Derrida and His Social Movement

Derrida was involved with many political issues, movements, and debates:

* He was initially supportive of Parisian student protesters during the May 1968 protests, but later withdrew.
* He registered his objections to the Vietnam War in delivering "The Ends of Man" in the United States.
* In 1981 he was arrested by the Czechoslovakian government upon leaving a conference in Prague that lacked government authorization, and charged with the "production and trafficking of drugs" he claimed were planted as he visited Kafka's grave. He was released (or "expelled" as the Czechoslovakian government put it) after the interventions of the Mitterrand government, returning to Paris on January 2, 1982.
* He was active in cultural activities against the Apartheid government of South Africa and on behalf of Nelson Mandela beginning in 1983.
* He met with Palestinian intellectuals during a 1988 visit to Jerusalem. He was active in the collective "89 for equality", which campaigned for the right of foreigners to vote in local elections.
* He protested against the death penalty, dedicating his seminar in his last years to the production of a non-utilitarian argument for its abolition, and was active in the campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
* Derrida was not known to have participated in any conventional electoral political party until 1995, when he joined a committee in support of Lionel Jospin's (by then the stepfather of Daniel, his son with Sylviane Agacinski) Socialist candidacy, although he expressed misgivings about such organizations going back to Communist organizational efforts while he was a student at ENS.
* In the 2002 French presidential election he refused to vote in the run-off between far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and Jacques Chirac, citing a lack of acceptable choices.
* While supportive of the American government in the wake of 9/11, he opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. (See Rogues and his contribution to Philosophy in a Time of Terror with Giovanna Borradori and Jürgen Habermas).

Beyond these explicit political interventions, however, the political, particularly the idea of the nation, was continually central to his philosophy. Derrida noted in "The Ends of Man" (in Margins of Philosophy) that his ability to remark freely on the Vietnam War was a prerequisite to his attendance at American colloquia — an exception underscoring the national rule. He insisted on this because the democratic form (Derrida's emphasis and choice of words) of the colloquial event assumed an instability of these national identities, or rather non-identities, and because he wished to assert solidarity with those Americans opposed to the war.

Moreover, in his later years, Derrida amplified the political character of earlier philosophical arguments. Derrida and many of his readers have insisted that a distinct political undertone pervades his texts since the very beginning of his career. Nevertheless, the attempt to understand the political implications of notions of responsibility, reason of state, the other, decision, sovereignty, Europe, friendship, difference, faith, and so on, became much more marked from the early 1990s on. In some ways, Derrida turned the ethical thought of Emmanuel Levinas toward a more distinctly political questioning, privileging Levinas' signature concern in favor a responsibility toward the other, and asking how it is possible to think about philosophy and politics in such terms. By 2000, theorizing "democracy to come," as well as the limitations of existing democracies, had become important concerns.