Throughout Jacques Derrida’s abundantly technical Declarations of Independence, he forces readers to question the legitimacy of the historic American document The Declaration of Independence. Embedded in Derrida’s work, there stands a fine line between what exactly constitutes physical and emotional freedom and the act of stating that oneself is now separated from the governing entity. This line is evidently blurred. Derrida expresses confusion at two major points in The Declaration of Independence, first of them being who is the final signer at the end of the document. It is not Thomas Jefferson, as he was the writer, nor is it the representatives alone, it is the representatives signing for the people, “It is the ‘good people’ who declare themselves free and independent by the relay of their representatives and of their representatives of representatives” (Derrida 9). This line illuminates that the people, even though the entirety of the population’s signature is represented by only a few people, are the ones who have ultimately declared themselves independent. This is where the lines become blurred for Derrida. He believes the independence that has been declared only stands true in the legitimacy of the signature; however, the people who were signed for did not contribute to The Declaration of Independence nor can unknown or silent views and opinions be taken as a vote on the side of what the most powerful want. Since the power stands in the signature, according to Derrida, is the American independence valid? Another prominent issue that arises is the act of declaring one’s own independence, “Is it that the good people have already freed themselves in fact and are only stating the fact of this emancipation in the Declaration? Or is it rather that they free themselves at the instant of and by the signature of this Declaration?”(Derrida 9). Derrida is questioning the occurrence of stating independence, is the sought after independence finally grasped within the people’s hands and The Declaration of Independence seen as an acknowledgement that they are, in fact, independent or is the writing and the signature of The Declaration of Independence the first moment that they are declaring freedom. Since the people were never given the chance for an honest vote, Derrida is stating that the representatives writing this for the people, in their name, without the consent of the people, is overall invalid.
One thought on “Is Independence Found in The Declaration of Independence?”
Congrats on being the first person to take a stab at discussing Derrida! I am interested in how you’re using the word “valid” here. Is Derrida (somewhat anachronistically) taking the side of the British Crown, in your reading? That is, is he calling into question the legitimacy and legal existence of the United States some 200 years after independence? Or maybe another version of this question is: what does it mean to question the authority invoked by this document at such a great historical distance? What do you think the stakes are for him, for us, of recognizing the confusions and instabilities he draws attention to in this essay?