More than forty years ago in The Ethics of Rhetoric, Richard Weaver identified four types of argument, linking each with a corresponding political and ideological type. He claimed that arguments from definition and analogy were the most ethical forms of argument and—not coincidentally—that they were the arguments most compatible with idealists and conservatives like himself (56, 112). These kinds of arguments were essentially philosophical, applying ideas or past examples to current situations, emphasizing the development of general principles. At the other end of the spectrum were arguments based on consequence and circumstance, which Weaver linked to a relativist, pragmatic, liberal orientation (57, 58). Such arguments were practical, emphasizing immediate context. From Weaver's perspective, these arguments were inferior because of what he saw as their transience and short-sightedness (83).
Ironically, while many current rhetoricians would likely reject Weaver's negative appraisal of "liberal" rhetoric and his privileging of a conservative, foundational one, most would agree with Weaver that liberal rhetoric—however broadly we wish to define either word—is and should be both practical and circumstantial, or "situationally contingent," as Covino and Jolliffe put it in their recent definition (5). In other words, most rhetoricians would agree with the application—if not the intent—of Weaver's system. Certainly a great deal of the rhetorical theory published in the last thirty years, since Robert L. Scott's "On Viewing Rhetoric as Epistemic" and Lloyd F. Bitzer's "The Rhetorical Situation," has focused on rhetoric's situational, meaning-making, audience-centered characteristics.
Many current rhetoricians would also agree that rhetoric connects ideologically with politics. The ideals of Weaver's foundational rhetoric—a rhetoric based on dialectically secured principles that transcend "the peculiar features of an occasion" (18)—are generally allied with a Platonic, aristocratic, hierarchical political philosophy while situational rhetoric is linked to a sophistic, democratic, relativistic philosophy (see, for example, Crowley 327 and Scenters-Zapico 356). Indeed, both Weaver and more recent rhetoricians such as James Berlin agree that rhetoric is more than simply a record of ideological thought: rhetoric itself is ideological. As Berlin puts it, current rhetorical theory "situates rhetoric within ideology, rather than ideology within rhetoric" ("Rhetoric" 477). Rhetoric and ideology are inextricably linked.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Weaver's analysis is that he finds that as an indicator of ideology, rhetoric sometimes confounds conventional political labels. He argues, for example, that Edmund Burke's argumentative style reveals him to be rhetorically liberal despite his being a conservative icon. Abraham Lincoln is a truer conservative, by Weaver's measure, because he argues like one (112). Indeed, conventional political labels mean little to Weaver; he criticizes all Republican presidents after Lincoln for retreating to the pragmatism of "liberal" political argumentation (81-82). Weaver's approach resembles that of James Berlin when Berlin connects pedagogy and ideology. Berlin assumes that a teacher's methods "argue for" a particular belief system or "version of reality," whether the teacher is conscious of it or not ("Contemporary" 766). Similarly, Weaver says that the surest measure of someone's political philosophy is to examine "the type of argument he [or she] prefers" (112). A practitioner's method, or rhetoric, then, is more revealing than overt claims about ideological preference. Idealistic and foundational arguers are, to Weaver, "conservative," while pragmatic and relativistic arguers are "liberal"—regardless of what they might claim or how they might be labeled.
Weaver examines how Burke and Lincoln sought to persuade their contemporaries about major conflicts—the American and French Revolutions in Burke's case and the Civil War in Lincoln's case. Weaver concludes that Burke's rhetoric, "grounded in the nature of a situation," is liberal (83). Lincoln's rhetoric, "based on genus or definition," is conservative (84). Here, I will examine how some of today's political writers—from the left, the right, and the moderate middle—seek to persuade their readers about a major conflict. What kinds of arguments do we find across the political spectrum today? Who are our foundationalists and relativists? Do argumentative styles and political labels match up? Do current rhetorical theories describe the "working rhetoric" of political liberals, as we might expect? I will consider arguments that arose in popular political magazines in the fall of 1990 in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The writers in The Progressive, Z Magazine, The Nation, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, The American Spectator, and National Review address a crucial practical question—Should we go to war?—and their responses do reveal a lot about the relevance of Weaver's critique, about current rhetorical theory, and perhaps most important, about the connection between rhetorical studies and politics in American life.
Four Kinds of Argument
In both The Ethics of Rhetoric and his later essay, "Language is Sermonic," Weaver uses the term source to refer to the persuasive foundation—the strategic center—of an argument. According to Weaver, while most extended arguments draw upon multiple sources, we can nonetheless identify four basic types of argument: the argument from definition, the argument from similitude or analogy, the argument from consequence, and the argument from circumstance. Lincoln, for example, drew frequently on the definition of freedom, or unity, or humanity as the main persuasive source of his public arguments, so Weaver concludes that Lincoln's characteristic argument was the argument from definition (Ethics 80, 91).
Weaver also places the four kinds of argument in an ethical hierarchy. To him, the most ethical form is the argument from definition, based as it is on the assumption that ideals should guide our thoughts and actions, that "genus is a reflection of existence" (56). In Lincoln's case, this form of argument was as successful as it was ethical; while others pointed to the "necessity" or inevitability of civil war given the country's deep divisions (an argument from circumstance) or the desirability of preserving the existing Union—the status quo—at all costs (an argument from consequence), Lincoln based his arguments on a handful of defining principles rooted in his perceptions of human nature and human society (94). His arguments helped separate him from other politicians, and his principles helped shape the original Republican Party (94). This form of argument is idealistic in that it relies on abstract principles, and it is conservative in that it prefers those principles to short-term exigencies as guidelines for action. Weaver prefers it because it appeals to "stasis, immutability, [and] eternal perdurance," qualities he associates with "the highest reality" ("Language" 212).
A second form of argument is the argument from similitude, or analogy. Those who argue from analogy believe, at least implicity, in "essential (though not exhaustive) correspondences . . . , a oneness of the world" (Ethics 56-57). This kind of argument is frequently used, according to Weaver, "by poets and religionists" (57). Like the argument from definition, the argument from analogy is most appropriate to idealists, and Weaver views it favorably.
Beneath the dividing line are arguments from consequence and circumstance. The argument from consequence begins with "existing tangibles" and then "attempts a forecast of results" which serves as a guide for current action (57). Weaver admits that everyone, being a part of historical reality, must at one time or another use this form of argument, though he associates it with "sensational" arguments used by pragmatic politicians and advertisers ("Language" 214-15).
Lowest of all is the argument from circumstance, which according to Weaver "merely reads the circumstances . . . and accepts them as coercive, or allows them to dictate the decision" (Ethics 57). Burke's call for conciliation with the American colonies was based not on "what is right or wrong, or what accords with our idea of justice or our scheme of duty" (65), but on the fact that "America is a growing country, of awesome potentiality, whose strength . . . makes it advisable for the Mother Country to overlook abstract rights" (63). In the case of the French Revolution, according to Weaver, Burke based his argument on the "presumed well-being" of France and Europe itself—not on abstract moral or political principles (70). Certainly Burke wrote and spoke of principles in these cases and throughout his career, but as Weaver says, "whoever says he is going to give equal consideration to circumstance and to ideals (or principles) almost inevitably finds himself following circumstances while preserving a mere decorous respect for ideals" (73).
Arguments from consequence and circumstance are pragmatic in that they emphasize "urgency" and "action," and they are relativist in that they find guidance in the "becoming" of social context rather than in the "being" of transcendent truths, ideals, or essences (Ethics 57, 112; "Language" 212, 214).
The qualities condemned by Weaver are, of course, the same qualities cited by proponents of a liberal rhetoric. John Poulakos, for example, has written that rhetoricians concern themselves "with the particular and the pragmatic," operating within "a relativism of concrete rhetorical situations to which situationally derived truths are the only opportune and appropriate responses" (42). More recently Susan Jarratt has argued that, from a sophistic perspective, "questions of value must be referred to subjective perception and to the historical and geographical specificity of local custom" (96). Weaver and current rhetoricians agree on what characterizes "liberal" rhetoric; they just feel differently about it.
But what is the realtionship between "liberal" rhetoric and politics? John R. E. Bliese has pointed out that by liberal Weaver meant not "one who identifies with the political left," but rather "one who identifies with the center" (282). In Weaver's view, anyone who develops his or her stance based on existing viewpoints and practical exigencies must gravitate toward the "safety" of the middle (Ethics 76). Indeed, Weaver praises "radical parties of both right and left" for being at least capable of "contempt for circumstances" (76). Do today's rhetorical theorists advocate centrist politics? James Berlin, certainly, argues that "social-epistemic" rhetoric—while advocated by those he associates with both the political left and the political center—is the rhetoric most clearly capable of "an explicit critique of economic, political, and social arrangements" ("Rhetoric" 490). Others, such as Jarratt and Patricia Bizzell, clearly view sophistic and antifoundational rhetorics as politically progressive, if not revolutionary. For the moment, let me just say that while Weaver and current rhetoricians might agree on what constitutes "liberal" rhetoric, it's unclear whether they agree on the sort of political ideology to associate with that rhetoric.
Because Weaver begins with rhetoric, then draws conclusions about political ideology, he ends up challenging conventional notions of the political terms conservative and liberal. He points out, for example, that conservative rhetoric is not against change when ideas or principles demand it. Lincoln called on the definitions of freedom and humanity in his arguments for the abolition of the traditional institution of slavery (91). Conversely, liberal rhetoric is not always for change. The "liberal" Burke cited pressing circumstances to argue against revolutionary change in Europe—scorning, according to Weaver, "freedom which did not have the stamp of generations of approval upon it" (74). Burke's argument appears to be politically conservative—in that it seeks to preserve the status quo—but because it ignores principles, Weaver calls it liberal. Indeed, in the absence of "ultimate goals," liberal parties such as the 19th-century Whigs most consistently sought to preserve the status quo, "trusting more to safety and present success than to imagination and dramatic boldness of principle" (76). Ultimately, conservatism and liberalism, as conceived by Weaver, have more to do with the reasons for policies than with the policies themselves. What finally distinguishes conservative rhetoric is respect not for the way things are, but for the way things ought to be. With this in mind, we may examine how various political voices responded to the possibility of war in the Persian Gulf. My purpose is to discover what kinds of rhetoric were in practice used by those from the left, right, and middle of the political spectrum—and to connect those rhetorics with those described by both Weaver and current rhetoricians.
Rhetoric For and Against the Persian Gulf War
In the fall of 1990, political commentators from the full range of American periodicals debated the pros and cons of going to war in the Gulf. By mid-December, President Bush had drawn his line in the sand, so to speak, by issuing an ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein: withdraw fully from Kuwait by January 15 or face U.S. military action. For this study, I examined all of the articles and editorials in the magazines cited earlier that took an explicit position for or against U.S. military involvement in the Gulf. I examined issues published from late August to early December.
I will begin in the middle, with mainstream commentators from Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. The writers in these magazines demonstrate many of the strategies that Weaver associates with "liberal" argumentation. The major questions they address are practical: "Should we go to war in the Gulf?" and "If so, how should we proceed?" Their main strategy is to compare immediate costs and benefits to the pro-war and anti-war positions. Newsweek, for example, presents two complete arguments, one "for" and one "against" going to war. In "The Case for War," the writers list six reasons to go to war: the sanctions will hurt Kuwaitis before they ever hurt Iraqis; we, the United States, can't "reward aggression"; we must preserve the "stability" of the Middle East region; we must stop the Iraqi weapons program; we must get rid of Saddam Hussein entirely; and—last but not least—the good weather conditions could change by March. In "The Case against War," they list five reasons against going to war: it could disrupt oil supplies and markets; it could threaten Western "interests" in the region; it could poison the region; it could increase anti-Western feelings; and it could increase "instability" in the region. Similarly, in a series of editorials, U.S. News & World Report argues for preserving stability and reinforcing the U.S. role in world affairs while calling for punishment for Iraqi aggression and atrocities. In general, these mainstream arguments favor going to war.
Nearly all of the "reasons" are rooted in the assessment of consequences and circumstances: the impact of sanctions, the stability of the region, the threat of the Iraqi weapons program, the threat of Saddam Hussein, the impact on the oil industry and other Western interests, the impact on regional ecology, the impact on regional attitudes toward the West, the impact on the U.S. role in world affairs, and of course the role of the weather. The variables at work in making this major political decision reside primarily in "the particular and the pragmatic," in "existing tangibles," and in the "situation."
This is not to say that mainstream writers appeal to no principles at all. Indeed, three overall goals appear in many of the commentaries and hint at political principles: the need to punish "aggression," the need to preserve "national interests," and the need to preserve "stability." But the writers treat these as assumptions—or perhaps, as sophistic rhetoricians might say, as values shared by their audiences—not as ideals that need to be defined or defended. No mainstream writer explains what aggression is and why it must be punished, what our national interests are and why they supercede the interests of others, or what stability is and why it is to be preferred over instability. To return to Weaver for a moment, we might say that aggression and national interests and stability are "charismatic terms" that derive their rhetorical power from their very lack of definition (Ethics 227). To define such terms would be to weaken their impact—and usefulness (229). Almost everyone condemns Iraqi "aggression," but no one explains exactly what U.S.-held "principle" such aggression violates. In the articles that I examined, the word principle was in fact used only once, and that was in the term "in principle," which is a synonym for "on the record," which of course means "not real" or "not serious." Here is the entire passage:
Time magazine, another mainstream publication, was less vocal about the conflict early on, during the months of September and October 1990. It was also less predictable. The earliest commentary lists three "consequential" reasons against going to war—the number of deaths that could be involved, the financial costs of a war, and the possibility of higher oil prices—then goes on to remind readers of the recent U.S. invasion of Panama, which, according to the writer, Otto Friedrich, bore striking resemblances to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait: "Moral preachings wear a little thin here," says Friedrich (94). Pointing out a double-standard obviously implies a belief in a standard of comparison in the first place, which is necessary in an argument from analogy. The argument shifts, then, from a "liberal" argument from consequence to a "conservative" argument from analogy—from an argument that reads immediate consequences as coercive to one that appeals to a stable "oneness" of political rights and wrongs that should guide current action.
Another Time editorial argues that our real goal in the conflict should be to "establish a precedent for collective-security arrangements more enduring than the consequences of Saddam's villainy" (Talbott 56). Establishing such a precedent is a long-range goal, based less on immediate consequences than on the nation's—and perhaps the world's—long-term interests. The writer never precisely defines or defends collective-security arrangements, but it's clear that his argument is ultimately based on his belief in their superiority as a political ideal, and it's clear that he prefers to look past immediate circumstances when considering policy.
Not all Time commentators included aspects of "conservative" argument, however. Ironically, the editorial voice most clearly steeped in circumstances is that of Charles Krauthammer, a political conservative. In an apparent effort to provide an overall rationale for his stance, Krauthammer insists that "[t]he point of policy, after all, is success" (96). This line epitomizes what Weaver would call the liberal perspective on political argumentation. Indeed, Weaver cites a history of the Whig party that traces the party's demise to a series of leaders who unwisely "preferred success to a consistent position" (79). Ultimately, success in the Gulf is exactly what the writers in Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report prefer over the articulation or development of political principles.
That three of the best-selling magazines in our liberal democracy would prefer "liberal" kinds of arguments is perhaps not very surprising. When we turn to the political extremes of right and left, however, Weaver's analytical framework does turn up some surprises. I looked at pre-war editorials in two well-known conservative magazines, The American Spectator and National Review. For the most part, these writers place the conflict in a noticeably larger context than do the mainstream writers, looking beyond the current conflict to the level of generality. Instead of weighing the circumstances to determine the best course of action, these right-wing writers use the circumstances to explore on a philosophical level the importance of consistent policy, the role of the United States in world affairs, and the role of the United Nations, or world government, in world affairs.
Like the lone Time writer, for example, the right-wing writers criticize the double-standard involved in decrying Iraqi "aggression" when we have not only tolerated aggression from allies and enemies alike in the past but also have committed parallel acts of aggression ourselves. Tom Bethell of The American Spectator notes the pattern of shifting alliances that marks western policies, policies that are born of contingency-based thinking. Bethell opposes war in the Gulf based on two broad principles: first, that the U.S. should lead by example, not by force; and second, that the right's anti-government stance should logically translate into an "anti-coalition" stance (13). Interestingly, Bethell addresses the issue of "stability" by going to the trouble of defining it. He sees it as an extension of big-government—the desire of world-government to keep individual nations in check—and thus dismisses it as an acceptable policy goal (13). The urge for global "stability" runs counter to his libertarian urge for both individual and national autonomy.
Writers in both The American Spectator and National Review find "no issue of principle" in the Gulf conflict, so they argue against U.S. involvement (Lewis 21). Like Bethell, who defines "stability" and sees no reason to support it, writers in National Review define "aggression" and expose the double-standards at work. (Weaver himself identifies "aggressor" as an up-and-coming "devil term" of the 1950s. Define it, and its power diminishes .) J.B. Kelly lists examples of unpunished "aggression" by Saudi and Egyptian leaders over the past seventy-five years and points out the United States' own "severely compromised respect for the rule of law in the Middle East" (30). Kelly's appeal to past examples implies a belief in the need for consistent application of policy rather than case-by-case responses.
As in the mainstream magazines, some exceptions surfaced here on the right, particularly in National Review (generally seen to be more moderate than The American Spectator). Eliot A. Cohen's "How to Defeat Hussein," for example, is based on the assumption that we go to war, so it argues almost entirely from consequence. An unsigned editorial calls on the U.S. to take advantage of "the opportunity to remove a menace" and make a quick strike against Saddam Hussein ("Quick" 11). Interestingly, only the arguments from circumstance and consequence argue for going to war. On the whole, the arguments in The American Spectator and National Review argue against going to war and conform to Weaver's definition of "conservative" rhetoric.
Leftist writers also appear to use the Gulf conflict to explore larger issues—many of the same issues explored on the right. These left-wing writers are primarily concerned with discussing the proper responses to aggression, the proper role of the U.N., or world government, in managing world affairs, and proper political processes in times of conflict.
By far the most common strategy in The Progressive, Z Magazine, and The Nation is to attack U.S. policymakers for their hypocrisy. Much like the writers on the right, these writers point out long lists of double-standards, including our shifting views toward aggression, our change of heart in relation to Iraq and Saddam Hussein, and our sudden embracing of the U.N. after many years of vetoes and abstentions. The Progressive remarks that Iraq's invasion of Kuwait "is depicted as a virtually unprecedented act of aggression," despite years and years of similar cases, many of which were supported by the U.S. ("Bring" 6-7). In Z Magazine, Noam Chomsky claims that "[t]he similarities between Iraqi aggression in Kuwait and U.S. aggression in Panama are hard to miss" (19). He places the current conflict in the context of several decades of U.S. hypocrisy and double-standards, arguing that the reason the U.S. avoids diplomatic solutions is that diplomacy might uncover the double-standards and open up international debate over U.S.-supported policies in the region—"a disaster to be avoided, not an option to be explored" by U.S. leaders (27). In other words, Chomsky suspects that writers and audiences may in fact not share assumptions about what the "charismatic terms" really mean. Likewise, The Nation begins its first editorial on the conflict with the question, "Why does it sound so familiar?" ("Blood" 185). It goes on to develop a complete analogy between the Iraqi invasion and the U.S. engagement with Panama. These arguments from analogy are what Weaver would call "conservative" arguments: they stress the comparable nature of situations across time and space.
While The Progressive does argue from consequence against intervention based on the "human costs" involved, it also calls for democratic debate over the reasons for going to war—not just in the case of the Persian Gulf but in any case ("Bring" 8). It predicts that the "first casualty" of the Persian Gulf conflict will be the U.S. Constitution, which calls for congressional debate prior to any declaration of war ("Leash" 7). Both The Progressive and The Nation evoke the Constitution and the 1973 War Powers Act in their calls for debate ("Leash" 8, "Congress" 329). Their concern is with following constitutional procedures established in peacetime—which conforms to Weaver's preference for the establishment of general principles "in vacuo" prior to their application, via rhetoric, to pressing actualities (Ethics 21).
All three leftist magazines refer frequently to guiding principles. The Progressive aligns itself with defenders of "peace," "justice," "anti-militarism," and "anti-aggression" ("Bring" 8, "The Juggernaut" 10). Writing in Z, Stephen R. Shalom argues for "collective action," applying leftist principles in his call for increased international reliance on a democratized U.N. The principles of "peace" and "justice" will best be served, he says, by a binding system of international law (37). Finally, The Nation appeals to its readers to step back and consider defining principles:
Weaver maintains that recognizing differences in public rhetorics "has more than an academic interest" (Ethics 82). It's a first step toward a more honest and effective political system, one based on rhetorical education and understanding. Weaver complains that "many lame performances" arise in public affairs when widespread ignorance about rhetoric prevails in society (28). He argues, for example, that the Scopes Monkey Trial unfolded as it did on the basis of a central misunderstanding about "what the case was about" (53). Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution. The prosecution argued that in Tennessee the teaching of evolution was unlawful—which, according to a 1925 law, was correct. The defense argued that evolution should be taught because it was true—which, according to scientific evidence, was correct. The prosecution's argument was rooted in the abstract, applying an idea (the law) to a particular act (Scopes's teaching of evolution) (30). The defense's argument was rooted in the concrete, applying scientific evidence to the teaching of evolution (47). The prosecution's argument depended on an abstraction while the defense's argument depended on evidence. But the two sides never acknowledged that they were arguing at cross purposes, and, according to Weaver, nothing beneficial resulted from the trial: science appeared to be right, but was judged to be unlawful; the law appeared to be foolish, but was judged to be binding (53-54). In short, effective communication was missing from the trial.
This same kind of misunderstanding occurred in the arguments about the Persian Gulf War. The mainstream arguments are rooted in the facts surrounding the conflict, while the arguments from the left and right are rooted in political beliefs and abstract laws. The mainstream arguments invite discussion of the situation; the arguments from right and left invite discussion of politics and law. The one set of arguments is practical, the other philosophical. As a result, neither set makes much sense to the other; while the mainstream publications debate internally about troop strength and oil prices and changes in the weather, the "opposition" publications debate across ideological boundaries about war in general, about history, and about government and law. Sadly, as with the Scopes Monkey Trial, our society profited very little from the exercise: the practical arguments sprang only from the narrow band of moderate political perspective, and the philosophical arguments never found their way into the high-profile middle-realm of public discourse.
Outsider Rhetoric and Rhetorical Theory
A handful of communications scholars over the years have attempted to apply Weaver's framework to actual political discourse. For the most part, these scholars have resisted the ethical judgments that Weaver considered so important, concentrating instead on the relative effectiveness of the four kinds of argument Weaver identifies. Most recently, for example, Denise M. Bostdorff argues that political leaders use abstract arguments, such as those favored by Weaver, to "legitimize" policies that are ultimately based on cause-effect reasoning (17). When politicians insist on arguing more thoroughly from definition, or principle, as Jimmy Carter did during the Iran hostage crisis, they are not only rhetorically ineffective, but they are also perceived as politically passive and inert (22). In short, Bostdorff finds that pragmatism works, while idealism doesn't. Here, along with Weaver, I am more interested in discussing whether Weaver's analysis can help us understand the way different voices across the political spectrum use rhetoric to fulfill contrasting roles within a democracy.
First, the rhetorical affinities between left and right found in political magazines in the fall of 1990 suggest that we must distinguish, as Weaver does, between rhetorical "conservatism" and the political right-wing. Burke was a rhetorical liberal and a political conservative; writers in The Progressive, it turns out, are rhetorical conservatives and political liberals. In fact, the rhetoric surrounding the Persian Gulf conflict suggests that political extremists—from right and left—tend to share the idealistic, foundational, Platonic rhetoric that Weaver calls conservative. Moderates, or political "insiders," tend to use the pragmatic, relativistic, sophistic rhetoric that Weaver calls liberal. In the fall of 1990, mainstream debate over circumstances in the Persian Gulf led quickly to a pro-war position: practically speaking, we had very little to lose in fighting the Iraqis. A handful of mainstream arguments from circumstance and consequence did find reasons to oppose the war, but these reasons were soon dismissed by the majority of mainstream commentators. However, in the magazines cited here, not a single foundational argument—an argument from definition or analogy—favored the war in the Gulf. Idealistic, foundational rhetoric appears to have contributed to or even necessitated that opposition perspective. This suggests that foundational rhetoric might play an important oppositional role in our democracy.
Weaver prefers to associate "idealistic" thinking with conservatism, but he also claims that the key feature of any opposition party is to "display on occasion a sovereign contempt for circumstances," something that "radical parties of both right and left are capable of doing" (Ethics 76). Perhaps the appeal to ideals and other relatively stable sources of argument helps outsiders overcome their obvious lack of political clout. Perhaps it serves to legitimize them. Indeed, Sonja K. Foss has found that politicians campaigning for office typically appeal to political theory and the articulation of values—appeals that she associates with Weaver's "conservative" brand of rhetoric—in order to legitimize themselves and gain voter approval (368). On the other hand, Foss points out that politicians actually in office quickly alter their arguments to those based on consequence and circumstance— recognizing that arguments from genus, or definition, "[begin] to appear irrelevant to and out of place in the actual political reality" (371). Perhaps the opposition voices found in today's political magazines remain on the outside because of their relatively impractical approach to pressing issues; perhaps their foundational rhetoric holds them down. This might be especially true if rhetorically naive readers fail to distinguish between practical and philosophical arguments. When the mainstream is consumed with practical questions about an important crisis, phiolosophical arguments may appear to be impractical or irrelevant.
In any case, the frequent use of foundational rhetoric by both right-wing and left-wing writers suggests the need for current rhetoricians to reconsider the roles of both Platonic and sophistic rhetorics in a pluralist democracy. Foss argues that the campaigner's idealistic arguments serve an important role in defining political issues and appealing to voters, while the office-holder's practical rhetoric allow him or her to make pressing decisions (377). Perhaps something similar can be said of Platonic and sophistic rhetorics: Platonic rhetorics help writers and readers shape and maintain broad political ideas, even in the face of political crises, while sophistic rhetorics help writers and readers develop practical responses to those crises. What appears to be missing in most current rhetorical theory, which is clearly sophistic, is the acknowledgment that Platonic rhetoric has a place at all. Foss concludes that the office-holding politician's abandonment of idealistic arguments—while apparently necessary in a practical sense—often contributes to his or her loss of appeal to the voting public (377). Perhaps current rhetorical theory faces the same danger in focusing so much on the pragmatic and the contingent.
What's at stake is the place of dialectical, or philosophical, rhetoric in public affairs. Do we (can we? should we?) establish guiding principles and argue over their application to events that arise—and then use the events to sharpen, alter, or reject those principles? Or do we (must we?) respond to events as they come and do our best to achieve consensual plans which make sense at the time? As a Platonist, Weaver clearly favors the philosophy behind the first option. As a democrat, he favors the power of that option to foster the kinds of oppositional thinking needed in a pluralist society. From across the forty years since the publication of The Ethics of Rhetoric, Weaver challenges us to explore the possibilities of a Platonist, democratic rhetoric. He challenges us explain the connection between the "liberal" rhetoric we support in theory and its almost-exclusive use by the political mainstream. More important still, he challenges us to explain the lack of connection between the "liberal" rhetoric we support and the working rhetoric of leftist (and rightist) political writers.
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