This blog post engages in a case study — a rhetorical criticism — of an article that demonstrates widespread contemporary misuse and misunderstanding of the word “rhetoric” and why this misuse is culturally counterproductive and regressive.
Today I came across this article via my Google Alert for content using the key word “rhetoric”:
- Title: “Cities, not rhetoric, making America great by embracing change”
- Source: The Hill news website based in Washington DC, located on its blog, in the “Presidential campaign” section) Retrieved from http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/presidential-campaign/294221-cities-not-rhetoric-making-america-great-by
- Date: September 2, 2016
- Authors: Clarence Anthony and Brooks Rainwater, contributors.
Dear authors, I respect your aims and goals, but I take issue with what your headline is implying and perpetuating about “rhetoric.” Arguably cities (not rhetoric) are the focus of your article, but the article makes its point by assuming that cities do not use “rhetoric.”
I would like to challenge this assumption with broader and more positive definitions of rhetoric that date back to ancient Greece and Rome and were commonly accepted throughout Western history and culture … until relatively recently.
I ask you, how could “Cities” WITHOUT the aid of any “rhetoric,” make any nation great by embracing change?
I argue that it is illogical to imagine that it is possible to accomplish anything great as a community or leader without the aid of rhetoric.
Likewise, it is illogical for activists or writers or leaders to blame “rhetoric” for our ills while using rhetoric to advocate positive change.
Background to my analysis
It has long puzzled and irked me to see the word “rhetoric” dragged through the mud in popular discourse. Only recently have I come to the conclusion that this discourse is not merely annoying to rhetoricians like myself who care about retaining our historical rhetorical traditions … it is broadly pernicious to society, and I should put my foot down and say so.
I have just written a blog post called Let’s not slander Rhetorica about how many journalistic headlines today put “rhetoric” in a bad light and why this is a disturbing trend.
In a nutshell, this denigration and narrowing of the word “rhetoric” is damaging to society because it blinds us to the existence and necessity of good rhetoric, hinders us from honoring good rhetoric for its wisdom, artistry and appropriateness to occasion, and makes it seem socially, politically and economically unimportant to teach people how to practice good rhetoric. Continue reading