On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness
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On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness

Jacques Derrida

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eBook - ePub

On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness

Jacques Derrida

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One of the world's most famous philosophers, Jacques Derrida, explores difficult questions in this important and engaging book. Is it still possible to uphold international hospitality and justice in the face of increasing nationalism and civil strife in so many countries? Drawing on examples of treatment of minority groups in Europe, he skilfully and accessibly probes the thinking that underlies much of the practice, and rhetoric, that informs cosmopolitanism. What have duties and rights to do with hospitality? Should hospitality be grounded on a private or public ethic, or even a religious one? This fascinating book will be illuminating reading for all.

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Part OneOn Cosmopolitanism

On Cosmopolitanism1

DOI: 10.4324/9780203165713-1
Where have we received the image of cosmopolitanism from? And what is happening to it? As for this citizen of the world, we do not know what the future holds in store for it. One must ask today whether we can still make a legitimate distinction between the two forms of the metropolis — the City and the State. Moreover, one is seeking to inquire if an International Parliament of Writers can still, as its name seems to suggest, find inspiration in what has been called, for more than twenty centuries now, cosmopolitanism. For is it not the case that cosmopolitanism has something to do either with all the cities or with all the states of the world? At a time when the ‘end of the city’ resonates as though it were a verdict, at a time when this diagnosis or prognosis is held by many, how can we still dream of a novel status for the city, and thus for the ‘cities of refuge’, through a renewal of international law? Let us not anticipate a simple response to such a question. It will be necessary therefore to proceed otherwise, particularly if one is tempted to think, as I do, that ‘The Charter for the Cities of Refuge’ and ‘The International Agency for Cities of Refuge’
‘On Cosmopolitanism’, translated by Mark Dooley which appear on our programme must open themselves up to something more and other than merely banal articles in the literature on international law. They must, if they are to succeed in so doing, make an audacious call for a genuine innovation in the history of the right to asylum or the duty to hospitality.
The name ‘cities of refuge’ appears to be inscribed in gold letters at the very heart of the constitution of the International Parliament of Writers. Ever since our first meeting, we have been calling for the opening of such refuge cities across the world. That, in effect, very much resembles a new cosmopolitics. We have undertaken to bring about the proclamation and institution of numerous and, above all, autonomous ‘cities of refuge’, each as independent from the other and from the state as possible, but, nevertheless, allied to each other according to forms of solidarity yet to be invented. This invention is our task; the theoretical or critical reflection it involves is indissociable from the practical initiatives we have already, out of a sense of urgency, initiated and implemented. Whether it be the foreigner in general, the immigrant, the exiled, the deported, the stateless or the displaced person (the task being as much to distinguish prudently between these categories as is possible), we would ask these new cities of refuge to reorient the politics of the state. We would ask them to transform and reform the modalities of membership by which the city (cité) belongs to the state, as in a developing Europe or in international juridical structures still dominated by the inviolable rule of state sovereignty — an intangible rule, or one at least supposed such, which is becoming increasingly precarious and problematic nonetheless. This should no longer be the ultimate horizon for cities of refuge. Is this possible?
In committing ourselves thus, in asking that metropolises and modest cities commit themselves in this way, in choosing for them the name of ‘cities of refuge’, we have doubtless meant more than one thing, as was the case for the name ‘parliament’. In reviving the traditional meaning of an expression and in restoring a memorable heritage to its former dignity, we have been eager to propose simultaneously, beyond the old word, an original concept of hospitality, of the duty (devoir) of hospitality, and of the right (droit) to hospitality. What then would such a concept be? How might it be adapted to the pressing urgencies which summon and overwhelm us? How might it respond to unprecedented tragedies and injunctions which serve to constrain and hinder it?
I regret not having been present at the inauguration of this solemn meeting, but permit me, by way of saluting those here present, to evoke at least a vague outline of this new charter of hospitality and to sketch, albeit in an overly schematic way, its principal features. What in effect is the context in which we have proposed this new ethic or this new cosmopolitics of the cities of refuge? Is it necessary to call to mind the violence which rages on a worldwide scale? Is it still necessary to highlight the fact that such crimes sometimes bear the signature of state organisations or of non-state organisations? Is it possible to enumerate the multiplicity of menaces, of acts of censorship (censure) or of terrorism, of persecutions and of enslavements in all their forms? The victims of these are innumerable and nearly always anonymous, but increasingly they are what one refers to as intellectuals, scholars, journalists, and writers — men and women capable of speaking out (porter une parole) — in a public domain that the new powers of telecommunication render increasingly formidable — to the police forces of all countries, to the religious, political, economic, and social forces of censorship and repression, whether they be state-sponsored or not. Let us not proffer an example, for there are too many; and to cite the best known would risk sending the anonymous others back into the darkness (mal) from which they find it hard to escape, a darkness which is truly the worst and the condition of all others. If we look to the city, rather than to the state, it is because we have given up hope that the state might create a new image for the city. This should be elaborated and inscribed in our Statutes one day. Whenever the State is neither the foremost author of, nor the foremost guarantor against the violence which forces refugees or exiles to flee, it is often powerless to ensure the protection and the liberty of its own citizens before a terrorist menace, whether or not it has a religious or nationalist alibi. This is a phenomenon with a long historical sequence, one which Hannah Arendt has called, in a text which we should closely scrutinise, ‘The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man’.2 Arendt proposes here, in particular, an analysis of the modern history of minorities, of those ‘without a State’, the Heimatlosen, of the stateless and homeless, and of deported and ‘displaced persons’. She identifies two great upheavals, most notably between the two wars:
  1. First, the progressive abolition, upon the arrival of hundreds of thousands of stateless people (l’apatrides), of a right to asylum which was ‘the only right that had ever figured as a symbol of Human Rights in the domain of international relations’. Arendt recalls that this right has a ‘sacred history’, and that it remains ‘the only modern vestige of the medieval principle of quid est in territorio est de territorio’ (p. 280). ‘But’, continues Arendt, ‘although the right to asylum had continued to exist in a world organised into nation states, and though it had even, in some individual cases, survived two world wars, it is still felt to be an anachronism and a principle incompatible with the international laws of the State.’ At the time when Arendt was writing this, circa 1950, she identified the absence in international charters of the right to asylum (for example in the Charter of the League of Nations). Things have doubtless evolved a little since then, as we shall see in a moment, but further transformations are still necessary.
  2. The second upheaval (choc) in Europe was to follow a massive influx (arrivée) of refugees, which necessitated abandoning the classic recourse to repatriation or naturalisation. Indeed, we have still to create a satisfactory substitute for it. In describing at length the effects of these traumas, Arendt has perhaps identified one of our tasks and, at the very least, the background to our Charter and of our Statutes (Statuts). She does not speak of the city, but in the shadow of the two upheavals (l’onde du double choc) she describes and which she situates between the two wars, we must today pose new questions concerning the destiny of cities and the role which they might play in these unprecedented circumstances. How can the right to asylum be redefined and developed without repatriation and without naturalisation? Could the City, equipped with new rights and greater sovereignty, open up new horizons of possibility previously undreamt of by international state law? For let us not hesitate to declare our ultimate ambition, what gives meaning to our project: our plea is for what we have decided to call the ‘city of refuge’. This is not to suggest that we ought to restore an essentially classical concept of the city by giving it new attributes and powers; neither would it be simply a matter of endowing the old subject we call ‘the city’ with new predicates. No, we are dreaming of another concept, of another set of rights for the city, of another politics of the city. I am aware that this might appear utopian for a thousand reasons, but at the same time, as modest as it is, what we have already begun to do proves that something of this sort can, from now on, function — and this disjointed process cannot be dissociated from the turbulence which affects, over the lengthy duration of a process, the axioms of international law.
Is there thus any hope for cities exercising hospitality if we recognise with Arendt, as I feel we must, that nowadays international law is limited by treaties between sovereign states, and that not even a ‘government of the world’ would be capable of sorting things out? Arendt was writing of something the veracity of which still holds today:
contrary to the best-intentioned humanitarian attempts to obtain new declarations of human rights from international organisations, it should be understood that this idea transcends the present sphere of international law which still operates in terms of reciprocal agreements and treaties between sovereign states; and, for the time being, a sphere that is above the nations does not exist. Furthermore, this dilemma would by no means be eliminated by the establishment of a ‘world government‘.3
It would be necessary to expand upon and refine what she says of groups and individuals who, between the two wars, lost all status — not only their citizenship but even the title of ‘stateless people’. We would also have to re-evaluate, in this regard, in Europe and elsewhere, the respective roles of States, Unions, Federations or State Confederations on the one hand, and of cities on the other. If the name and the identity of something like the city still has a meaning, could it, when dealing with the related questions of hospitality and refuge, elevate itself above nation-states or at least free itself from them (s’affranchir), in order to become, to coin a phrase in a new and novel way, a free city (une ville franche)? Under the exemption itself (en général), the statutes of immunity o...

Table of contents

Citation styles for On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness
APA 6 Citation
Derrida, J. (2003). On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1613335/on-cosmopolitanism-and-forgiveness-pdf (Original work published 2003)
Chicago Citation
Derrida, Jacques. (2003) 2003. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/1613335/on-cosmopolitanism-and-forgiveness-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Derrida, J. (2003) On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1613335/on-cosmopolitanism-and-forgiveness-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Derrida, Jacques. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2003. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.