The self-sealing rhetoric of John Foster Dulles

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The self-sealing argument is one that cannot be dislodged, not because it is self-evidently true but because its advocate can reinterpret any statement that might seem to challenge the argument as actually supporting the argument. The argument thereby seals itself against critique, This can happen as a result of a persistent tendency to attribute favorable outcomes to one’s own efforts and unfavorable outcomes to factors beyond one’s control. John Foster Dulles displayed this attributional pattern in his public statements as Secretary of State, as a careful analysis of three case studies suggests: the Soviet “peace offensive” after the death of Stalin, Soviet efforts to achieve disarmament, and a pattern of actions known as “brinkmanship.” The self-sealing argument impedes thoughtful self-evaluation and makes change very difficult.


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