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Toward a Civil Discourse

Toward a Civil Discourse: Rhetoric and Fundamentalism

SHARON CROWLEY
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hjng7
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    Toward a Civil Discourse
    Book Description:

    Toward a Civil Discourseexamines how, in the current political climate, Americans find it difficult to discuss civic issues frankly and openly with one another. Because America is dominated by two powerful discourses--liberalism and Christian fundamentalism, each of which paints a very different picture of America and its citizens' responsibilities toward their country-there is little common ground, and hence Americans avoid disagreement for fear of giving offence.

    Sharon Crowley considers the ancient art of rhetoric as a solution to the problems of repetition and condemnation that pervade American public discourse. Crowley recalls the historic rhetorical concept of stasis--where advocates in a debate agree upon the point on which they disagree, thereby recognizing their opponent as a person with a viable position or belief. Most contemporary arguments do not reach stasis, and without it, Crowley states, a nonviolent resolution cannot occur.

    Toward a Civil Discourseinvestigates the cultural factors that lead to the formation of beliefs, and how beliefs can develop into densely articulated systems and political activism. Crowley asserts that rhetorical invention (which includes appeals to values and the passions) is superior in some cases to liberal argument (which often limits its appeals to empirical fact and reasoning) in mediating disagreements where participants are primarily motivated by a moral or passionate commitment to beliefs.

    Sharon Crowley examines numerous current issues and opposing views, and discusses the consequences to society when, more often than not, argumentative exchange does not occur. She underscores the urgency of developing a civil discourse, and through a review of historic rhetoric and its modern application, provides a foundation for such a discourse-whose ultimate goal, in the tradition of the ancients, is democratic discussion of civic issues.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7300-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. 1 ON (NOT) ARGUING ABOUT RELIGION AND POLITICS
    (pp. 1-23)

    In the spring of 2003, during the American invasion of Iraq, my friend Michael attended a peace vigil. As he stood quietly on a street corner with other participants, a young man leaped very close to his face and screamed: “Traitor! Why don’t you go to Iraq and suck Saddam’s dick?” Michael was taken aback by the vehemence with which the insult was delivered as much as by its indelicacy. Why, he asked, does disagreement make some people so angry?

    This is and is not a rhetorical question. That is to say, it is a question about rhetoric, and the...

  2. 2 SPEAKING OF RHETORIC
    (pp. 24-57)

    Rhetoric is a very old art. Conceivably its practice began when human beings learned to talk, and surely when they discovered differences of opinion. Theories of rhetoric developed in the West as early as the sixth century bce, and rhetoric was studied in Western schools from ancient times through the Renaissance. Throughout this long period it was taught to men (and on rare occasions women) who were positioned to become leaders in their communities. Rhetoric is useful to communities because those who practice it—here called “rhetors”—can find ways to alleviate disagreement; those who study it—here called “rhetoricians”—...

  3. 3 BELIEF AND PASSIONATE COMMITMENT
    (pp. 58-101)

    According to Cicero, rhetoric has three goals: “the proof of our allegations, the winning of our hearers’ favor, and the rousing of their feelings to whatever impulse our case may require” (De OratoreII.115). This list of objectives, which were called the “offices” or “duties” of rhetoric by medieval and Renaissance rhetoricians, was interpreted by them to mean that the aims of rhetoric are to teach, to delight, and to move (Vickers 50). This formulation allowed rhetoric teachers to establish a hierarchy of preferred genres, with eloquence (movere) ranking as the highest rhetorical endeavor because it is the most demanding....

  4. 4 APOCALYPTISM
    (pp. 102-132)

    In the fall of 2003 I borrowed an audiotape of a novel entitledLeft Behindfrom my local library, thinking it was similar to the other light fiction I often listen to while commuting. What I heard stunned me. While waiting for class to begin one day, I mentioned to some graduate students that I was listening to a frightening narrative involving mass disappearances, earthquakes, firestorms, and the general collapse of civilization. The students recognized the tale immediately. One picked up its thread while others joined in, and they recited the entire narrative of the apocalypse: from the Rapture, when...

  5. 5 IDEAS DO HAVE CONSEQUENCES: Apocalyptism and the Christian Right
    (pp. 133-164)

    In the election of 2004 ballots in eleven states featured initiatives to deny marriage and other civil rights to gays. As I watched the election returns, I saw relatively early in the evening that these initiatives had passed in all of the states considering them. I knew then that the Republican party would win the presidency even though all the votes cast for national offices would not be counted for some time. For a brief moment I wondered whether I needed to continue working on this chapter, the burden of which is to establish a link between apocalyptic theology and...

  6. 6 THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Apocalyptism and Conspiracy
    (pp. 165-188)

    Lee Quinby recommends a Foucauldian brand of skepticism as an antidote to apocalyptic thinking. This brand of skepticism “encourages analysis of how truths are culturally established and embodied as experience. Millennial skepticism specifically questions truth claims that are authorized through faith alone” (Millennial8). This approach challenges the situation of apocalyptist belief in a supernatural foundation, pointing up its contingency and confronting the ways in which “the empirical claims of these various sources of authority are framed, looking to their historical constitution to track the relations of power and the cultural conditions that built such edifices of knowledge” (Millennial8)....

  7. 7 HOW BELIEFS CHANGE
    (pp. 189-202)

    InThe Trouble with PrincipleStanley Fish tells the story of a Klansman who rejected Klan ideology. The change occurred when the Klansman heard a leader of the group say that upon its assumption of power “defectives of a variety of kinds would be put into special colonies or otherwise dealt with. This … point was accompanied by a list of defectives, and among those named were persons with cleft palates. It so happened that the daughter of the once, and now instantly former, white supremacist was herself afflicted by that condition” (282). Fish points out that this moment could...