Tongue-tied Democracy: The Bind of National Language in Tocqueville and Derrida

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My paper examines Derrida's attempts to resist, on the one hand, what he thought of as the increasing international hegemony of American English as the technolanguage of communication, and, on the other hand, forms of linguistic nationalism, when using the resources of the French language to deploy the syntagma: démocratie à venir. It does this by investigating what happens when claims about democracy are made in such a way as to be singularly idiomatic – made from a cosmopolitan point of view that takes into account, rather than vitiates à la Kant, the singular poeticity of idioms. It contrasts Derrida's analysis of the relationship between the national, democracy and idiomaticity with Tocqueville's nationalistic claims; examining, in particular, the issue of how language supposedly binds people together, the role of singularity and generality in thinking about idioms, the divide between originary and techno-scientific idioms, and Derrida's practice of writing in plus d'une langue. It also outlines how, paradoxically, it is a form of idiomaticity and not linguistic instrumentality that disrupts the logic of appropriation, the logic inscribed in the neighbouring, though different, conceptual values of idion, proprius and le propre.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-256
Number of pages24
JournalDerrida Today
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


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