Derrida and Paul de Man: The Dishonesty of Derrida’s Critics

It has recently again come to my attention that many anti-Derrideans, including ‘Anti-Postmodernist’s (who either don’t know or don’t care that Derrida did not describe himself in this way) have asserted as a fact that Derrida excused his friend the Yale literary critic Paul de Man for writing in a collaborationist journal in his native Belgium during the Nazi occupation. Derrida is accused of ‘deconstructing’ a passage in de Man’s journalism and of not condemning de Man. All of thsi is supposed to prove two things about Deconstruction: 1. It allows a text to be interpreted in arbitrary ways; 2. Deconstruction excludes moral responsibility. Let us quote the key passage (‘Paul de Man’s War’ which can be found in Memoires for Paul de Man, Columbia University Press, 1986 and 1989)

First quoting from de Man (pages 203-204)

The observation is, moreover, comforting for Western intellectuals. That they have been able to safeguard themselves from Jewish influence in a domain as representative of culture as literature proves their vitality. If our civilization had let itself be invaded by a foreign force, then we would have to give up much hope for its future. By keeping, in spite of semitic interference in all aspects of European life, an intact originality and character, it has shown that its basic nature is healthy. What is more, one sees that a solution of the Jewish problem that would aim at the creation of a Jewish colony isolated from Europe would not entail, for the literary life of the West, deplorable circumstances. The latter would lose, in all, a few personalities of mediocre value and would continue, as in the past, to develop according to its great evolutive laws.

By common consent in all sides of the war on de Man’s war, this is the worst passage of his collaborative journalism. While the toying with the idea of deporting European Jews and the sneery remarks about Jewish influence, and achievements, are extremely unacceptable, it must be said that by the standards of Nazi rhetoric this hardly registers on the scale. That is in no way to excuse it, but it is wrong to latch onto a playful (and of course still extremely unacceptable anti-semitism) as if it was a direct affirmation of Nazi ideology and exterministic anti-semitism.

What does Derrida say?: (page 204)


Derrida does put the passage in context, a context which he believes MITIGATES the offence, but of course mitigation is not the same as excusing. It leads to a reduced sentence for a crime, it does not excuse a crime. There isn’t space on what is already a long blog entry to go through Derrida’s argument, but i,t begins ‘page 205)

Yes, on the other hand and first of all the whole article is organized as an indictment of “vulgar anti-semitism.”

Derrida points out that de Man puts antisemitism into question by criticising ‘vulgar antisemtism’ and never giving an example fo correct antisemitism. There is nothing tortuous about this argument, it’s based on normal reading and interpretative processes. The discussion draws to a close with the following quotation from the same article by de Man

one might have expected that, given the specific characteristics of the Jewish spirit, the latter would have played a more brilliant role in this artistic production. Their cerebalness, their capacity to assimilate doctrines while maintaining certain coldness in the face of them, would seem to be very precious qualities for the work of lucid analysis that the novel demands

Derrida’s comment

One can hardly believe one’s eyes: would this mean that what he prefers in the novel, “the work of lucid analysis,” and in theory, a “certain coldness” of the “Jewish spirit”

Derrida DOES NOT excuse the antisemitic elements in the article, but he does point out that what de Man says about Jews links them to himself as possessing the qualities for literature and literary analysis, even if not as well developed as one might expect.

Though Derrida uses the language of Deconstruction in this text, the argument can easily be put in very common sensical terms:

1. de Man was wrong to use antisemitic expressions.
2. His use of antisemitic expressions raises questions about all concrete examples of antisemtism.
3. While it is necessary to condemn de Man for employing antisemitic expressions, his use of them does not support Nazi ideology, and is even self-undermining.
4. DE Man’s game playing was morally flawed but criticism is inevitably restrained if we look at the context even in the most immediate and obvious ways.

Let us remember the following points, which confirm the ugliness of the ant-Derrida ranters
1. Derrida was a Jew who emphasised Jewish identity in many of his texts.
2. Derrida was imprisoned, though only briefly in Prague while visiting Charter 77, an anti-totalitarian group persecuted by the Communist regime. Clearly Derrida was capable of bold action in defence of principle sand sometimes endured rough consequences (though of course mild consequences compared with what many people living under totalitarian regimes endure.

The Turkish Army and Economic Liberalism: Major Turkish Bank founded by Army Pension Fund is Sold to Foreign Investors

Readers who take an interest in Turkish society, politics and economics will be aware that the Armed Forces (English language website) are often linked with statist nationalist economics; and will have noticed that the present governing party AKP (English language website) is often credited with a contrasting spirit of economic openness. However, today I see that Oyak Bank (English language website) is going to be bought by ING. They announced it on their website a few days ago, but I picked up the news today from the print version of Cumhuriyet newspaper. Oyak is the pension fund of the Turkish army (a body of over a million members) and also provides general banking services to the public. The news has yet to be finalised but ING seem very confident and very happy.

This really does refute the idea that from an economic liberal point of view that AKP is good and the Turkish Army is bad. It is true that AKP has privatised and opened up the economy, but that has been the continuation of the policies of the previous government led by the arch statist-nationalist leftist Bülent Ecevit. AKP, like previous government parties, has expanded public employment to give jobs to its supporters.

The symbolism here is very rich. ING is Dutch in origin, tracing its history back to the Eighteenth Century. Therefore it comes from the Dutch commercial-financial-trading tradition, a tradition that goes back to the early years of the independent republic, the United Provinces, an inspiration to Early Modern Republicanism and the pioneer of stock markets and government finance through debt sold to private investors. That tradition strongly influenced British policy, including the development of the Bank of England and the London Stock Exchange, particularly after 1688 when William of Orange was invited by Parliament to rescue it from royal absolutism.

While I doubt that you would find many enthusiasts for pıre economic liberal doctrine in the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, no doubt they would explain this in terms of strengthening the nation-state and no doubt political bargaining is part of the background, responsible people in Turkey and internationally can no longer refer to Turkey’s Armed Forces, who continue to be political players in Turkey, of being a barrier to economic liberalisation and internationalisation.