Phenomenology of Authority. The Formation of Identity as a Political Aporia

  • Abstract:

    The objective of this paper is to formulate a broad concept of “authority”, whose correspondence with the identity of the contingent “other” to whom Derrida claims to grant an unconditioned sacrifice shows the dangerous lack of effective political difference between Derrida’s attitude and the attitudes, such as dialectics, he intends to deconstruct. Authority is here understood as any structure of forces whose power is actively recognized as cogent or legitimate. This is due to the fact that accepting such a power is seen as coincident with the preferable way to fulfill the needs and desires which are parts of the identity of an individual or group. This preferable attempt of fulfillment is mostly accompanied by a compromise among different individuals’ naturalness – also in the sense to reach the lesser evil by subordinating oneself to a violent identity-authority. Such a definition of authority causes a paradox in the interpretation of Derrida’s ethical move. In fact, it can be employed to describe the unconditioned openness to the Other’s claims as a doing justice to any singularity’s naturalness and as the recognition of each of these singularities as a self-legitimized authority-identity, regardless of the features of previous and other authorities. But the structure of the formation of any authority is better described through Derrida’s very interpretation of Foucault’s History of Madness and Hegel’s construction of the Absolute. In the first case, the ultimate authority who silences madness can do that, paradoxically, only at the cost of recognizing the always “present” unpredictable effects of madness itself. In other words, any identity is an awareness of naturalness which is intelligible despite – or, maybe, thank to – the possibility of losing its sense due to unpredictable contingency. Similarly, any Hegelian act of reciprocal recognition of self-consciousnesses suffers the aporia whereby one can recognize her own desires and the other’s desires only in function of certain existent social institutions, which do not necessarily let each individual’s potentialities stand out. As can be drawn from the semiological analysis of The Pit and the Pyramid, the arbitrariness of “linguistic” institutions always leaves a remainder which compromises absolutism. The formation of the Other, being itself an awareness of a certain naturalness in function of certain institutions, does not escape this overall structure and the shortcomings linked to unpredictable contingency and arbitrariness. Rather than relying on the ideality of an authority or of an “identity”, I propose a logic of maximization of reciprocal bargaining power in order to optimize reciprocal recognition and fulfillment of desires. Reciprocal bargaining power can be interpreted as the basic structure of intersubjective agreements founded on what can be defined as an impulse toward reciprocal attraction – explained by the recognition of reciprocal utility. While Derrida’s proposal is more likely to limit an evaluation to what stands out in a certain moment as the solution to a problem perceived by a certain authority, to take into account the intersubjective structure I suggested may help to investigate whether there may be an even better overall allocation of instruments and potentialities.