Bernstein discusses the issue of the terms modern and postmodern being vague and even contradictory.  The definitions vary, and the use of the terms may obscure instead of clarify.  The purpose of the Bernstein essay is to play off the two philosophers who dispute modern/postmodern. The works of Habermas center on modernity; Derrida is a postmodern thinker.

Bernstein provides some history on Habermas and how his childhood exposure to Nazism shaped his thoughts and works.  His works are often misread to assume he is suggesting a life where violence would disappear if all conflict could be settled by discussion.  He does say that if communicative reason is silenced it will develop power.   Habermas is described as hyper-sensitive to the cultural tendency to separate Germany’s spiritual destiny from the political achievements of Western democracy.

As Habermas was growing up in Nazi Germany, Derrida lived in El-Biar during the war as a French Algerian Jew. Bernstein states that he was and was not a Jew or Algerian, and felt to be non-belonging.  Derrida’s concern and work was of the otherness or Other.  “Derrida is acutely aware that we cannot question or shake traditional ethical and political claims without at the same time also drawing upon these traditional claims.”   His works are often misread to assume that he advocated a complete break from metaphysical exigency.    Memory and promise, repetition and rupture come together according the Derrida.

Habermas and Derrida can be viewed as each other’s other, they form a new constellation together.   This essay was very interesting.  Bernstein points to the ways Habermas and Derrida speak to us and how their thoughts are misunderstood.  He feels they should each be read as an allegory and that we should not try to smooth out their aversions and attractions.

Force-field-interplay of attractions and aversions that make up a complex phenomenon

Constellation-contrasted elements that resist reduction to a core or common denominator

Fallibility- Our core beliefs and thoughts could be wrong

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