AT first glance, post-structuralist philosophy and liberal political theory appear profoundly different enterprises: one is a primarily critical enterprise while the other is predominantly reconstructive. A common self-understanding of contemporary liberal theory perceives its aim as setting out rational principles that sustain the central institutions of a just and democratic society and cohere with our considered moral intuitions. Providing support for oppressive institutions or policies that conflict with our egalitarian intuitions is an argument against a given theory. Conversely, agreement with our considered intuitions while structuring them so as to bring out their internal logic constitutes a powerful argument in favor of that theory.

Political theory can help to clarify if not to resolve the tensions that may arise between our intuitions relating to freedom, equality, or other important values such as security. It can even serve the realistically utopian task of further entrenching such values within the limits of what is currently possible. How- ever, a crucial aim remains the justificatory task of providing secure conceptual and moral foundations for the constitutional principles of liberal democracy.

By contrast, post-structuralist philosophers1 see themselves as engaged in a more radical and critical project. Derrida insists that deconstruction seeks to intervene in order to change things or at least to engage with events and transformations already underway. In Specters of Marx, he endorses a form of Marxism that is heir to the spirit of the Enlightenment and that in turn justifies a ‘‘radical and interminable’’ critique of the present (Derrida 1994, 90). Deleuze and Guattari argue that ‘‘it is with utopia that philosophy becomes political and takes the criticism of its own time to its highest point’’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 99). By ‘‘utopia’’ they do not mean some transcendent vision of a better society but those moments or processes immanent in a given society that embodies the potential for change. They define philosophy as the creation of concepts in the service of such immanent utopianism: ‘‘We lack resistance to the present. The creation of concepts in itself calls for a future form, for a new earth and people that do not yet exist’’.

Success in this kind of political philosophy is not measured by a test such as Rawls’s reflective equilibrium or by a contribution to maintaining a well-ordered society but by the capacity of its concepts to engage productively with movements of social change. Its aim is to assist new forms of individual and collective life that, in specific ways, are better than those from which they emerged. In contrast to earlier forms of utopianism, post-structuralists deny any overarching criteria of progress. In the aftermath of the failure of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the failure of revolutionary movements to materialize in the West, and the collapse of belief in the philosophy of history which for so long underpinned the hopes of critics of capitalism, the post-structuralist philosophers sought to outline other strategies for resistance to In this chapter, I focus on Deleuze and Guattari, Derrida, and Foucault, taking these to be in many, although not all, respects representative of the different currents of French post-structuralism. the present. It is at this point that they diVer most sharply, not only from much liberal theory but also from those forms of critical theory which insist on the need for what Habermas calls ‘‘a transcendent moment’’ to provide a secure basis for such critique of the present.

The radicalism of the post-structuralist philosophers leads to the accusation that they focus on the differences that divide individuals and groups at the expense of the shared values and institutions that are necessary if the political community is to flourish. For this reason, many commentators find it impossible to envisage any reconciliation between post-structuralist and liberal political philosophy. Richard Rorty, for example, famously condemns the entire tradition that extends from Hegel and Nietzsche to Foucault and Derrida as ‘‘largely irrelevant to public life and to political questions’’ (Rorty 1989, 83). He accepts the significance of this tradition for the private pursuit of self-transformation but thinks that it has no bearing on the public political culture of contemporary liberal democracies. Others draw attention to the variety of ways in which post-structuralism fails to address the central institutions of liberal democracy. Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and Guattari, et al. provide no foundations for institutions such as the rule of law or the nature and limits of public reason; they provide no theory of justice, equality, or freedom; they do not even spell out the normative foundations of their own opposition to particular kinds of oppression or their support for particular liberation movements. In France, the rediscovery of normative ethics and political philosophy has led critics to charge the entire May 1968 generation with the rejection of liberal democracy and refusal to accept the revolutionary social and economic changes for which it was responsible in postwar France.

There is substance to these accusations. There are undoubted differences of nuance and tone between Deleuze and Guattari’s extreme utopianism, the more moderate utopianism associated with the liberal egalitarianism of Rawls, Kymlicka, and others, and the apparent complacency of some varieties of contemporary liberalism. Rorty’s suggestion that ‘‘Western social and political thought may have had the last conceptual revolution it needs’’  stands in sharp contrast to Deleuze and Guattari’s call for the creation of untimely concepts in Nietzsche’s sense of this term: ‘‘acting counter to [our] time, and therefore acting on our time and let us hope, for the benefit of a time to come’’. However, we should be wary of overstating the real political differences at issue. 

Against the received opinion of irreducible differences, I will argue that the different orientations and vocabularies that define post-structuralist and liberal political theory are not completely irreconcilable. While comprehensive convergence is unlikely, they are in some respects complementary rather than opposed approaches to liberal political institutions and governance. Moreover, there are encouraging signs of progress towards consensus, where ‘‘progress’’ must be understood in the sense that we appear to approach an ever-receding horizon, and ‘‘consensus’’ in the Rawlsian sense of sufficient overlapping points of agreement to maintain an uneasy equilibrium between disparate world-views.

The outlines of such consensus may be discerned, first, in relation to the egalitarian and democratic presuppositions of post-structuralist critical strategies; and secondly, in relation to the non-metaphysical and historical conception of liberalism that we find in the late Rawls. Rorty appeals to these same features of political liberalism in defense of his own liberal pragmatism. For this reason, although he is skeptical about the value of much post-structuralist criticism, his work provides a convenient focus for the lines of convergence between these apparently divergent approaches.2


Rorty’s ironism with regard to the vocabulary of liberal democratic politics provides the first kind of convergence with post-structuralism. Unlike meta-physicians who believe that there are real essences and intrinsic nature of things which it is the task of philosophy to discover, ironists, are nominalists who believe that nothing has an intrinsic nature or real essence. They are also historicists who believe that all our descriptions of events and states of affairs are couched in the terms of particular vocabularies that are subject to change (Rorty 1989, 73V). As such, an ironist is aware of the contingency of his or her own ‘‘final vocabulary’’ and also aware that such vocabularies can neither be justified nor refuted by argument but only replaced by other vocabularies.

In these terms, Rorty sees the final vocabulary of liberal political culture as the product of the institutional settlements that ended the wars of religion and the Enlightenment ideals that accompanied the end of aristocratic and monarchical government (Rorty 1998, 167–85). As such, it represents the historically singular and contingent expression of a particular modus vivendi that has evolved in societies of Western European origin. Rawls’s political liberalism is ironic in this sense: conscious of the plurality of reasonable conceptions of the good which must cohabit peacefully in a well-ordered society and committed to achieving this through the exercise of practical rather than theoretical reason. The truth or falsity of moral judgments is not at issue, only their acceptability in accordance with accepted practices of public political reason (Rawls 1993, xx, 94).

Foucault, Derrida, and Deleuze are also, each in their own way, ironists in this sense. One of the avowed aims of Foucauldian genealogy is to demonstrate the contingency of the discourses in which our public political debates are conducted, whether they involve the treatment of the insane, the punishment of criminals, or the nature and purpose of government. For this reason, he describes the modern systems of mental illness, punishment, and sexuality as ‘‘pure singularities’’ rather than the incarnation of essence or the determination of a species (Foucault 1996, 395). The targets of his genealogies are not universal principles of justice or right but particular assemblages of power and knowledge: dispositifs of madness, punishment, sexuality, or government. These emerge on the basis of particular, contingent, historical conditions that enable them to operate within a given social context.

Derrida’s practice of deconstruction also arms the necessity of a genealogical study of the history and interpretations of a given concept. His discussion of law and justice in Force of Law called for a historical genealogy of different concepts of law, right, and justice, and of the manner in which these are bound up with responsibility and the network of concepts related to this, such as property, intentionality, will, freedom, conscience, consciousness, etc. (Derrida 1992, 20). Similarly, his approach to the concept of democracy in Politics of Friendship is genealogical. He asks how the idea of democracy arose in the West, in what terms it has been thought of, and in relation to what other concepts it has been defined. Chief among these are the concepts associated with kinship, and especially the concept of friendship (Aristotle), in terms of which democracy was first defined. In this way, his interest in the concept of friendship is linked to the ambition to deconstruct the ‘‘given concept of democracy’’ in order to open up the possibility of a different way of understanding this peculiar manner of living together with others (Derrida 2002, 178).

A further area in which there is a measure of agreement between post-structuralism and non-metaphysical liberalism concerns the abandonment of Enlightenment-inspired philosophies of history in favor of open-ended and piecemeal conceptions of progress in human affairs. Rorty presents a version of liberalism that embodies this kind of non-teleological or negative progress when he defines liberals as those who believe that cruelty to others is the worst thing that we can do and therefore something we should strive to eliminate (Rorty 1989, xv). Since ‘‘cruelty’’ here should be understood in a broad sense to include all forms of causing or allowing others to suffer, and since it is always open to us to be convinced that behavior that was formerly considered natural or justified or inoffensive is bound up with the suffering of others, it follows that there is a historically dynamic element to liberalism understood in this manner. This dynamic is not merely theoretical since it ultimately derives from the practical activity of those who contest, challenge, or otherwise bring to light hitherto unrecognized forms of suffering.

Foucault presents the critical ethos embodied in his practice of genealogical criticism of the present in a similar fashion, in several versions of comparison with Kant’s ‘‘What is Enlightenment?’’ (Foucault 1986, 1996, 1997). He describes the aim of such criticism as the identification of limits to present ways of thinking, acting, and speaking in order to find points of difference or exit from the past: ‘‘in what is given to us as universal, necessary, obligatory, what place is occupied by whatever is singular, contingent and the product of arbitrary constraints?’’ (Foucault 1997, 315). Rather than attempt to provide normative justification for such departures from established ways of thinking, acting, and speaking, or attempt to connect such departures with purportedly universal tendencies of society or history, he prefers to link the limits described in genealogical terms to specific social transformations underway in the present in which he wrote, such as those in relation to prisons, sexuality, and sexual morality. His characterization of an ethos of enlightenment is therefore progressivist in a non-teleological sense in which the direction of progress can only be negatively defined in terms of freedom from past constraints.

Rorty misrepresents Foucault in attributing to him ‘‘the conviction that we are too far gone for reform to work—that a convulsion is needed’’ (Rorty 1989, 64). His suggestion that Foucault and other post-structuralist thinkers yearn for a kind of autonomy that could never be embodied in social institutions allows him to align them with a failed revolutionary utopianism (Rorty 1989, 65). However, this diagnosis relies on a misleading contrast between those who remain in the grip of a Kantian conception of freedom as an inner realm exempt from natural necessity and those who view freedom only as the recognition of contingency (Rorty 1998, 326). In fact, Foucault, Deleuze, and Derrida share this conception of freedom as the recognition of contingency, along with a commitment to the ever-present possibility of agency within relations of power. This implies the permanent possibility of resistance to forms of domination and exclusion, which they each present, in different ways, in terms of a relation to something like Kant’s unconditioned or Transcendental Idea: partially realized in the ongoing process of pushing back the limits of what it is possible to do or to be, but never finally or entirely achieved. It is for this reason that Foucault refers to genealogical criticism of the present as ‘‘the undefined work of freedom’’ (Foucault 1997, 316).

Deleuze expresses a similar view, by reference to Kant’s distinction between the revolution in France and the enthusiasm aroused by its ideals throughout Europe when he distinguishes between the way in which revolutions turn out historically and the ‘‘becoming-revolutionary’’ that is a permanent possibility open to all. Like Foucault, he views this kind of individual and collective self-transformation as our only way of ‘‘responding to what is intolerable,’’ where the limits of what is intolerable are themselves historically determined and subject to change (Deleuze 1995, 171). Derrida, as I will show below, appeals directly to concepts of unconditioned justice, hospitality, forgiveness, friendship, and so on in order to ensure the possibility of progress in the negative sense of a rupture with the present, conditioned expressions of those virtues. In this sense, in response to Habermas’s claim that he is an anti- Enlightenment thinker, Derrida a Yrms his belief in perfectibility and progress.


The fact that the post-structuralist philosophers do not provide explicit theoretical support for the institutions of liberal democracy does not mean that they deplore them or that they renounce the egalitarian values on which they rest. Rather, these values and institutions are presupposed in order to concentrate attention on the conditions under which limits to their application may be overcome. Consider Philippe Mengue’s objection that Deleuzian micropolitics is anti-democratic because it is distinguished from the majoritarian politics of the public sphere and because the privileged outcome is not the determination of the majority will but a ‘‘becoming- minoritarian’’ that implies differentiating oneself from the majority. Merengue argues that this is not properly a theory of politics because it does not seek to theorize or render legitimate the institutions required to constitute a properly political society, such as the necessary space for debate and free political action. While he is undoubtedly correct to point to the absence of any Deleuzian theory of public political reason, this is no reason to suppose a fundamental antipathy towards democratic politics. Deleuze’s criticisms of the present social and political order rely on egalitarian principles and his call for resistance to the present state of liberal democratic government is advanced in the name of a becoming democratic that implies a more extensive application of those principles (Patton 2005a, 2005b ).

Moreover, one of the distinctive features of democratic politics is that even the fundamental convictions expressed in its laws and institutions are open to change: examples might include the extension of basic political rights to include those formerly excluded, or the moral values expressed in the protection of a right to life alongside the denial of a right to die. Among the conditions of such change are subterranean shifts in the attitudes, sensibilities, and beliefs of individuals and populations. It follows that what Deleuze and Guattari call the micropolitical sphere is no less an important dimension of democratic politics than the macropolitical sphere of public reasons and party politics. Since their theory of assemblages of desire and effect provides a language in which to describe micropolitical movements of this kind, it complements liberal democratic conceptions of decision-making and challenges these to take into account such micropolitical processes. On this basis, William Connolly argues that Deleuzian micropolitics and democratic theory are not merely compatible but that they require one another. In order to remain open to the kinds of changes in fundamental conviction mentioned above, democratic institutions must be supplemented by a pluralist and democratic ethos of engagement, ‘‘responsive to both the indispensability of justice and the radical insufficiency of justice to itself ’’.

Derrida’s exploration of the politics of friendship also presupposes the value of the democratic tradition even as it addresses a problem within it, namely the manner in which philosophers have defined friendship and democracy in familial, patriarchal, and fraternal terms. From a historical point of view friendship, like democracy, has been an affair among men. Derrida’s deconstructive genealogy asks:
is it possible to think and to implement democracy, that which would keep the old name ‘‘democracy’’, while uprooting from it all those figures of friendship (philosophical and religious) which prescribe fraternity: the family and the androcentric ethnic group? Is it possible, in assuming a certain faithful memory of democratic reason and reason tout court—I would even say the Enlightenment of a certain Aufkla¨rung (thus leaving open the abyss which is again opening today under these words)—not to found, where it is no longer a matter of founding, but to open out to the future, or rather to the ‘‘to come’’, of a certain democracy?

The phrase ‘‘to-come’’ here stands for the future understood in such a way that it is not to be identified with any future present but rather with something that remains in the future, a structural future which will never be actualized in any present even though it remains capable of acting in or upon the present. In other words, it stands for a perpetually open, yet to be determined future, a ‘‘to come’’ understood as ‘‘the space opened in order for there to be an event, the to-come, so that the coming be that of the other’’ (Derrida 2002, 182). This constant orientation towards the other, or towards the open future that is named here by the phrase ‘‘to come,’’ underwrites the pragmatic, political function of deconstructive analysis. Whenever the question of the purpose or the politics of deconstruction is raised, Derrida points to the undesirability of having a ‘‘good conscience’’ about established ways of acting and thinking. In other words, he points to the desirability of being willing to question and challenge what is currently accepted as self-evident in our ways of thinking and acting.


Rorty’s pragmatism eschews any orientation towards a true theory of how things are in favor of the creation of concepts that enable more useful descriptions of the world. He abandons talk of truth and falsity in philosophy in favor of talking about the degree to which a new vocabulary is interesting, where ‘‘interesting’’ philosophy is usually ‘‘a contest between an entrenched vocabulary that has become a nuisance and a half-formed new vocabulary that vaguely promises great things’’ (Rorty 1989, 9). He suggests that, since ironists do not believe in the existence of a final vocabulary that philosophy aims to discover, their self-descriptions will be ‘‘dominated by metaphors of making rather than finding, of diversification and novelty rather than convergence to the antecedently present’’ (Rorty 1989, 77). Deleuze and Guattari exemplify this ironic attitude by endorsing Nietzsche’s characterization of concepts as things that philosophers must ‘‘make and create’’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 5). They agree with Marx and Rorty that the job of philosophers is not to provide knowledge in the sense of correspondence with how things are but to ‘‘help make the future different from the past’’ (Rorty 1995, 198). For them as for Rorty, success or failure in philosophy is not measured by truth or falsity but by the degree to which it serves this pragmatic aim.

The adequacy or inadequacy with which philosophy performs this task is only assessable in terms of whether or not a given concept is interesting or useful for some purpose. Philosophy can oVer guidelines for well-formed as opposed to flimsy concepts, but it cannot oVer criteria for judging the importance of concepts or the events they express. The only criteria by which concepts may be assessed are those of ‘‘the new, remarkable and interesting that replace the appearance of truth and are more demanding than it is’’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 111). According to Rorty, philosophy helps to make the future different from the past by providing new means of description for social and political events and states of affairs. Redescription rather than argument is the only appropriate method of criticism of an existing vocabulary and as a result, ironists are those who ‘‘specializes in redescribing ranges of objects or events in partially neologistic jargon, in the hope of inciting people to adopt and extend that jargon’’. Deleuze and Guattari agree that philosophy provides new forms of description, thought, and action, although, unlike Rorty, they insist that it does so by inventing new concepts.

For them, the elaboration of new vocabularies is inseparable from the creation of concepts. The prodigious exercise of concept creation they undertook in One a Thousand Plateaus provides a series of vocabularies in terms of which we can describe significant features of the contemporary landscape (Patton 2000). These include the terminology used to describe diVerent kinds of social, linguistic, and aVective assemblages (strata, content and expression, territories, lines of flight or deterritorializa- tion); the terms employed in the elaboration of a micropolitics of desire founded on the dynamics of unconscious aVect and the diVerent ways in which this interacts with individual and collective subjectivities (body with- out organs, intensities, molar and molecular segmentarities); an account of capitalism as a non-territorially based axiomatic of flows of materials, labor, and information (as opposed to a territorial system of overcoding); a concept of the state as an apparatus of capture which, in the forms of its present actualization, is increasingly subordinated to the requirements of the capit- alist axiomatic; a concept of abstract machines of metamorphosis (nomadic war-machines) which are the agents of social and political transformation; and finally a vocabulary in which to describe transformative processes such as a becoming-revolutionary that is not reducible to the reality of past or future revolutions, and ‘‘a becoming-democratic that is not the same as any actual constitutional State’’.

Deleuze and Guattari do not provide any explicit statement or defense of normative principles. Instead, they demonstrate such principles through the elaboration of their ontology of assemblages. They describe a natural and social world that accords systematic preference to certain kinds of movement: be- coming-minor, lines of flight, deterritorialization, and so on. The concept of deterritorialization expresses the ethical-political sense of this ontology. In the concluding statement of rules governing some of their most important concepts at the end of a thousand Plateaus, deterritorialization is defined as the movement or process by which something escapes or departs from a given territory (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 508), where a territory can be a system of any kind, conceptual, linguistic, social, or affective. By contrast, reterritorialization refers to the ways in which deterritorialized elements recombine and enter into new relations in the constitution of a new assemblage or the modification of the old. On their account, systems of any kind always include ‘‘vectors of deterritorialization,’’ while deterritorialization is always ‘‘inseparable from correlative reterritorializations’’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 509).

The complexity of their concepts of deterritorialization and reterritorialization emerges when they distinguish an absolute and a relative form of each of these processes. This corresponds to an ontological distinction between a virtual and an actual order of things: absolute deterritorialization takes place in the virtual realm while relative deterritorialization concerns only movements within the actual. It is the virtual order that governs the fate of any given assemblage. The sense in which this ontology amounts to ethics and a politics of deterritorialization is apparent when they describe absolute deterritorialization as the underlying condition of all forms of relative deterritorialization. It is an immanent source of transformation, a reserve of freedom or movement in reality that is activated whenever relative deterritorialization takes place. At one point, they describe it as ‘‘the deeper movement identical to the earth itself ’’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 143).

In their redescription of the nature and task of philosophy in What is Philosophy? (1994), Deleuze and Guattari transpose this commitment to an open future onto philosophy itself. Philosophy, they argue, is a vector of deterritorialization to the extent that it creates concepts that break with established or self-evident forms of understanding and description. This is how philosophy engages with the present and fulfills its utopian vocation. To think philosophically about the present is to create concepts that give expression to the pure events that animate the everyday events and processes unfolding around us: globalization, democratization, neoliberal governmentalization, deterritorialization, etc. To describe current events in terms of such philosophical concepts is to relate them back to the pure event or problem of which they appear only as one particular determination or solution.

In other words, through the invention (capture, deterritorialization, becoming, etc.) and transformation (democracy, justice, hospitality, etc.) of concepts, philosophy helps us to dissociate the pure event expressed in them from the particular determinate forms in which it has been actualized, thereby pointing to the possibility of other determinate actualizations. When Deleuze and Guattari suggest that ‘‘the concept is the contour, the configuration, the constellation of an event to come,’’ they mean that the creation of concepts opens up the possibility of transforming existing forms of thought and practice (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 32–3). In this manner, like Derridean deconstruction, their ethics of deterritorialization is oriented toward the permanent possibility of something other, towards a perpetually open future or ‘‘to come’’. The particular concepts they propose such as becoming, capture, and deterritorialization are not meant as substitutes for existing concepts of justice, rights, democracy, or freedom, but they only serve the pragmatic goal of philosophy to the extent that they assist in bringing about another justice, new rights, or novel forms of democracy and freedom.


Deconstruction, especially in its so-called normative phase, does not invent new concepts or provide new means of description. Rather, its aporetic analysis is applied exclusively to existing concepts such as democracy, friendship, the gift, hospitality, and forgiveness in a manner that reproduces multiple versions of a distinction between a contingent or conditioned form of the concept and an absolute or unconditioned form. In each case, this analysis reinvents a distinction between two poles or ways of understanding the concept in question in order to argue that the ever-present possibility of transformation in our existing historically conditioned and contingent ways of understanding the phenomenon in question is guaranteed by the existence of an absolute or unconditioned form of the concept.

Consider Derrida’s discussion of the concept of hospitality. On the one hand, hospitality, as it is practiced in particular contexts, is always conditional. It is always offered to certain determinate others, endowed with a particular social status and subject to certain reciprocal duties in relation to the rights of the host. On the other hand, the conditional practice of hospitality derives its force and its meaning from a concept of absolute or unconditional hospitality which would welcome the other in the absence of any conditions such as knowledge of name, status, or provenance, and without any restrictions with regard to their movements or behavior while in the domain of the host absolute hospitality requires that I open up my home and that I give not only to the foreigner (provided with a family name, with the social status of being a foreigner, etc.), but to the absolute, unknown, anonymous other, and that I give place to them, that I let them come, that I let them arrive, and take place in the place I oVer them, without asking of them either reciprocity (entering into a pact) or even their names. The law of absolute hospitality commands a break with hospitality by right, with law or justice as rights.

Derrida insists on the difference between the conditional and the unconditional form of the concept: absolute hospitality remains irreducible to ordinary, conditional hospitality, ‘‘as strangely heterogeneous to it as justice is heterogeneous to the law to which it is yet so close, from which in truth it is indissociable’’. Moreover, he argues, it is this difference and the fact that the conditioned form of the concept inevitably refers to the unconditioned form that ensures the possibility of criticism of existing social practices. Thus,  in his analysis of law and justice, he argues that the law is deconstructible in a way that justice is not, precisely by reference to the unconditioned concept of justice. Elsewhere, he suggests that in the same way that the law can be modified or improved by appealing to justice, so we can ‘‘inspire’’ new forms of forgiveness by reference to the paradoxical idea of the unforgivable. In a similar fashion, the idea of unconditional hospitality underpins the possibility of improvement or progress in the existing conditional forms of welcome extended to foreigners:

It is a question of knowing how to transform and improve the law, and of knowing if this improvement is possible within a historical space that takes place between the Law of unconditional hospitality, offered a priori to every other, to all newcomers, whoever they may be, and the conditional laws of a right to hospitality.

Derrida’s concept of the unconditioned bears a remarkable resemblance to Rorty’s cautionary use of the word ‘‘ ‘true’ (or any other indefinable normative term such as ‘good’ or ‘right’)’’ (Rorty 2000, 12). Rorty defines this cautionary use as ‘‘the use we make of the word when we contrast justification with truth and say that a belief may be justified but not true’’ and suggests that this is all the pragmatist may allow in place of the moment of unconditionality which Habermas thinks necessary in order to ground critique. Since Rorty rejects any transcendent concept of truth in favor of historically specific and contingent protocols of justification, he takes this cautionary use of ‘‘true’’ to mark the ever-present possibility that what we now consider justified may not be so before different audiences in the future. In the same way, for Derrida, the irreducible gap between the conditioned and unconditioned forms of the concept removes any basis for good conscience about present instantiations of our political virtues. The unavoidable reference to the unconditioned form of the concept ensures the question of the conditions under which it finds institutional and political expression remains open.

In turn, the relationship that he discerns between the conditioned and unconditioned poles of a given concept parallels the relationship between the two heterogeneous but equally indissociable movements of absolute and relative deterritorialization that we saw above in Deleuze and Guattari’s political ontology. Just as their ontology of deterritorializing assemblages represents a world in which processes of transformation or deconstruction are immanent in any present state of affairs, so for Derrida the gap between conditioned and unconditioned, along with the inevitable reference to the unconditioned within the conditioned forms, reminds us of both the possibility and the importance of departing from existing forms of thought or practice. In this manner, there is a common critical impulse at the heart of normative deconstruction, Deleuze and Guattari’s constructivism, and Foucault’s genealogical work on the limits of the possible. They each share the orientation towards a future defined by its potential difference from the present, but which nevertheless acts in the present to ensure the possibility of criticism and resistance. Their reliance upon democratic and egalitarian principles as the basis for such criticism is reason to include them among the contemporary heirs of the liberal tradition. While their non-teleological historicism aligns them in certain respects with Rorty’s pragmatism, their commitment to criticism of present institutions, practices, concepts, and considered convictions differentiates them from all forms of uncritical liberalism.

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