Daniel W. Drezner

Epistemic closure and American foreign policy

There’s been a raging debate the past few weeks over whether conservatives suffer from what Julian Sanchez labeled "epistemic closure."  If conservatives get their information and opinion only by listening to other conservatives, the argument runs, they will be unprepared and unconcerned about criticisms from outside their intellectual cocoon.  The blogosphere has been having a ...

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

There's been a raging debate the past few weeks over whether conservatives suffer from what Julian Sanchez labeled "epistemic closure."  If conservatives get their information and opinion only by listening to other conservatives, the argument runs, they will be unprepared and unconcerned about criticisms from outside their intellectual cocoon. 

The blogosphere has been having a grand old time with this debate, and whether the problem afflicts conservatives more than liberals (click here for Patricia Cohen's roundup in today's New York Times).  Paul Krugman goes so far as to argue that this problem has clearly affected macroeconomics in freshwater schools. 

This leads me to wonder if the problem affects the GOP wing of the foreign policy community.  And as much as David Frum might argue for greater internal debate within the GOP on the political facts of life, for example, he was never shy in attacking the realpolitik wing of the Republican foreign policy establishment (more here). 

There’s been a raging debate the past few weeks over whether conservatives suffer from what Julian Sanchez labeled "epistemic closure."  If conservatives get their information and opinion only by listening to other conservatives, the argument runs, they will be unprepared and unconcerned about criticisms from outside their intellectual cocoon. 

The blogosphere has been having a grand old time with this debate, and whether the problem afflicts conservatives more than liberals (click here for Patricia Cohen’s roundup in today’s New York Times).  Paul Krugman goes so far as to argue that this problem has clearly affected macroeconomics in freshwater schools. 

This leads me to wonder if the problem affects the GOP wing of the foreign policy community.  And as much as David Frum might argue for greater internal debate within the GOP on the political facts of life, for example, he was never shy in attacking the realpolitik wing of the Republican foreign policy establishment (more here). 

A few years ago I implicitly made this kind of critique when it came to neoconservatives.  That saids, my gut instinct on this is that the epistemic closure problem is not nearly as big a deal in foreign policy circles as it is in domestic policy circles.  That is to say, conservative foreign policy wonks do collect their information from a diverse array of sources.  They might not agree with every scrap of information about a particular issue, but they usually acknowledge its existence.  A quick glance at FP’s own Shadow Government tells me that even if I disagree with these bloggers on policy recommendations, I still think we’re operating in the same epistemic universe. 

I’ll get to why I think this is true later, but for now, I’m curious if my experience corresponds to my readers.  So, a genuinely open question — is there an epistemic closure problem among the conservative foreign policy community? 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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