GOVT-425 Rhetorical Discourse and Democratic Theory
In this course we will explore the role of speech in a democracy by
examining the ways in which rhetorical discourse constitutes democratic
practice. Historically, democracy in America has always been a rhetorical
construction, complete with its own narrative thread, idioms, themes and
images. Many of these were informed by classical political theory, and so in
the first third of the course we will read parts of those works that deal
directly with speech, rhetoric, and politics—Thucydides’ Peloponnesian
War, Plato’s Republic and the Gorgias, Aristotle’s Politics and Rhetoric. At
the same time, we will read speeches from the early days of the American
republic, including the New England theocracy and speeches surrounding
the American revolution and the constitutional debates.
As American culture changed over time, however, so too did the
relationship between speech and politics. In the second third of the course we will read selections from modern and Enlightenment political theorists, such as J.S. Mill, Hobbes, and Tocqueville to explore the shifting meanings of speech and democratic practice. For this section of the course we will read speeches on the American Frontier, the rise of commercialism, and of course speeches about slavery and the civil war, including selections from Gary Wills' breathtaking book Lincoln at Gettysburg.
For the last third of the course we will look at contemporary political
theory’s treatment of discourse and democracy, with a special focus on
deliberation and citizenship. Here we will explore the important rhetorical
functions of critique and dissent, focusing on speeches and texts concerning
civil rights, economic freedoms, and other contentious political issues.
Political theory readings will be drawn from John Rawls, Iris Young,
Chantal Mouffe, Susan Bickford, Hannah Arendt and Richard Rorty.
Other academic years
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