Friday, 18 March 2011

Public Diplomacy in ancient Greece

Public Diplomacy may be mainly associated with modernity and post-modernity but its constituent parts are as old as statecraft. We can trace the roots of public diplomacy as far as ancient times, more specifically to 5th century BC Greece comprised of several hundred city-states (i.e. polis). Greek politics was largely developed through early form of what we today call public diplomacy, which at its broadest refers to communication that states make to the foreign public. One of the techniques of public diplomacy (some say its earlier form) was public speaking - Rhetoric. With no communication technology known today, diplomats used rhetoric as an effective way to convey a message. It was the eloquence of speech that made this form of communication so successful in addressing the foreign public. It soon became a form of an art. Understanding the power of rhetoric, which if presented properly could evoke any desired emotion and generate successful foreign policy implementation led to rhetoric become a leading teaching method in schools, courtroom, used during elections, political debates and mobilisation for war..

Political leaders now and then share similar objectives - for example, the promotion of democracy. As may be inferred from this, rhetoric in ancient Greece was perceived as a very important dimension of democracy, an example of citizens power to induce free exchange of ideas, opinions and counterarguments. In this view, political consensus would be achieved by persuasion, free choice and dialogue rather than coercion. Soft power versus hard power..Ancient Greeks already understood the magic role of persuasion in achieving political ends. As Hannah Arendt writes ('The Human Condition', (1958), Chicago, University of Chicago Press, p.26) - 'To be political, to live in a polis, meant that everything was decided through words and persuasion and not through force and violence'.

The founder of rhetoric is said to be Corax of Syracuse but the most prominent technicians of political and diplomatic activity were the Sophists (the philosophers and teachers). One of the most known Sophists was Protagoras, with who we associate the famous: 'When truth and justice fail through inefficient advocates, the skilled rhetorician will set this right..'.

There was at the time confusion whether rhetoric presented the truth, what should its ethical frames be and so there were different stands taken on the subject. The idea of rhetoric for Plato, Socrates and Aristotle (he taught rhetoric to Alexander the Great) was based on informing and convincing the public of the truth, while for Sophists to whatever the set goal. Here comes the dilemma over ancient public diplomacy being an effective propaganda. This dilemma continues till date. There is a very thin line between informing and propagating. Perhaps we should bear in mind words of G.R. Berridge who argues it is all a matter of intentions..If we take this point of view we can therefore agree that it is possible to separate public diplomacy from propaganda by looking at the intentions (bad or good) and the sources employed (truthful or falsified). One can also ask whether it was Sophists propaganda or Thucydides' rhetoric that made Greek city-states under the leadership of Athens and its empire to go to war against Peloponnesian League led by Sparta...But as both public diplomacy and propaganda aim to influence the public opinion regardless of the sources (Berridge, 'Diplomacy:Theory and Practice',p. 182, 4th ed, Palgrave ,Basingstoke) the answer is not that clear, both form part of one another..

There is no value in trying to put rhetoric, public diplomacy and propaganda in absolute terms, perhaps it is more practical to focus on understanding the benefits of creating the climate of trust in the process of influencing the foreign publics across the world. This in longer term would create more opportunities and enabling environment for the country's policies. Trying to picture the links between rhetoric, public diplomacy and propaganda was a difficult task to do but I do hope that one clear message comes out of my work, whichever technique we choose to influence the foreign publics - public diplomacy requires an understanding of the role of credibility, reliability, the role of engagement and dialogue in generating successful soft power. As Joseph Nye (2008) argues: 'Public Diplomacy that degenerates into propaganda not only fails to convince, but can undercut soft power.' The use of propaganda is not a path to long term success (George W. Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq or Athens decision to go to war with Sparta).


Berridge, G.R., (2010),'Diplomacy: Theory and Practice', p.182, 4th ed, Palgrave, Basingstoke.

Brown, John H., (2010),'Propaganda, Rhetoric, and Public Diplomacy', US Centre on Public Diplomacy, CPD Blog, 26th September, 2010.

Brown, John H., (2007), 'The Paradoxes of Propaganda', US Centre on Public Diplomacy, CPD Blog, 16th April 2010.

Hannah Arendt, (1958), 'The Human Condition', Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, p.26-27.

Jebb, R.C., (1962), ' The Attic Orators', New York, Russel & Russell.

Leonard, Mark, (2002), 'Public Diplomacy', London: Foreign Policy Centre.

Nye, Joseph S., (2008), 'Public Diplomacy and Soft Power', in 'The Annals. The American Academy of Political and Social Science', p.94-108.

Roberts, Rhys W., (1963), 'Greek Rhetoric and Literary Criticism', New York: Cooper Square.

Robinson, C.E., '(1933), 'Everyday Life in Ancient Greece', New York: AMS Press.

1 comment:

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