It was John Searle who famously remarked that Derrida's work is the kind of stuff that gives bullshit a bad name. And now we have yet another case in point, thanks to interviews with Habermas and Derrida about the September 11th attacks on the U.S. Although I have my reservations about Habermas as a philosopher, there is no question that he is an important public intellectual and critic, especially in Europe (there are no public intellectuals in the U.S., since there is no public intellectual discourse, but that's a topic for another day). And the integrity of Habermas on this score, and the ridiculousness of Derrida, comes out very
nicely in this interview (which comes to me courtesy of Matt Kramer at Cambridge). Here is the pertinent excerpt:
Borradori: Should terrorism be distinguished from ordinary crimes and
other types of violence?
Habermas: Yes and no. From a moral point of view, there is no excuse for
terrorist acts, regardless of the motive or the situation under which they
are carried out. Nothing justifies our "making allowance for" the murder
or suffering of others for one's own purposes. Each murder is one too
many. Historically, however, terrorism falls in a category different from
crimes that concern a criminal court judge. It differs from a private
incident in that it deserves public interest and requires a different kind
of analysis than murder out of jealousy, for example. Otherwise, we would
not be having this interview. The difference between political terror and
ordinary crime becomes clear during the change of regimes, in which former
terrorists come to power and become well-regarded representatives of their
country. Certainly, such a political transition can be hoped for only by
terrorists who pursue political goals in a realistic manner; who are able
to draw, at least retrospectively, a certain legitimation for their
criminal actions, undertaken to overcome a manifestly unjust situation.
However, today I cannot imagine a context that would some day, in some
manner, make the monstrous crime of September 11 an understandable or
comprehensible political act.
Borradori: September 11 [le 11 septembre] gave us the impression of being
a major event, one of the most important historical events we will witness
in our lifetime, especially for those of us who never lived through a
world war. Do you agree?
Derrida: Le 11 septembre, as you say, or, since we have agreed to speak
two languages, "September 11." We will have to return later to this
question of language. As well as to this act of naming: a date and nothing
more. When you say "September 11" you are already citing, are you not? You
are inviting me to speak here by recalling, as if in quotation marks, a
date or a dating that has taken over our public space and our private
lives for five weeks now. .... For the index pointing toward this date,
the bare act, the minimal deictic, the minimalist aim of this dating, also
marks something else. Namely, the fact that we perhaps have no concept and
no meaning available to us to name in any other way this "thing" that has
just happened, this supposed "event." An act of "international terrorism,"
for example, and we will return to this, is anything but a rigorous
concept that would help us grasp the singularity of what we will be trying
to discuss. "Something" took place, we have the feeling of not having seen
it coming, and certain consequences undeniably follow upon the "thing."
But this very thing, the place and meaning of this "event," remains
ineffable, like an intuition without concept, like a unicity with no
generality on the horizon or with no horizon at all, out of range for a
language that admits its powerlessness and so is reduced to pronouncing
mechanically a date, repeating it endlessly, as a kind of ritual
incantation, a conjuring poem, a journalistic litany or rhetorical refrain
that admits to not knowing what it's talking about. We do not in fact know
what we are saying or naming in this way: September 11, le 11 septembre,
September 11. The brevity of the appellation (September 11, 9/11) stems
not only from an economic or rhetorical necessity. The telegram of this
metonymy-a name, a number-points out the unqualifiable by recognizing that
we do not recognize or even cognize that we do not yet know how to
qualify, that we do not know what we are talking about.