In his 1651 book, “Leviathan”, renowned political philosopher Thomas Hobbes rigorously argues that peace and unity can only be achieved through establishing a “commonwealth” via social contract.
In it, Hobbes conceptualizes the “The State of Nature” as a war of all against all. Hobbes claims that human nature being inherently self-preservatory and selfish makes the survival of an individual within nature a painful and infinitely dangerous task. In response, Hobbes postulates, individual consent to a common “social contract” which all members of a specific community agree to and abide by collectively, enforced by a similarly consented to group of people tasked with the upholding of said contract. That group is labelled as sovereign, and exercise absolute power to uphold, progress, and protect the signers of said contracts from the dangers and horrors of the state of nature according to Hobbes. Furthermore, Hobbes presents a biblical creature, Leviathan, as an analogy for that structure with the body constituting the people who agreed to the contract or the general public and the head being the sovereign or the group of people tasked with making decisions and organizing resources on behalf of the collective. Hobbes envisioned a creature which is constituted of the sum of all its parts as a “common-wealth”; representing the state. In it the head is signified as sovereignty and represents the creatures souls and source of rational thought and decisions (Hobbes, 1651).
Hobbes argues that subordinates, or the body, agree to absolute control from the sovereign, the head, for the sake of peace and security. Hobbes’s Leviathan proved to be an accurate representation of the concept and functions of nations, even through the imperial colonialist context under which he labored. However, the printing press, a Magna Carta, French Revolution, industrial revolution, advancements in education and political thought, and couple of World Wars, would morph Hobbes’ Leviathan from a creature in which the head exercises unequivocal control over body into one which the head is interchangeable and subject to judgment. Furthermore, global periodical power shifts and the introduction of the printing press and media vessels served as an usher into a world where the constituents of a nation have a plethora of information about the ends a government may reach to achieve sovereignty, the decisions it makes to ensure their preservation, and more importantly an ability to utilize that information to participate in the decision-making process by proxy of elections; in other words, consent to sovereignty through the social contract is now periodically renewed rather eternally granted without reprimand. Postcolonial philosophy and political theory has shifted the concept of a social contract from one that infers totalitarian control characterized by complete subordination, to one of a democratic system fueled by informed consent. In a democratic form of government, the sovereign need not only focus on the progression and conservation of Leviathan, but also on the satisfaction and positive opinion of Leviathan’s body constituents with its decisions. The main source of information on said decisions and their implications is through the press or media; an individual obtains knowledge on the decisions, their implementations, and eventually consequential implications through media, aka newspapers, TV, radio, etc.
. Mass media presents as a sort of double edged sword for decision-makers; on one hand it provides an important source of information, a vessel for change or mobilization ,or merely a platform to convey policy and enhance public opinion; on the other hand mass media can serve to sway public opinion against sovereign decisions, perpetuate civil unrest, or simply cause the elimination of an individual decision-maker all together. While an accurate representation of the full extent of mass media on the decision-making process of governments is nearly impossible, statistical evidence suggests its influence on two aspects; first being an integral part of the input process as a source of information for governments on public opinion and on international occurrences, and secondly as a vessel for a government to convey or announce the output of said process. It’s noteworthy that mass media always serves as an integral part of the output process carried out by decision makers to set foreign policy as it has become the main vessel of communication between the government and its citizens or the international community. However, depending on the political structure of the government in question, it may or may not be part of the input process; nations where media vessels show more autonomy have decision makers who infer more weight on media and public opinion, while ones with more restricted media access and privileges show the inverse of that phenomena. In order to understand the manifestations of mass media on the decision making process in foreign policy, one first needs to understand said process itself. Modern methods of foreign policy analysis are split between ones that labor under the realist paradigm, a state-centric assumption that states are the major forces behind the decision-making process in an essentially competitive global vacuum characterized by anarchy, and one labelled as “innerpolitik”, who infers more weight on the internal socioeconomic and political paradigm of a state to understand its foreign policy decisions.(Mohapatra, 2001).
More factors can be considered such as geographical location and resource abundance within a nation as determinants of foreign policy decisions. However, a consolidation of both a realistic and innerpolitik approach proves to be a more accurate method in structuring a foreign policy decision-making model.(Mohapatra, 2001). Michael Brecher explains a model of foreign policy analysis (Figure 1) where internal, external, and individual or psychological status converge to form a “decision-making environment” (Brecher, 1972). Brecher’s model elaborates how different inputs within global paradigm, both internal and external, are processed as the operational environment, in which they are communicated to the decision making elite (the government). Brecher then postulates how that input is put through the individual decision makers “psychological environment”, which entails their personal beliefs and how they view the world; in turn said decision makers formulate strategies according to their states’ military, cultural,economic, and political priorities. (Brecher, 2012). In short, Brecher believes that “decision-makers act in accordance with their perception of reality, not in response to reality itself.
” (Brecher, 1972). Accordingly, foreign policy decision-making can be summarized as processing a set of internal and external inputs to formulate decisions that aim to maintain the political, cultural, economic, and military integrity of a nation within the international state community; however, these inputs Figure 1.travel through filters of the internal national paradigm, public sentiment, and personal belief systems of the individuals making these decisions. Having formulated a practical model of analysis, the question of where mass media slots into that system now becomes more attainable. In an article titled “The Role of the Media in Foreign Policy Decision-Making: A Theoretical Framework”, Chanan Naveh attempts to integrate multiple preconceived models on foreign policy decision-making into one “dynamic complex model() recognizing the environment as a major input component of foreign policy decision-making processes.” (Naveh, 2002). Naveh claims that current models of foreign policy decision-making only include mass media as a single input value, namely communications, while neglecting the massive, exponentially growing effect that media has not only on other theorized units of input but also on the output of the process; or the decision within itself. The general perception present day experts have of the mass media industry has morphed over the years from that of a purely input agent for the decision process of decision makers into one of two functions, both input and output.
The value of media as an output function “means that leaders who perform in an environment which includes the media make political decisions to solve problems, but at the same time try to make decisions that will improve their image or develop a campaign that will affect the media that deal with the relevant international events and interactions.” (Naveh, 2002). Naveh elaborates on Richard Snyder’s model which specifies internal and external settings as factors and conditions which exist outside the decision-maker and constitute the basis of their decisions. (Snyder, 1962). According to Naveh, this framework allows the foreign policy analyst to more soundly place mass media’s effect on the decision-making process, constituting a factor of the internal environment or setting affecting the decision maker. The strength of media as an environmental state or input affecting decision making can be measured to four main variables:The political communication regime: who owns the media? Who funds it? To what extent does censorship affect media reach?Communication Policy: what is the government’s policy in regards to media? Is certain information censored? What is the extent of competition within various providers? Does the government enforce regulations and restrictions on free press?Political Economy Setting of the Media: what is the nature of the profit incentives for any given media corporation?News Values: This concerns the ideological and ethical framework of the media constituents themselves; the incentives, moral values, and intentions of the media personnel publishing said media.The overwhelming effect of the media according to the previous variables manifest into two main functions; agenda setting and framing. The agenda setting function of media has been presented by Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert Merton as the status-conferral function; meaning that through its immense platform, mass media confers status on issues, people, groups, or circumstances.
“The mass media bestow prestige and enhance the authority of individuals and groups by legitimizing their status.” (Lazarsfeld, Merton, 1948). This phenomena is evidenced by a 1968 study conducted by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw on the 1968 US presidential elections. A blind study, conducted on a 100 individuals in the form of questionnaires handed before and after the televised campaigns and consequent coverage for said elections, suggests that voters’ opinions of important issues varied greatly before and after the elections; McCombs and Shaw observed that responders concurred with the news on what important issues were 0.89 of the time, that number being 0.45 before. Keeping in mind that the campaign coverage was more concerned with the campaign itself than with actual policy discussions.
(McCombs, Shaw, 1968). Furthermore, media holds the power of framing; meaning that media possess tools of presenting information which may not necessarily distort the truth but convey certain specific ideologies or omit crucial or otherwise incriminating facts. A look into the 2016 US election campaign TV tracker is representative of this fact. For instance, the most mentioned nominee on all TV channels during the election period was Donald Trump, being mentioned an overwhelming 2 million times, a million more mentions that his second closest opponent, Hillary Clinton.
It’s also notable that within their parties’ nomination campaigns, Trump and Clinton recieve more than three quarters of the total news coverage than all of their opponents combined, 78.4% and 76.4% respectively. Moreso, the output value of mass media can be conserved through the phenomena of media management; decision-makers employ expert personnel to manage their public image, push specific stories, organize rallies, and in some cases manipulate and sway public opinion. (Naveh, 2002). “Leaders and governments developed the MM towards “spin” techniques, i.e. using all their PR and campaign tools more systematically and intensively in order to affect the media and make them accept the leadership’s agenda and its framing of events.
” (Naveh, 2002). As a result within the previously discussed context, a government utilizing mass media for political favor or to induce public opinion can be defined by the term propaganda. A more concrete method of defining the term propaganda for critical assessment or analysis is as “a way to present a state’s foreign policy to the external world using the media.” (Naveh, 2002). Visualized in Figure 2, according to the previous revelations, and in lieu with the constantly growing role the media has on public opinion and civil discourse, it becomes more rational to conceptualize the media as part of the frameworks and determinants of internal and external setting, rather an integrated value within them.
(Naveh, 2002). Figure 2.In conclusion, attempting to evolve Hobbes’s 17th century Leviathan as an analogy for a nation in a postmodern, 21st century setting would require certain “anatomical” changes. First, the components of the body would now agree to a vastly different contract than Hobbes postulated, one which grants them more voice over the decisions of the head and affords them more information about them. Second, Leviathan’s sovereign, or head, would receive more feedback, criticism, and power threat from the body parts; communications, public opinion, elections. Last but not least and perhaps the process which facilitates such evolution, media should be added to Leviathan in the form of the nervous system of impulses carried out throughout the body; the connection framework which facilitates action, gives commands, and provides communication within the whole system, including speech which would represent foreign-policy in our modernized Leviathan.
The fact then remains that mass media has been repeatedly observed and measured to sway public opinion, influence elections, and to start wars; while concurrently mobilizing social reform and educating the public. To paint mass media as purely a weapon of manipulation would be equally as inaccurate as to limit it to merely a vessel of information; it would however, be wise to take it into account when attempting to predict or analyse foreign policy strategies of decision makers.