Toward a Rhetoric of Friendship: A Philosophical Critique of Jacques Derrida’s “The Politics of Friendship”


At the conclusion of The Politics of Friendship, Jacques Derrida offers the following question about the relationship between the concept of friendship and the political context in which friendship must conceptually exists: “When will we be ready for an experience of equality that would be a respectful test of [the concept of] friendship, and that would at last be just, just beyond justice as law, that is, measure up to its immeasure?”

In this question, Derrida is, in one sense, certainly presenting a dialectic between what friendship is and how politics must represent itself conceptually through friendship. Yet, in another sense, more narrowly, friendship itself, if appropriating Arthur Schopenhauer, is merely a representation shaped by the “will.” So, in this narrow sense, there is a dialectic between friendship and the world. Together, though this apparent dialectic hinges on the experience of equality—a Hegelian “play of forces” between friends—there arises a need to “respectful[ly] test” the extent to which friendship grounds itself between selves. What is grounded, as Derrida rightly notes, is “just beyond justice as law,” but what exactly does Derrida mean? How can friendship, even as a conceptualization of the experience of equality, be measured “just beyond justice as law”? In other words, Derrida comes to an ideological and theoretical impasse here—it brings him to a rather difficult question of how friendship is grounded fundamentally in the experience of quality can “measure up to its immeasure”?

The answer for Derrida, as he seems to suggest, lies in democracy, which undoubtedly underscores Derrida’s “politics of friendship.” I wish to depart from Derrida here, because arriving at the answer of “democracy” veers away from the question of the meaning of friendship itself. To be sure, any politics of friendship only goes so far—its limitations are seated a contextual framework, or an Alhusserian ideological state apparatus. Not only is this reductive to the meaning of friendship, but it never answers the question of the meaning of friendship itself. Is it even possible for democracy itself to become “measure[d] up to its immeasure,” if we concede that it is, at first, an idea that must exist “just beyond justice as law”? That is, democracy does not shape “justice as law,” but rather, it is shaped by “justice as law.” Democracy is not an essence from which “justice as law” locates its existence in the world. Instead, “justice as law” has an essence that “measure[s] up to its immeasure,” by giving an account of itself through democracy’s existence in the world. But, what is democracy? The facticity of democracy itself points to the facticity of “justice as law” and, ultimately, is oriented towards the facticity of friendship, as an ideology that governs the superstructure of “justice as law” and the infrastructure of democracy. What this means, then, is that friendship, as a concept that is “just beyond justice as law” must be interpreted beyond the ideological state apparatus to a rhetoric of friendship between related Kierkegaardian selves.

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