(20. September 2011):
The false promise of the better argument.
In: International theory, Vol. 3, No. 3: pp. 309-415
Effective argumentation in international politics is widely conceived as a matter
of persuasion. In particular, the ‘logic of arguing’ ascribes explanatory power
to the ‘better argument’ and promises to illuminate the conditions of legitimate
normative change. This article exposes the self-defeating implications of the
Habermasian symbiosis between the normative and the empirical force of
arguments. Since genuine persuasion is neither observable nor knowable, its
analysis critically depends on what scholars consider to be the better argument.
Seemingly, objective criteria such as universality only camouflage such moral
reification. The paradoxical consequence of an explanatory concept of arguing
is that moral discourse is no longer conceptualized as an open-ended process of
contestation and normative change, but has recently been recast as a governance
mechanism ensuring the compliance of international actors with pre-defined
norms. This dilemma can be avoided through a positivist reification of valid
norms, as in socialization research, or by adopting a critical and emancipatory
focus on the obstacles to true persuasion. Still, both solutions remain dependent
on the ‘persuasion vs. coercion’ problem that forestalls an insight into successful
justificatory practices other than rational communication. The conclusion
therefore pleas for a pragmatic abstention from better arguments and points to
the insights to be gained from pragmatist norms research in sociology.