Politics as Persuasion
JANE J. MANSBRIDGE
Political ends can be achieved by three means: persuasion, threats, and force. Since World War II, however, political scientists who study Congress, interest groups, and various other institutions of government have focused mainly on threats and force, which I will group together under the rubric of "power." Persuasion -- the appeal to reason and emotion to change others' opinions, including their conceptions of their interests -- has been largely neglected.1 This essay lays out the case for redressing that imbalance.
One great purpose of politics is to solve collective action problems. In the last fifty years, the development of game theory has allowed political scientists to model and understand more clearly the reciprocal interactions in collective action. The "prisoner's dilemma" in particular codifies a problem of social cooperation to which political organization is a solution. In a prisoner's dilemma, or in other "collective action problems" with structures much like the prisoner's dilemma, actions that are in each individual's rational self-interest produce aggregated outcomes that are not in those individuals' interests. For example, when a good is such that once it is made available to one person it is available to all (e.g., national defense or a local park), it is in the narrow self-interest of each individual to "free ride" on others' contributions in producing the good. But if each follows this logic, the good will never be produced. A similar logic generates the "tragedy of the commons," in which it is in each individual's self-interest to set another cow on the commons, but if everyone does this, the commons will be overgrazed ( Axelrod, 1984; G. Hardin, 1968; R. Hardin, 1982).
Early game-theoretic "solutions" to the prisoner's dilemma and other collective action problems involved the use of power. All concerned in the