Bataille, Derrida and the Postmodern Denial of the Gift

ABSTRACT: Georges Bataille may be considered an exponent of a school of thought alternative, if not antagonistic, to Liberal economics. A school which may be called “the political economy of the Gift.” The “economists of the Gift” analyze economic performance mostly through a society’s use of its surplus. What distinguishes Bataille from others, however, is his insistence that wholesome, disinterested ways of giving are, in fact, an impossibility.

To Bataille, all acts of munificence throughout history have been but manifestations of a barbarous appetite to outshine others. Either in peace through sumptuary expenditure, or in war through holocaust and sacrifice. This characterization of human conduct has become a tenet of the late anti-humanist discourse by way of Jacques Derrida. Derrida recycled Bataille’s polemic in the eighties. It is thus curious to observe how, in the end, Bataille’s anti-Liberal radicalism has brought his postmodern followers to converge with the Liberal school, which itself belittles the power of selfless donation and the significance of gift-exchange.

In The Catholic Social Science Review, 13 (2008): 169-200

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