The Political Ethics of Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jacques Derrida

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A genuine political ethics seems to require a universal perspective, and yet we are told that the postmodern age eschews universal perspectives. In this book, Georges De Schrijver argues that the leading proponents of postmodernity have not, as is commonly assumed, abandoned the search for universals. Rather they have sought to reshape the concept in ways that account for postmodernity's critique. Examining the thought of both Jean-Francois Lyotard, who prophesies the end of the grand stories, and Jacques Derrida, the leading proponent of deconstruction, De Schrijver comes to the conclusion that each, in his turn, is still in search of the universal. Taking his lead from Kant's unpresentable Idea, Lyotard holds out hope for a universal expressed through respect for heterogeneity, whereas Derrida arrives at this impossible dream through a critical study of Husserl's phenomenology. The common bond for Lyotard and Derrida is their quest of the unpresentable. For Lyotard, this comes through a sublime sadness urging him to side with the silenced party in legal disputes. For Derrida, the same quest is expressed through a yearning for the impossible things to come: a justice that goes beyond legality, a reshaping of the international juridical order, and a hospitality that is truly unconditional in its reach. Underlying the thought of both men is a profound appreciation for their Jewish ethical inheritance, an appreciation they learn from Emmanuel Levinas. In passing judgment on the new world order, both authors go decidedly beyond Kant - and thus beyond modernity - in reaching for a truly transcultural perspective in this era of globalization.