Rhetorical take on rhetoric

March 18, 2010

As teachers on the first MA in rhetoric in the UK, we found the picture of rhetoric presented in your article "Tony, George and Adolf's fighting talk" (11 March) seriously one-sided.

We welcome Nicholas O'Shaughnessy's call for "the renewal of interest in rhetoric both as a public and an academic study". Beginning with the picture of Hitler that headed the article, however, rhetoric was presented in an overwhelmingly negative light - associated with war, equated with propaganda and variously described as being "designed to frustrate clear thinking", "sabotag[ing] all rational public discourse" and "the amanuensis of genocide".

As these examples demonstrate, the irony is that the article inevitably resorted to rhetoric in running rhetoric down - inevitably, because all intentional communication seeks to persuade, influence or affect its audience in some way (as indeed does this letter).

It is true that O'Shaughnessy's inaugural lecture was on "The Abuse of Rhetoric", but a more balanced piece would have taken account of rhetoric's immense power for good as well as for evil - of Martin Luther King, for example, as well as Hitler. Rhetoric plays a central role in our lives, from advertising, marketing and public relations to law, media and politics, and from art, science and religion to our everyday personal relationships. That is precisely why it deserves to be restored to a central place in the curriculum.

Neil Foxlee and Johan Siebers, University of Central Lancashire.

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