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  • A Re-Engagement in the ‘War of Ideas?’

    It is no secret that public diplomacy, a vital component of America’s strategic victory in the Cold War, has received inadequate attention in recent years. But, of course, we are still engaged in a war of ideas. Thus, the need for a public diplomacy which explains and defends our principles to the world is as needed today as it was on July 4, 1776, when the founders submitted the facts contained in the Declaration “to a candid world” out of “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.”

    Newly confirmed Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, James Glassman, recently laid out his vision for the future of public diplomacy in America. There are many ideas to be applauded. But there are also some questions to be raised.

    Kudos to Glassman for understanding the need to build public diplomacy around an intellectual mission. “Cultural exchanges” are fine and good, but if America’s public diplomacy amounts to sending the national Frisbee team to the Middle East, we are not engaging in the war of ideas, which is tantamount to losing the war of ideas. Glassman clearly understands the need to engage in an intellectual defense of our moral legitimacy: “Our intention is to help build…a public diplomacy endowed with both adequate resources and with intellectual gravity.” He continues, “Our mission today in the war of ideas is highly focused. It is to use the tools of ideological engagement – words, deeds, and images – to create an environment hostile to violent extremism.”

    This is precisely the direction our public diplomacy needs to take. Rather than using cultural outreach which only strengthens our enemies’ conviction that we are firmly postmodern and relativistic, it is time for our public diplomacy to make a reasoned argument on behalf of liberty and republicanism in the face of violent extremism.

    But there does seem to be some confusion about how to defend our principles in the face of violent extremism. Glassman argues that “the aim of the war of ideas is not to persuade foreign populations to adopt more favorable views of America and its policies…America’s image is not at the center of the war of ideas. Our priority is not to promote our brand but to help destroy theirs.” In other words, our public diplomacy must intellectually critique violent extremism, but cannot defend our own way of life or our principles.

    If our public diplomacy were to move in this direction, it would be a positive but insufficient development. There are, quite simply, two objectives to public diplomacy: to defend through rational argument the moral legitimacy of our principles, and to undermine the principles of our opponents. One cannot be achieved without the other.

    In our relativistic culture, many critics argue that any attempt to defend our principles must be equivalent to propaganda. As Victor Davis Hanson recently explained in a speech delivered at Heritage, if we fall prey to the idea that there is a “moral equivalency” between our way of life and violent extremism, we will assume that any attempt to defend our principles boils down to an attempt to indoctrinate our audience. However, if the truth is that our principles are objectively superior, and to defend them is not only necessary but noble. Defending the truth is not the same thing as spreading propaganda, if one believes that such a thing as objective truth exists.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    3 Responses to A Re-Engagement in the ‘War of Ideas?’

    1. James K. Glassman says:

      Joe Postell's post of July 31 generally makes kind comments about the approach we are taking in public diplomacy, and I am grateful. I am afraid, however, that I may have placed confusion in his mind — and perhaps in the minds of others — on one particular point. Mr. Postell writes that I am arguing that "our public diplomacy must critique violent extremism, but cannot defend our way of life or our principles." That is incorrect. The second clause does not reflect my beliefs or our strategy.

      We use the traditional tools of public diplomacy — educational and cultural exchanges, speaker programs, websites (including several in Arabic and Persian), broadcasting, and publications to explain and project American principles and policies and disseminate information about American life. We engage in such activities vigorously and confidently and, in fact, spend the vast majority of our money on these programs.

      In one discrete but critical part of the public diplomacy effort — the war of ideas, which I described at length in my speeches at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the New America Foundation — our focus is pushing back against the violent extremist ideology and diverting young people from the path to terrorism. In the war of ideas the focus is not the United States; it is the wanton violence and twisted ideas of the terrorists.

      So please be assured, we are doing both jobs.

      Again, my thanks to Mr. Postell for his excellent post, in which he notes that it is the Declaration of Independence which gives us our mandate in public diplomacy. Our efforts are indeed based on "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind."

      – James K. Glassman, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

    2. Tony Hollick, Bristo says:

      Sir Karl Popper put it this way:

      "Civilization really got going with the invention of swords.

      Intelligent men and women saw brave men and women fighting and dying, and they came to the conclusion that fighting with _words_ made better sense, with _bad ideas_ dying instead of people."

      "… seen as the result of human endeavour, of human dreams, hopes, passions, and most of all, as the result of the most admirable union of creative imagination and rational critical thought, I should like to write 'Science' with the biggest capital

      'S' to be found in the printer's upper case.

      Science is not only like art and literature, an adventure of the human

      spirit, but it is among the creative arts perhaps the most human:

      full of human failings and shortsightedness, it shows those flashes of insight which open our eyes to the wonders of the world

      and of the human spirit.

      But this is not all. Science is the direct result of that most human of all human endeavours – to liberate ourselves. It is part of our endeavour to see more clearly, to understand the world and ourselves, and to act as

      adult, responsible and enlightened beings.

      'Enlightenment', Kant wrote, 'is the emancipation of man from

      self-imposed tutelage . . . from a state of incapacity to use his own intelligence without external guidance. Such a state

      of tutelage I call "self-imposed" if it is due not to any lack

      of intelligence but the lack of courage or determination to use

      one's own intelligence instead of relying upon a leader. *Sapere Aude!* Dare to use your own intelligence! This is the

      maxim of the Enlightenment.' [ref. 6, Immanuel Kant, 'Was ist Aufklarung?']

      Kant challenges us to use our intelligence instead of relying upon a

      leader, upon an authority. This should be taken as a challenge to

      reject even the scientific expert as a leader, or even *science itself* Science has no authority. It is not the magical product

      of the given, the data, the observations. It is not a gospel of truth. It is the result of our own endeavours and mistakes. It is

      you and I who make science, as well as we can. It is you and I who

      are responsible for it…

      The nuclear bomb (and possibly also the so-called 'peaceful use of

      atomic energy' whose consequences may be even worse in the long run) have, I think, shown us the shallowness of the worship of science as an 'instrument' of our 'command over nature' or the 'control of our physical environment': it has shown us that this command, this control, is apt to be self-defeating, and apt to enslave us rather than to make us free – if it does not do away

      with us altogether.

      And while knowledge is worth dying for, power is not. (Knowledge

      is one of the few things that are worth dying for, together with liberty, love, kindness, and helping those who are in need of help)."

      by Karl R. Popper

      from "Realism and the Aim of Science"

      Volume I of "The Postscript to The Logic of Scientific Discovery"

      Edited by William Warren Bartley, III, Senior Fellow, the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford.

      Publ. Hutchinson, 1983, pb. 1985

      Copyright Karl Raimund Popper 1956, 1983

      Sir Karl Popper, F. R. S., held fourteen honorary Doctorates from

      American, British, German, Austrian, New Zealand and Canadian


      He was a member (or honorary member) of twelve academies, among them

      the three oldest that still exist.

      Works of his have been translated into over 30 languages.

      But Sir Karl was never impressed by 'great reputations', least of all his own…

      ——————- * * * * * —————


      Tony Hollick

    3. Pingback: The art of war

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