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Life Arts    H3'ed 10/18/21

Yale's Bryan Garsten in Defense of Rhetoric (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) October 18, 2021: On October 1, 2021, I read Yale's political scientist Bryan Garsten's guest op-ed essay "How to Protect America From the Next Donald Trump: The Constitution is supposed to protect us from demagogues. Can we make it work again?" in the New York Times (dated November 9, 2020):

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At the end of Garsten's guest op-ed essay, he is identified as the author of the 2006 book Saving Persuasion: A Defense of Rhetoric and Judgment (Harvard University Press). Yes, to be sure, Garsten discusses demagogues and demagogy (for specific pages references, see the "Index" [page 271]). Because I had long been interested in the history and theory of rhetoric, I decided that I should take a look at his 2006 book.

Simply stated, the history and theory of rhetoric is not as prestigious as certain other fields of study in the prestige culture in academia, evidently because the practice of political rhetoric invariably involves emotion and passion - used in an effort to move people to action (or to taking a certain political position). By contrast, philosophical dialectic is usually imagined to be more contemplative and detached, even supposedly in appeals to take a certain philosophical position.

Long ago, Aristotle referred to certain appeals in rhetoric (to logos, ethos, and pathos). In my estimate, it is wise to see these same three appeals at work in philosophical dialectic.

In any event, the tendency to see the three appeals identified by Aristotle as being at work only in public political and rhetorical debate surely requires us to work with a more holistic account of emotions and passions in the human person, which is the task that Garsten addresses in his learned 2006 book.

Now, in Walter Jost's 1989 book Rhetorical Thought in John Henry Newman (University of South Carolina Press), he quotes Newman as saying that "'the whole man moves'" (quoted on page 127). The quote comes from Newman's 1864 famous book Apologia Pro Vita Sua. So, in context, Newman is referring to himself personally. But we may interpret him as making a generally applicable point that the whole person moves.

Now, as a result of my longstanding interest in the history and theory of rhetoric, I was familiar with Barbara Koziak's 2000 book Retrieving Political Emotion: Thumos , Aristotle, and Gender (Pennsylvania State University Press). Her main title does not mean that political emotion now somehow needs to be retrieved in the actual practice of debate in our American experiment in democratic government - as though it has somehow been lost, because it has not been lost in the American practice of debate. So what exactly needs to be retrieved? In the somewhat narrowly circumscribed realm of contemporary political theory in the academic specialty known as political science, it seemed to Koziak that a theory of political emotion needed to be retrieved from Aristotle.

In any event, Yale's political scientist Bryan Garsten also sets out in his 2006 book Saving Persuasion: A Defense of Rhetoric and Judgment to articulate a theory of political emotion in the academic specialty of political science.

Now, Aristotle and his teacher Plato lived and wrote about rhetoric during the experiment in limited (to male citizens) participatory democracy in Athens - the ancient ancestor of our American experiment in representative democracy. Cicero lived and wrote about rhetoric in ancient Rome - and the ancient Roman Republic is also an ancient ancestor of our American Republic. Consequently, Garsten frequently refers to Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero (see the "Index" for specific page references to Plato [page 274], Aristotle [page 269], and Cicero [page 270] - and for emotions [page 271] and passions [page 274]).

However, Garsten centers his attention on the modern period - roughly the period after the Gutenberg printing press emerged in the mid-1450s - concentrating most heavily on Hobbes, Kant, and Rousseau (see the "Index" for specific page references to Hobbes [page 272], Kant [page 273], and Rousseau [page 275]).

As Garsten builds up his climactic argument in Chapter 6: Persuasion and Deliberation (pages 174-214), Habermas and Rawls emerge as significant discussion partners (for specific page references, see the "Index" For Habermas [page 272] and Rawls [page 275]).

Incidentally, in Garsten's "Bibliography" (page 257), he lists Habermas' pioneering study of the print culture that emerged after the emergence of the Gutenberg printing press in the mid-1450s, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, translated by Thomas Burger with the assistance of Frederick Lawrence (MIT Press, 1999; orig. German ed. 1962).

For further discussion of Habermas, see William Rehg's two books:

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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