Derrida’s way out of the dead end of contemporary messianism

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This article seeks to determine which role Jacques Derrida’s notion of messianicity without messianism (1993) plays within the contemporary discussion of the value of the messianic tradition for political theory. My point of departure is the belief that Benjamin’s, Taubes’, and Badiou’s antinomic approaches to the issue of justice oversimplify some aspects of law. Is there a real need to abrogate the law? I also claim that even Scholem, Rosenzweig, and Lévinas, who believe that a certain law, namely divine law, serves to overcome natural law, fail to provide a consistent account of the interaction between law and justice. This paper is an attempt to demonstrate, firstly, that a messianic narrative that develops a way to achieve justice without needing to turn to transcendence can be found in Agamben and Derrida. And secondly, that they also provide the most complete understanding of the law. They base their arguments on a subtle distinction between the laws in force – which in their messianic narratives must be surpassed – and the force of law, a force that keeps its validity but is not translated into concrete laws [Geltung ohne Bedeutung]. Yet while Agamben considers that even the force of law must be overcome in order for justice to arrive, Derrida says it constitutes the most redemptive stage to which we can aspire. I compare their messianic narratives and claim that Derrida seems to offer a more substantial strategy – not completely exempt from problems, though.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)350-369
Number of pages20
JournalJournal for Cultural Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Giorgio Agamben
  • Jacques Derrida
  • force without significance [Geltung ohne Bedeutung]
  • law
  • messianism
  • signifier


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