The Rhetorical Shape of International Conflicts, Vol. 12 - 2005, No. 4
A rhetorical interpretation of international relations and conflicts necessitate to take into consideration three main aspects of what anthropologist Mauss called “international life” – cultural features that allow human groupings to argue with one another across borders. The first aspect concerns the instability of international glossaries to instrument diplomacy; the second aspect is the pre-conceived notion that peace, or non-conflicting “relation,” is a normal state for arguing among nations; the third aspect pertains to the belief that, owing to globalisation, the same modes of persuasion operate indiscriminately. The French Revolution provides an excellent illustration of all three aspects.
This essay identifies three recurrent appeals in the discourse of empire. These are presented through explication of Thucydides’ last speech to the Athenian demos, a documentary essay by Max Boot, one of the intellectual architects of the invasion of Iraq, and Edmund Burke’s speech regarding a colonial insurgency, “On Conciliation with America.”
Chinese high tradition of theory concerning military strategy stresses the importance of avoiding direct, frontal attack. “Obliquity” represents the ways and means to deprive one’s opponent of the possibility, even the thought, of confrontation. While it is a process unknown to Ancient Greek, hence Western, military tradition it also explains how Western rhetoric of confrontation of viewpoints and frontal debate is foreign to the Chinese practice of persuasion. Transposed to international relations, obliquity poses a serious challenge as it pitches a philosophy and a practice of persuasive manoeuvring against modes of rhetorical deliberation Western-framed diplomacy deems natural and obvious and, possibly, the only valid ones.
The conflict between Greece and Rome is one of modern history’s first international conflicts. Writing in the second century AD, Alius Aristides views it as a discursive, linguistic and rhetorical conflict. Essentially, it can even be described as a conflict between silence and rhetoric. Rome, unique voice of Empire, is, in being a complying, fine-tuned orchestra, even more silent, and may be, already, our contemporary notion of consensus and our version of globalisation? Athens talks, debates, and retains the notion of the political as continuous creation of dissent. Hence Athens – or rhetoric – is victorious even when conquered.
In the last decade, the idea and practice of reconciliation has come to play an important, if not central, rhetorical role in the international discourse of nation building and democratisation. This development marks an African assertion in terms of international relations. Focused primarily on the South African transition from apartheid to non-racial democracy, this essay reflects on reconciliation’s current global currency, the ways in which it has complicated standing norms of political subjectivity and international law, and how the rhetorical operativity of reconciliation may stand in significant opposition to the logic of emergency that increasingly defines the west’s approach to international “relations.”
This essay offers a wry analysis of the manner in which elements of Canada’s rhetorical culture inflect its response to international affairs. Canada’s public and private response to international conflicts in an “Age of Terror” is examined as an instance of disengagement and irony through the metaphor of the “cottage.”
The notion of “diplomatic attitude” in rhetoric as defined by Chaim Perelman may be associated with sophistry. However, such a bias raises the more fundamental question of a possible link between diplomatic rhetoric and sophistic, or even sophistry. Could such a link be theorised to help understand international relations? In other words, does the notion of a “sophistic rhetoric” enable us to characterise the rhetorical shape of international relations today?