The Prophetic Tradition and Radical Rhetoric in America

The Prophetic Tradition and Radical Rhetoric in America

James Darsey
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    The Prophetic Tradition and Radical Rhetoric in America
    Book Description:

    This expansive volume traces the rhetoric of reform across American history, examining such pivotal periods as the American Revolution, slavery, McCarthyism, and today's gay liberation movement. At a time when social movements led by religious leaders, from Louis Farrakhan to Pat Buchanan, are playing a central role in American politics, James Darsey connects this radical tradition with its prophetic roots.Public discourse in the West is derived from the Greek principles of civility, diplomacy, compromise, and negotiation. On this model, radical speech is often taken to be a sympton of social disorder. Not so, contends Darsey, who argues that the rhetoric of reform in America represents the continuation of a tradition separate from the commonly accepted principles of the Greeks. Though the links have gone unrecognized, the American radical tradition stems not from Aristotle, he maintains, but from the prophets of the Hebrew Bible.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2098-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Radical Rhetoric and American Community: Threnody for Sophrosyne
    (pp. 1-12)

    On May 2, 1996, Billy and Ruth Graham were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. In remarks entitled “The Hope for America,” the Reverend Graham looked backward to George Washington, the first recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal, and forward to the “Third Millennium.” Though a message of hope, Graham’s short speech was full of the darkness of the moment:

    racial and ethnic tensions that threaten to rip apart our cities and neighborhoods; crime and violence of epidemic proportions in most of our cities; children taking weapons to school; broken families; poverty; drugs; teenage pregnancy; corruption; the list is almost endless....

  5. Part I
    • 2 Old Testament Prophecy as Radical Ursprach
      (pp. 15-34)

      In his treatise on rhetoric, Aristotle identified three modes of persuasion “furnished by the spoken word: … The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself.”¹ Though terms have changed, been altered, modernized, and extended, these three modes of proof, in one guise or another, still define much of the research agenda in communication studies and rhetoric. Certainly any rudimentary theory of rhetoric needs to incorporate them.

      Though the study...

    • 3 Prophecy as Sacred Truth: Self-Evidence and Righteousness in the American Revolution
      (pp. 35-60)

      In 1764, Stephen Hopkins in “An Essay on the Trade of the Northern Colonies” abjured resistance to current laws limiting American trade, averring to his countrymen that “their whole expectations of relief, depend altogether on a proper application to the British legislature.” With this appeal, Hopkins reveals a colonist’s faith in “a King who delights in doing good to all his subjects; to a peerage, wise and accurate, guided by the principles of honor and beneficence; and to a representative body penetrating and prudent, who consider the good of the whole, and make that the measure of their public resolves.”¹...

    • 4 Prophecy as Krisis: Wendell Phillips and the Sin of Slavery
      (pp. 61-84)

      Wendell Phillips’s most recent biographer, James Stewart, holds Phillips to have been “Civil War America’s greatest and most radical orator.”¹ This is no small praise, given the oratorical giants who occupied America’s podiums and pulpits during Phillips’s day — men like Daniel Webster, Edward Everett, Lyman Beecher, and Henry Clay—but Stewart is far from alone in his assessment. Critical opinion from Phillips’s day to our own has almost universally afforded the “brahmin radical” a place among America’s premier speakers.² His single run for the governorship of Massachusetts aside, Phillips eschewed the bureaucratic authority of political office and made the...

    • 5 The Prophet’s Call and His Burden: The Passion of Eugene V. Debs
      (pp. 85-108)

      Ethosstands at the center of this study, as it should. The reception of any truths, the perception of the legitimacy of any crisis, depends on a sense of the authenticity of the speaker’s commitment. Kenneth Burke would have recognized here a problem of motive, particularly that moment at which motive intersects with authority.¹ Authorship must, in the case of the prophet, rest with God. The unity ofethosandlogoscomes about in the prophet’s definition as servant to the message. I. A. Richards’s idea that “to be sincere is to act, feel and think in accordance with ‘one’s...

  6. Part II
    • 6 The Word in Darkness
      (pp. 111-127)

      Among the ways that prophetic rhetoric distinguishes itself from the Graeco-Roman model is its transgression of classical genres. As the law in ancient Hebrew culture was given, the deliberative function of prophecy may be truncated. Still, there is a strong element of future concern, characteristic of deliberation, of the consequences of adhering or not adhering to the law, and therîbpattern at the center of prophecy provides a clear judicial element. But even more essential than this judicial function, it might be argued, is the epideictic function of prophecy, not only in the celebration and encouragement of common values,...

    • 7 A Vision of the Apocalypse: Joe McCarthy’s Rhetoric of the Fantastic
      (pp. 128-150)

      In his time, Joe McCarthy was hailed at the most gifted demagogue ever produced in America.¹ Now, more than forty years after his censure by his colleagues in the United States Senate, the man and the phenomenon still cast a pall over political discussion in America. The name of the great smear campaigner has, in recent years, been hurled at those whom we wished to discredit and used by the discredited to suggest the injustice of their trial. Jeremiah Denton was compared to “that ultimate American witch-hunter, the late Joe McCarthy,” and Kurt Waldheim, after charges were raised regarding his...

    • 8 Prophecy as Poetry: The Romantic Vision of Robert Welch
      (pp. 151-174)

      From the time of its founding in 1958 until the mid-1960s, the John Birch Society and its founder Robert Welch were the most prominent features in the landscape of the political far right in America. Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab suggest that Welch and his organization “took the center of the right-wing stage in America for close to a decade,”¹ and Benjamin Epstein and Arnold Forster termed the John Birch Society the “spearhead of the Radical Right movement.”²

      Granting these assessments, it must still be remembered that Welch never achieved anything like the influence that Joe McCarthy, often seen...

    • 9 Secular Argument and the Language of Commodity: Gay Liberation and Merely Civil Rights
      (pp. 175-198)

      It is in the post—World War II, postmodern world that the movement for homophile liberation in America first made its appearance. Only since 1948 has there been a sustained effort on behalf of gay and lesbian rights in the United States. Such a movement had to await the dissolution in the postwar period of various sources of authority, sources of authority that had supported an ideology puissant enough to secure the denigration of the homosexual self. Indeed, according to the most commonly told version of the story, it was not until 1969 that homosexuals in the United States rallied...

    • 10 The Seraph and the Snake
      (pp. 199-210)

      It is commonly argued that America has no genuine radical tradition, that its remarkably nonideological politics precludes the kinds of commitment and enthusiasm characteristic of politics in Europe. With its independence secured in a revolution widely held to have been conservative, America has been stubbornly resistant to various kinds of socialism and sweeping and zealous reform.¹

      But “radical” is one of those terms that threatens to disintegrate from casual overuse. Depending on one’s politics and one’s position, radicalism is either something to which one eagerly aspires or a term of severest censure. It is both a term of praise and...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 211-268)
  8. Index
    (pp. 269-280)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 281-281)