On the other hand, the other is the presence of the Infinite in the world, the sign of the absolutely Other, that which stands as a constant rebuke to my finitude, my narcissistic solipsism.  For Levinas, the other person is the source and object of all ethical demands, and that demand is absolute.  He is the premier philosopher of the absolute ethical injunction towards other people.

Continue reading

Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life, Part 1: The Autoimmunity of Time

Originally discussed January 28, 2012

In his book Rogues, Derrida discusses the 1992 Algerian election.  In order to prevent the rise of an anti-democratic party that enjoyed majority support, the election was scrapped by the military and a bloody civil war ensued.  Democracy was suspended in order to defend democracy.  This is the “autoimmunity” of democracy.  Democracy is autoimmune because it is threatened both by external forces and by internal forces of corruption.  Democracy may have to attack itself in order to defend itself.  The problem is that there is no way to decide if it is right or wrong for democracy to attack itself at any given moment.  Just like the possibility of erasure, this is not an evil state that needs to be overcome.  Democracy needs to be open to critique, and it needs to be open to the outcomes of unpredictable elections.

Continue reading