Shaking the Foundations: Reading, Writing and Difference in Constitutional Texts

Judith Pryor
Vol 24, Number 1-2, p.21
In his essay “Declarations of Independence”, Jacques Derrida analyses the foundational Declaration of Independence of the United States; in particular, he examined its selflegitimating, constitutive effect upon the nation – and ‘the people’– which it founds. This interest in the question of origins is not limited solely to Derrida’s political texts: throughout his work he radically interrogated the foundations and legitimations of western philosophy, which he understood as the basis of western culture. This article draws out the implications of “Declarations of Independence” by examining foundational texts – specifically Aotearoa New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi (1840), the United States’ Declaration of Independence (1776) and the supposedly unwritten British constitution, in light of Derrida’s deconstruction of the opposition between speech and writing. This article places the texts within a transnational diaspora in which apparently closed and finite texts of national definition can be inter-textually defined in a relation of difference with each other.