Jean Birnbaum's interview with Étienne Balibar about his new book Des Universals was first published in Le Monde. Translated by David Broder.
You recently published a book on the question of the universal (Des Universals, Paris: Galilée, 2016). This notion, which seems so familiar, however often remains rather unclear. If you had to give a definition to a class of 17 year olds, what would you say?
I would say that it is a value that designates the possibility of being equal without necessarily being the same, and thus of being citizens without having to be culturally identical.
Indeed, in our era universalism is often associated with consensus, and first of all with a bien pensant Left, presumed to be weak and naïve… Yet in your view universalism is anything but an idealism.
First of all, my objective is not to uphold a "left-wing position," but to debate universalism as a philosophical question. Of course, I am on the Left, but the Left itself is is traversed by all the conflicts inherent to the question of the universal. The universal does not bring people together, it divides them. Violence is a constant possibility. But I first of all seek to describe internal conflicts.
Estoy en París y pasé cerca de la ubicación de la matanza sobre la rue Beaumarchais en la tarde del viernes. Cené a diez minutos de otros de los objetivos. Todos los que conozco están a salvo, pero muchas personas que no conozco están muertas o traumatizadas o de luto. Es impactante y terrible. Hoy las calles estaban pobladas por la tarde, pero vacías en la noche. La mañana se encontraba en completo silencio.