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Bruno Latour on the diplomat

19 January 2013
filed under: materials

extract from an interview in the journal Critique, No. 786, November 2012

‘Bruno Latour: The diplomat isn’t the one who pacifies but he’s the one that doubts values, including the values of the people who sent him there in the first place! In this sense, his task is first and foremost the intensification of conflicts. However, the problem for the Moderns, is that they are already in a state of conflict with themselves. They have taken their subject-object metaphysics then added a multiplicity of things and ended up with a complete mess that they are attached to but have no idea about what to do with next. As for the notion of culture, this notion is the least helpful in establishing association, even in comparison to the notion of nature, also found just as wanting in this respect; Phillipe Descola’s work illustrates this point well.

So, being rather against the idea of eternal peace along with the horizon of universality that accompanies it that the diplomat sets up a space for conflicts. It’s in this space that he’s able to produce a local ontology, or even an ontography - why not? In any case an ontology that stays in line with the anthropological agenda, operating under the constraint that we were never in fact ‘Modern’. The debate between Descola and Viveiros de Castro for example, informs this ontology, taking  note of the incommensurability of politics, etc. That said, it is true that a certain horizon of universality remains. There isn’t really any reason to do without it since in any case, since it’s the goal that we’ve all inherited. The hope for a shared world accompanies the diplomat: he goes to the negotiation in an attempt to save something of this idea of a shared world, knowing full well that this world is one that must effectively be made. At first, the diplomat tries very hard to multiply the hiatuses. However, making this shared world takes some doing! The problem is that we universalised too quickly: we universalised science understanding nothing about how it works; we universalised politics thinking that the world was Rawsian; the economy in thinking that the world was Lockean etc. This is why, insofar  as I understand, there is in the diplomatic endeavour a honing of conflicts, at least in the first stage. The interest in universality, and we can see this in the context of Europe’s construction, is in no longer anywhere near the same position as the idea of eternal peace that so fascinated Enlightenment thinkers. This position of universality is weak and only put together little by little.  What interests me in the figure of the diplomat is precisely that no other figure has the right to define what peace is. No one is above him. This is why he is constantly required to ask the questions that you raise. Is he in the process of selling ethnocentricity under the cover of universality? Is he eliminating differences instead of intensifying them? To answer these questions, we cannot go back to the idea of nature nor to that of culture. There is no common language for diplomacy.’

Many thanks to Cormac O'Keeffe for this translation

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