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From Bruno Latour to British Foreign Policy via Tony Blair: Part 2

October 9, 2013

Latour refers to diplomacy quite frequently but his most extensive discussion is in his essay The War of the Worlds.  Originally dating from 2000 it was revised in the wake of 9/11. His target is partly Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations thesis but he’s also invoking all kinds of ‘science wars’ and ‘culture wars’ that concern his broader interests.

His argument here extends the line set out in We Have Never Been Modern.  Western modernity sees the world as consisting of a single nature and multiple cultures.  The claim to authority of the West is based on its mastery of science and hence of nature so other cultures are just wrong.  Hence, the export of Western modernity is seen by the West as simply the correction of error but by those outside as a war against them their culture and their nature.

It is not astounding that the modernists managed to wage war all over the planet without ever coming into conflict with anyone, without ever declaring war? Quite the contrary! All they did was to spread, by force of arms, profound peace, indisputable civilization, uninterrupted progress.  They had no adversaries or enemies in the proper sense – just bad pupils.  Yes their wars, their conquests, were educational! Even their massacres were purely pedagogical!

He points out Carl Schmitt’s view that you can only have a real enemy where there is no common mediator.  For the ‘modernizers’ there has always been a common mediator.

Even when fighting fiercely, they always deferred to the authority of an indisputable arbiter, of a mediator far above all possible forms of conflict: Nature and its laws, Science and its unified matters of fact, Reason and its way to reach agreement.  When one benefits from a mandate given by a mediator who oversees the conflict, one is no longer running a war but simply carrying out policy operations, Schmitt says.

Like Huntington he sees that the Western project can no longer proceed unchallenged because other points of view can no longer be ignored but more importantly because the separation between nature/culture/politics can’t be sustained.  Hence the need to recognize the nature of the project and to see that there are other points of view.  You can only have diplomacy where you have an enemy, where other people or entities can’t be simply obliterated or absorbed into the system, that is taking other views seriously.

It is not a matter of replacing intolerant conquistadors with specialists of inter-cultural dialogue.  Who ever mentioned dialogue? Who asked for tolerance? No conquerors should rather be replaced by enemies capable of recognizing that those facing them are enemies also and not irrational beings, that the outcome of the battle is uncertain, and that consequently, it may be necessary to negotiate, and in earnest. While the inter-cultural dialogue implies that ninety per cent of the common world is already common and that there is a universal referee waiting for the parties to settle their petty disputes, the negotiation we should be prepared for includes the ninety per cent—God, Nature and souls included—and there is no arbiter.

Later he points out

 one should add the long-term reason of the diplomat. To be sure diplomats are often hated as potential traitors ready for seedy backroom compromises, but they have the great advantage of getting to work after the balance of forces has become visible on the ground, not before as in the case of police operations. Diplomats know that there exists no superior referee, no arbiter able to declare that the other party is simply irrational and should be disciplined. If a solution is to be found, it is there, among them, with them here and now and nowhere else. Whereas rationalists would not know how to assemble peace talks, as they will not give seats to those they call “archaic” and “irrational,” diplomats might know how to organize a parley among declared enemies who, in the sense of Carl Schmitt, may become allies after the peace negotiations have ended. The great quality of diplomats is that they don’t know for sure what are the exact and final goals—not only of their adversaries but also of their own people. It is the only leeway they possess, the tiny margin of the negotiations played out in closed rooms. The parties to the conflicts may, after all, be willing to alter slightly what they were fighting for. If you oppose rationalist modernizers to archaic and backward opponents, there is no war, to be sure, but there is no possible peace either. Negotiation cannot even start. Reason recognizes no enemy. But the outcome might be entirely different if you pit proponents of different common worlds one against the other. Because then diplomats could begin to realize that there are different ways to achieve the goals of the parties at war, including their own. Nothing proves in advance that modernizers might not be willing to modify theways to achieve their cherished goals if they were shown that the cult of nature makes it impossible to reach them.

This all comes back to Latour’s basic world view we’ve built a world that is incredibly messy filled with all kinds of hybrid constructions but the categories we use to describe it are far too simple with the result that we are constantly confused about what we’re doing.  He makes the point that we like to appeal to Science but in fact that there are lots of sciences.

If you’ve read this far you’ve probably got an inkling of how Tony Blair matches up to this.

Tomorrow: Tony Blair, one world and all good things go together.

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One comment

  1. […] “From Bruno Latour to British Foreign Policy via Tony Blair, Part1,” October 8, 2013; Part 2, October 8, 2013, Part 3,October 11, 2013, Part 4, October 15, 2013, Part 5, October 28, 2013; […]



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