As evident in the material reviewed here and in the previous chapters, at least some influential Jewish social scientists and intellectuals have attempted to undermine gentile group strategies while leaving open the possibility that Judaism continue as a highly cohesive group strategy. ( Collapse ) the main example attacked by Adorno is Hegel’s idea of universal history (also a stalking horse for Jacques Derrida; see below), but a similar argument applies to any ideology, such as nationalism that results in a sense of national or pan-human universality. ( Collapse )
It is immensely ironic that this onslaught against Western universalism effectively rationalizes minority group ethnocentrism while undercutting the intellectual basis of ethnocentrism. Intellectually one wonders how one could be a postmodernist and a committed Jew at the same time. Intellectual consistency would seem to require that all personal identifications be subjected to the same deconstructing logic, unless, of course, personal identity itself involves deep ambiguities, deception, and self-deception. ( Collapse ) Derrida has a complex and ambiguous Jewish identity despite being “a leftist Parisian intellectual, a secularist and an atheist” (Caputo 1997, xxiii). Derrida was born into a Sephardic Jewish family that immigrated to Algeria from Spain in the nineteenth century. His family were thus crypto-Jews who retained their religious-ethnic identity for 400 years in Spain during the period of the Inquisition.
Derrida identifies himself as a crypto-Jew — ”Marranos that we are, Marranos in any case whether we want to be or not, whether we know it or not” (Derrida 1993a, 81) — a confession perhaps of the complexity, ambivalence, and self-deception often involved in post-Enlightenment forms of Jewish identity. In his notebooks, Derrida (1993b, 70) writes of the centrality that Jewish issues have held in his writing: “Circumcision, that’s all I’ve ever talked about.” ( Collapse )
As with many Jews seeking a semi-cryptic pose in a largely non-Jewish environment, Derrida altered his name to Jacques. “By choosing what was in some way, to be sure, a semi-pseudonym but also very French, Christian, simple, I must have erased more things than I could say in a few words (one would have to analyze the conditions in which a certain community — the Jewish community in Algeria — in the ‘30s sometimes chose American names)” (Derrida 1995a, 344). Changing his name is thus a form of crypsis as practiced by the Algerian Jewish community, a way of outwardly conforming to the French, Christian culture while secretly remaining Jewish.
Derrida’s Jewish political agenda is identical to that of the Frankfurt School:
The idea behind deconstruction is to deconstruct the workings of strong nation-states with powerful immigration policies, to deconstruct the rhetoric of nationalism, the politics of place, the metaphysics of native land and native tongue... The idea is to disarm the bombs... of identity that nation-states build to defend themselves against the stranger, against Jews and Arabs and immigrants,... all of whom... are wholly other. Contrary to the claims of Derrida’s more careless critics, the passion of deconstruction is deeply political, for deconstruction is a relentless, if sometimes indirect, discourse on democracy, on a democracy to come. Derrida’s democracy is a radically pluralistic polity that resists the terror of an organic, ethnic, spiritual unity, of the natural, native bonds of the nation (natus, natio), which grind to dust everything that is not a kin of the ruling kind and genus (Geschlecht). He dreams of a nation without nationalist or nativist closure, of a community without identity, of a non-identical community that cannot say I or we, for, after all, the very idea of a community is to fortify (munis, muneris) ourselves in common against the other. His work is driven by a sense of the consummate danger of an identitarian community, of the spirit of the “we” of “Christian Europe,” or of a “Christian politics,” lethal compounds that spell death of Arabs and Jews, for Africans and Asians, for anything other. The heaving and sighing of this Christian European spirit is a lethal air for Jews and Arabs, for all les juifs [i.e., Jews as prototypical others], even if they go back to father Abraham, a way of gassing them according to both the letter and the spirit. (Caputo 1997, 231-232)
Derrida has recently published a pamphlet advocating immigration of non-Europeans into France (see Lilla 1998). As with the Frankfurt School, the radical skepticism of the deconstructionist movement is in the service of preventing the development of hegemonic, universalist ideologies and other foundations of gentile group allegiance in the name of the tout autre, i.e., the “wholly other.” ( Collapse )