Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On Persuasion

One knows, of course, that war will be the product of the political intercourse of governments and peoples; but one is accustomed to think that, with war, all interaction will cease and an entirely different situation will begin, a situation dominated by its own laws. We assert, to the contrary, that war is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse with the intermixing of other means.
     [Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book Eight, Chapter 5]

Clausewitz here extends politics to encompass war. It is equally valid to extend politics in the other direction to include persuasion. That might be formulated as follows: “Persuasion is nothing but the most efficient form of war; it gets the desired results with words, music, and images.”  At the root of all three is conflict, therefore resistance, and knowing where on the persuasion-war spectrum something is situated is readily measured by the amount of resistance present. Therefore the entire spectrum is related to the exercise of power. It strikes me that in 1831, when Clausewitz died with his book on war not quite finished, persuasion in its modern form was still largely concentrated in the political realm—and that realm was relatively small. It has spread since then, suggesting a widespread institutionalization of conflict, read struggle for power, across all aspects of social life. Measuring the relative presence of persuasion and how deeply it penetrates down to everyday life is to measure the state of a society. Culture means a suspension of the war of all against all that nature is supposed to be. Roughly to date the beginnings of modernity may be accomplished by discovering that that phrase comes from Thomas Hobbes. Seventeenth century.

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