Published Volume XXXIV, Nos. 1 & 2, 2021
The Catholic University of America
An odd-sounding title? Bewildering, no doubt, to foreign-policy scholars and activists used to the nomenclature and intellectual emphases of their fields and subfields. But life defies academic and professional boundaries, as does the subject of this article. The following inter-disciplinary examination of a dubious but common notion of persuasion could not be more germane to the study of foreign policy, and yet the problem in question is not being addressed by those most directly concerned. This article will, after introducing the topic of advocacy—specifically, in an area of foreign affairs—give reasons why a widely shared understanding of knowledge and persuasion needs to be reconsidered.
If we use measures of quantity and financial expenditure, a very large and important role is being played in American public life by intellectual activism intended to influence public debate and government policy. The vast array of advocacy organizations in the nation’s capital is merely the tip of an iceberg. Enormous sums are spent in what may be called the persuasion or advocacy business. Funders act on the assumption that target audiences can be affected through position papers, policy studies, public events, op-eds, and similar agitation. Flooding public discussion with arguments and supporting evidence is expected to persuade the other side of its errors…
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