Democracy to Come and the Rhetoric of Dissensus

I’ve been mulling over the explanatory power of Derrida’s notion of “democracy to come” for understanding consensus/rhetoric of dissensus. The relation’s been banging around in my head since I read Trimbur; nothing has yet come out coherent. However, I really think there’s something here—and to that end, in the spirit of the exploratory nature of the blog, I just want to open the possibility to anyone else who’s into deconstruction, Derrida, or whatever.

In some of his later works, Derrida draws attention to democracy’s contradictions, most notably in the conflict between sovereignty (the authority to impose) and the “polyarchic multiplicity that disperses command” (45) in democracy. In the process of maintaining a claim to sovereignty, “democracy destroys itself by closing off, unifying and essentialising the multiplicity that enables the formation of democracy in the first place” (Matthews).

Also identifying I think a similar core problem in collective authority and action, Trimbur suggests a rhetoric of dissensus that allows students to expose that issue of democracy/consensus, “to identify the structures of power which determine who may speak and what may be said” (456). The image of a powerful norm that Bruffee and Williams imply, and what Trimbur denies, is what Derrida wants to attack with democracy to come: “[the phrase democracy to come] protests against all naiveté and every political abuse, every rhetoric that would present as a present or existing democracy, as a de facto democracy, what remains inadequate to the democratic demand” (86). (That’s not all he wants to do with the phrase but it’s certainly part of it.) In a way, Trimbur’s rhetoric of dissensus prefigures Derrida’s working of the democratic issue (which came about in the 90s and early 2000s), and Trimbur also suggests a way to navigate it, through “collective explanations of how people differ” (450). How we approach authority and decisions is still an issue to be solved, then, perhaps.

If I had the time, I’d like to continue exploring the relation between Trimbur’s rhetoric of dissensus and the problems Derrida addresses with democracy to come.

The “to come” part of Derrida’s idea is very important, very interesting, and very befuddling to me right now. Some aspects of it make sense. It’s not meant in the sense of a deferral, which Trimbur means within his utopian consensus.

I’ll end with this quote from Derrida: “’democracy to come’ can also inscribe a performative and attempt to win conviction by suggesting support or adherence, an ‘and yet it is necessary to believe it,’ ‘I believe in it, I promise, I am in on the promise and in messianic waiting, I am taking action or am at least enduring, now you do the same,’ and so on” (91). Even in using a rhetoric of dissensus, we need some sort of mutual understanding, not that we believe in the same thing, but that we are capable of believing.

Again, this is an incredibly exploratory notion.

Here are the sources I’ve been going through:

Tertiary source on democracy to come, seems well-written:

Rogues: Two Essays on Reason

Getting into this waist-deep would probably mean going through his Specters of Marx. 


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