Arts & International Affairs: Volume 3, Issue 1, Spring 2018 - Page 13

ARTS & INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS G. Lowes Dickinson (1916). UNESCO’s actual powers of enforcement are not much to speak of, and thus the organisation aspires for a position of a moral force in global politics (Singh 2010). In the context of UNESCO, it thus all boils down to the question of possessing and exercising the power to move actors by persuading them what is right and what is wrong. As E.H. Carr (1939:120) reminded us at the wake of World War II: “Power over opinion is not less essential for political purposes than military and economic power [ ... ] The art of persuasion has always been a necessary part of the equipment of a political leader.” Johan Galtung (1996:2) defines this as a form of cultural power, which legitimises certain acts and structures while delegitimising others, thus distinguishing it from political, economic and military power. Following Joseph S. Nye (1990, 2004:x), this could also be understood as an expression of, or a claim to, soft power: The idea that there exist instruments of power rooted in one’s ideological and cultural appeal, which promises “a way to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.” In the case of UNE- SCO, the main difference between these two frameworks lies in the focus on attraction versus persuasion. While it is not entirely clear whether Nye sees attraction as a natural objective experience or a social construct (Mattern 2005:591), there is no doubt that persuasion comprises a conscious process of conversion and enticement. Indeed, as is evident in the UNESCO Constitution (1945:Preamble), its strategy is based on its suggested ability to actively influence attitudes and opinions: “That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” To clarify the conceptual map used here, the persuasion-influence-power continuum is understood in a simple, instrumental manner: influence as a mechanism of power, and persuasion as the act of influencing. The idea of influencing opinions lies at the heart of politics. Power over opinion is also the basic principle behind a concept tying together the questions of power, influence and persuasion: propaganda. More importantly, propaganda functions as a tool for constructing and spreading values. While definitions of propaganda are as varied as those attempting to define it, one common denominator is an agreement that propaganda is concerned with influencing opinions. As the United Nations specialised agency with a mandate to promote the free flow of ideas by images and words, addressing UNESCO as an organisation engaging in propaganda might seem farfetched, for it is precisely the free flow of ideas and information we normally accuse propaganda of restricting. This conception is largely labelled by a modern understanding of the term. Writing about persuasion in the sense of rhetoric, Plato already approached the topic with reservation in his early criticism. In Gorgias, he contrasted the art of persuasion with philosophy, the art of truth, positioning the former as morally unacceptable (Plato 380 B.C.E.). Modern understandings often follow this approach to propaganda as an ultimately negative endeavour, closely tied with power, politics and the ultimate evil: war. In modern usage, propaganda is a nasty word. It is biased; it is evil; it is unfair. No wonder then, that we do not often see the words UNESCO and propaganda in the same sentence. 12