Fall 2011

Political Rhetoric

Listed in: Classics, as CLAS-222  |  Political Science, as POSC-222


Andrew Poe (Section 01)
Christopher S. van den Berg (Section 01)


(Offered as POSC 222 [PT] and CLAS 222) Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, of using language--both written and oral--to convince others of one’s point of view. Yet many perceive such convincing as dangerous, especially to democracies where individual voice matters so much to politics. The line between persuasion and manipulation is not always clear, and the effects of crossing it can be incredibly corrosive. This course investigates the history and theory of political rhetoric. How and when should we be rhetorically persuasive? Which rhetorical techniques are persuasive and how do they operate? To what extent do rhetoric and persuasion determine our understanding of politics? When might persuasion prove dangerous to politics? This course revisits classical debates on the use and function of rhetoric in politics, as well as modern reflections on this tradition. The first section of the course addresses the thought of the three central figures in this debate--Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. In close engagement with key texts of the rhetorical tradition, our task will be to uncover precisely how ancient conceptions of rhetoric developed, exploring how rhetoric was viewed as both dangerous and necessary to successful governance.  Building on these models, the course will then examine more recent theoretical discussions, reflecting on the development of attitudes and ideas about the rhetorical craft in modern and contemporary political thought. These investigations allow us to discover the risks and rewards of persuasion for our own political lives.

Fall semester. Visiting Professor Poe and Professor van den Berg.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011