Scu has an interesting post up expanding on his discussion of Luhmann and vulnerability yesterday. It seems that he want to draw a distinction between immunity and autoimmunity as it works in Derrida’s thought. I’m not entirely following what he’s trying to get at here. As I understand it, the idea is that in order for any social system to constitute itself it necessarily has to practice a sort of immunity so as to maintain its organization. In Luhmann, for example, a system, in order to exist as a system, must maintain a boundary that distinguishes itself from its environment. This entails a sort of immunity or immunization.

As I understand it– and here my understanding is based entirely on Hägglund’s Radical Atheism –the concept of autoimmunity in Derrida is designed to unpack how the manner in which a system deploys immunity simultaneously allows the system to maintain itself and harbors the possibility of the system’s own destruction. For example, with the Patriot Act the United States enacted a set of laws to protect itself against terrorist threats. This was an act of immunity. However, paradoxically, this very act destroys the United States from within. Immunity functions to protect a system from others that would destroy it. Yet in this case, immunity recoils on the system itself, carrying the possibility of destroying that system. Here it is not an other that is a threat, but the systems own defense against the other that can prove to be its undoing. As Hägglund describes it, immunity is a logic of purification. It seeks the pure and self-identical (there are great passages in Augustine about this). Yet this very pursuit of purity– not attacks from others –carries with it the possibility of undoing the thing that strives to remain pure. As such, every community is necessarily threatened from within by autoimmunity by virtue of the manner in which its own attempt to constitute itself can destroy it.

Am I missing something? I’m not quite clear as to why Scu sees the necessity of distinguishing between immunity and autoimmunity and why he thinks Derrida is insufficient here. If anything, I think Luhmann comes up short here in not sufficiently exploring the possibility of systems auto-destructing or devouring themselves from within (which isn’t to say that a Luhmannian account of this couldn’t be developed, only that he doesn’t seem to explore this phenomenon very closely).