In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1919), Freud introduces the death drive or destruction as an inherent tendency of human nature and an insurmountable force. However, for Freud, human nature is always bivalent; it is the location where the tension between opposing forces takes place, and where neither of the contrary forces can ever be fully present and dominant. The death drive is for the most part silent and only expresses itself in relationship in the life drive. Thus, human existence is an ongoing battle between life instincts\drives and impulses of destruction. Freud and Kant share one common supposition. For Kant, human nature is not pacifist; peace is only a conquest of the conscious will. Nevertheless, consciousness is inherent in human nature. Human nature is also bivalent according to Kant. In Perpetual Peace, Kant posits that humans’ malevolent nature makes them asocial beings that act immorally and seek evil. At the same time, humans are disposed (by God) to reason, which perpetually leads them to seek peace.
This pacifist spirit informs in the work of Derrida the imperative call to go beyond the beyond. That is, whether or not we know that the struggle against violence has been lost in advance, evil must still be resisted. Yet, the resistance that Derrida talks about is not that of Herman Melville’s “Bartleby,” that is, it could not be translated as “I know what is asked of me, but I would prefer not to.” Derrida’s resistance is pro-active, in the sense of promoting political activism, articulating moral condemnation, and taking a position.
While the eradication of conflict is an impossible task, we must nevertheless consider an economical restriction of violence. The pro-active resistance undertaken by pacifists should be calculated as a force that seeks to counteract destructiveness. Even if we assume, then, that the reconciliation of the difference between life and death drives is impossible, an illusion, that should not necessarily lead to a passive acceptance of “war.” What follows, rather, is an ethics of vigilance in which humanity is always ethically vigilant in opposing any practice that encourages violence, discrimination, or injustice.
Rosaura Martínez is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). She is a member of the National System of Researchers in Mexico (SNI) and serves as the coordinator of the research project, “Philosophers after Freud” (UNAM, 2013-2016). She is the author of Freud y Derrida: escritura y psique (2013). She has published several articles on the intersections between psychoanalysis and deconstruction, which include “The alterability of the memory trace” The Psychoanalytic Review 98(4) (2011); “Freud y Derrida: Escritura en el aparato psíquico” Diánoia 58(68) (2012); and “Deconstrucción como acción política: el imperativo del más allá del más allá” Debates y combates 2(4) (2012). She also serves on the advisory board of the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs.