No Dialogue on Dialogue

Kids say the darndest things. As do presidents.

Enter Heinz Fischer, the president of Austria, a small landlocked nation in Central Europe known for having supplied the scenic backdrop for The Sound of Music, not to be confused with a similarly christened oceanlocked continent located in the southern hemisphere.

In a recent interview on the status of the Iran nuke deal negotiations, Mr Fischer touted the willingness for dialogue as a cornerstone of international diplomacy and appended this curiously antinomical nugget:

Ich habe mich immer schon für den Dialog ausgesprochen und werde von dieser Ansicht auch nicht abweichen.”

Translation for those whose high-school German may have taken a hike over the years:

I’ve always advocated dialogue, and I won’t deviate from this position.”

Basically, Mr Fischer is saying that all the dialogue in the world won’t change his view on the merits of dialogue. Since there obviously is little point in dialoguing on matters flagged by one of the parties to the dialogue as non-negotiable right out of the gate, Mr Fischer, at the very least, implicitly admits to certain limits to his supposedly universal regard for the utility of dialogue.

Hence, the second half of his statement stands in awkward tension with the “always” in the first, for if you exempt one or more of your cherished core beliefs from being subject to negotiation, you clearly don’t “always” advocate dialogue—unless your notion of “dialogue” fails to extend beyond presenting your own irrefragable point of view and then waiting for the other side to cave and adopt it hook, line, and sinker.

Yet only on this latter and rather imperious definition of dialogue would Mr Fischer deign to debate the value of dialoguing with someone that professes at the outset his or her irrevocable devotion to violence over dialogue, since Mr Fischer has already nixed the possibility of himself letting up on his pro-dialogue stance.

Everyone, of course, is entitled to his or her principles. It is the essence of a principle that its holder won’t budge on it. Nonpliability is what makes a principle a principle, as opposed to a passing fancy.

So you can advocate dialogue all you want, but if the participants convene armed with clashing principles, preemptively declaring that they won’t deviate from their respective positions, all dialogue is doomed by definition.

Feel free to comment below—be forewarned, though, that this Austrian subject, like his president, won’t deviate from his position.