POLICY ANALYSIS AND ARGUMENT (December, 2008)
The central question of this course is how do we decide what the United States
government should do
in various policy areas.
To put it differently, we are concerned with
issues, what has happened
and what will happen
certainly important, but they are secondary.
We thus face two related problems--how do
we decide for ourselves what the government should do and, after deciding, how do we
persuade others to agree with us.
We will use the techniques of argument
to help us toward both objectives.
other intellectual activities, this course is based on a faith or a theology.
I believe that by
mastering the arguments on both sides
of an issue, we can each best determine our own
Once each of us thinks we know what we want to do, argument is essential
because politics is the art of getting large numbers of people to act together, and persuasion
is much more efficient than threats.
However, it is also quite difficult, as we know from our
How do we go about persuading someone to accept our views?
One strategy is
The clearest example of this is divine revelation
, when God speaks to
To use a metaphor from card games, God "trumps" all other arguments;
because God says it is true, it is true.
This is not as silly as it sounds; more people are
probably persuaded by what they believe to be direct revelations from God (in Her various
forms) than by the other alternatives we will discuss here.
My closest friend from high
school, for example, runs his financial and personal life on the basis of direct commands
from God; he's doing well enough in both so that I occasionally wish God would speak to
So far this hasn't happened.
This points up the major weakness of divine revelation;
its authority is limited to those who believe in the particular religion or messenger, and in
the United States today there is insufficient agreement on who speaks for God for divine
revelation have much direct impact on American foreign and military policy.
A more modern version of this strategy is expert authority
Expert authority often seems particularly useful in foreign affairs because of the
need to understand things of which most Americans have little direct knowledge such as
foreign cultures, economic systems, and complex issues of science in areas like nuclear
Experts are believable
because they know more about their topic than other people.
They often will offer
plausible reasoning for their positions, but their ideas usually have to be accepted on faith,
since most consumers are unable to really evaluate them.
The term "guru" is sometimes
used for such individuals, and it nicely conveys the semi-religious element of belief which is
at the heart of expert authority.
In another course this sort of authority is called