Twisting tongues and twisting arms: The power of political rhetoric

Ronald R. Krebs, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

457 Scopus citations


While scholars of International Relations and comparative politics have usually treated rhetoric as epiphenomenal, one strand of constructivism has recently returned rhetoric to the heart of political analysis, especially through the mechanism of persuasion. We too maintain that rhetoric is central to political processes and outcomes, but we argue that persuasion is theoretically and methodologically problematic. We aver that rhetoric's role may be more usefully conceptualized in the context of coercion, and we advance a stylized model that illustrates how rhetorical coercion operates, explains why it works, and identifies key scope conditions. We subsequently illustrate our model's relevance through a detailed examination of a 'hard' case. This article's agenda is twofold. First, it advises scholars in these fields to avoid focusing on unanswerable questions about actors' motives and to examine instead what actors say, in what contexts, and to what audiences. Second, it lays the groundwork for a 'coercive constructivism', complementing the liberal version so prevalent today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-66
Number of pages32
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2007


  • Coercion
  • Constructivism
  • Discourse
  • Habermas
  • Israel
  • Military service
  • Persuasion
  • Rhetoric


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