Below is a working draft of my course in political rhetoric. The course starts with the question of whether or not the “art of politics” can (or should) be taught, and ends with case studies. The case studies change depending on student interest and what’s in the news. The final exam is a political puzzle based on a local controversy in an imaginary small town to which the student retires after a long and successful career in Washington politics – the exam is legitimately fun.
I have removed the GW specific bits from the below.
Modern Political Communication and Rhetoric
Instructor: Peter Loge
“The world is still in want of clear-headed citizens, tempered by historical perspective, disciplined by rational thinking and moral compass, who speak well and write plainly.”
- Lee Pelton, President of Emerson College
Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the art of discovering all the available means of persuasion in a given situation.” In this course we will look at both theories of persuasion – how people are led to the political conclusions they reach – and the application of those theories to current political debates.
Learning Objectives and Outcomes
In this course you will learn what you come to learn. You will learn prudence in affairs private as well as public; you will learn to order your own house in the best manner, and you will be able to speak and act for the best in the affairs of the state. In other words, you will learn the art of politics.
Specifically students will be able to:
Critically analyze political speeches and other types of persuasive communication using theories of rhetoric, argumentation and persuasion
Comprehend and articulate key theories of rhetoric, argumentation and persuasion
Understand the types of rhetoric used in specific political contexts
Construct a successful persuasive appeal
Write a research paper and short essays
Engage in critical conversation
The syllabus is a work in progress – you can count on additional readings being assigned and conversations taking unexpected directions. Deadlines, however, are unlikely to change and no late papers will be accepted.
All papers should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four Essays: 10% each (total: 40%)
Final Exam: 20%
Final Paper: 30%
To get an “A,” one must rise to the occasion; “A” work is exceptionally insightful, brings a new perspective, or otherwise exceeds the already expected high standards of your work.
A “B” is for those who get everything correct – no spelling or grammatical errors, strong reasoning and evidence supporting the arguments, properly citing outside sources, and tackling interesting topics.
A grade of “C” (or lower) is for those who fall below the high level of intellect, interest and scholarship I assume you bring to the class. “C” work is characterized by poor spelling and grammar, unsupported assertions, and a lack of attention to detail.
Grades of “D” and “F” are reserved for those whose work is non-existent, has excessive errors, does not cite outside sources, or is argumentatively deeply flawed.
You will be required to write four short essays. They should be no longer than 500 words. I will stop reading at the 500th word, and grade you only on what I’ve read to that point. No late papers will be accepted.
Essay #1 is due at the start class on January 27. You should address the thics of teaching rhetoric.
Essay #2 is due February 17. You should use one of the course readings to explain Biden’s inaugural address.
Essay #3 is due March 10. You should write a rhetorical analysis of a political artifact (speech, commercial, etc.) of your choosing.
Essay #4 is due March 31. You should write a rhetorical analysis of a political artifact (speech, commercial, etc.) of your choosing.
Your final paper is due on April 21 at 6:10pm ET. In it you should take a theory or model of argument, persuasion or rhetoric and apply it to a piece of political persuasion. The model may come from class readings, but doesn’t have to. The object of analysis can be a speech, commercial, film, or any other attempt to engage in political persuasion. The goal of the paper is to explain the success, failure, or impact of an attempt to persuade using an analytic tool.
Generally these papers should be between 15 and 25 pages long. I expect these papers to be top quality, that you will footnote your claims, cite your works, and that there will be no grammatical or spelling errors. You should strive for the approach and quality of the academic journal articles we will be reading throughout the semester.
I encourage you to begin thinking about your final papers early in the semester and to consult with me along the way. I am willing to read drafts, look at outlines, talk about ideas, and so forth. Your lack of foresight, failure to anticipate a busy end of semester or otherwise prepare for things to go wrong at the last minute, are not my problem.
Your papers will be graded on how completely you have considered the material and the coherence and completeness of your argument. Exceptional papers successfully tackle a new, tricky, or unexpected angle.
The final exam will be a take-home (or more accurately, stay-where-you-are). You will likely be given a hypothetical political problem and be asked to solve it using what you have learned during the semester.
You are expected to constructively add to the conversation, which means you should do, think about, and be prepared to talk about the readings. You are also expected to pay attention to the political world around you, think about it in terms of the course, and bring those insights to class. You should have ideas and opinions, and be able to defend them. Good participants listen well, don’t jump in at every opportunity, encourage others to speak, and help facilitate a robust conversation.
You may also be called on, whether or not you volunteer. And, of course, you will be expected to answer the question and defend your position.
You will not be rewarded for just talking a lot.
You should own and read On Writing Well by William Zinsser. We will never talk about this book in class, but everyone who writes (as you are required to do in this course, and will be in your professional lives) should read this book. You would also do well to own and read Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Other readings are outlined in the course schedule below. In addition, I may email articles or essays during the week that strike me as interesting – you should read and be prepared to discuss those as well.
You will note that there is a lot more on Blackboard than there is on the syllabus. The additional readings are leftover from previous versions of the course – some of you might find some of the material interesting.
You have several ethical responsibilities in this course. This is a small group, in a small space, for several hours at a time, for 13 or so weeks. For this endeavor to work for all of us, each of us needs to do the readings and think about them. We must respect each other’s positions on the readings, and honor intellectual experiments (the “what if….” positions); that means people should be willing and able to change their minds, to defend their positions, and challenge the positions of others. Critically, one should never confuse an argument with the person making the argument – positions are not people. This means you should not attack people, only their claims and do so based on reasoning rather than ad hominem. Similarly, you should defend your positions as if they were ideas to be kicked around, not children to be protected.
Cheating and plagiarizing are not acceptable. They will be punished to the greatest extent permitted by The George Washington University policy. All exams, papers, and other work products are to be completed in conformance with The George Washington University Code of Academic Integrity.
I work from the premise that you’re all adults.
I don’t take attendance, but I expect you to attend class and participate in discussions. You are responsible for everything that happens in class. If you miss a session, you should find a colleague from whom to get notes, readings, etc.
There may be guest speakers, and the schedule of readings and discussion may change.
Jan 13 Intro to course/Lecture
Jan 20 NO CLASS
Jan 27 Is it wrong to try to teach the art of politics?
“Gorgias” by Plato. Available at http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/gorgias.html and elsewhere.
You might also check out https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-rhetoric/ and this podcast https://historyofphilosophy.net/plato-gorgias
Feb 3 First Essay Due – Is it wrong to try to teach the art of politics?
It’s all warmed-over Aristotle
Aristotle’s Rhetoric Book I, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and Book II, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 available at http://rhetoric.eserver.org/aristotle/ and elsewhere.
This podcast is worth 20 minutes https://historyofphilosophy.net/aristotle-rhetoric-poetics
Feb 10 Truth plus its artful presentation – Weaver
Excerpts from Richard Weaver on Blackboard
“Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate: Moral Clarity Tempered by Pragmatism,” Roland, Robert C. and John M. Jones Rhetoric and Public Affairs Vol 9 No 1 2006
Feb 17 Second Essay Due: Use one of the course readings to explain Biden’s inaugural address.
I am one of you – Burke
Excerpts from A Grammar of Motives and Language as Symbolic Action Kenneth Burke on Blackboard
“The Rhetoric of Identification and the Study of Organizational Communication”, George Cheney, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol 69, 1983, pp 143 – 158
“The Making of the Speech” DT Max, New York Times Magazine, Oct 7, 2001
Feb 24 A rhetorical vision – Bormann
Excerpts from Bormann on Blackbaord
“An expansion of the rhetorical vision component of the symbolic convergence theory: The cold war paradigm case”, Ernest G. Bormann, John F Cragan, and Donald C. Shields, Communication Monographs, March 1996. Vol 63 Issue 1, p.1.
March 3 The People is not the plural of a person
“In Search of the People: A Rhetorical Alternative” Michael McGee Quarterly Journal of Speech, October 1975 Vol 61 No 3
“Rhetorical Theory and the Critique of National Identity Construction,” M. Lane Bruner National Identities Vol 7 No 3, Sept 2005
“Rhetorical studies and national identity construction,” M. Lane Bruner National Identities Vol 13 No 4, Dec 2011
March 10 Third Essay Due: Write a rhetorical analysis of a political artifact (speech, commercial, etc.) of your choosing.
A rhetorical nation
“Civil Religion in America” by Robert Bellah, Deadalus, Vol. 96 No. 1, Winter 1967 (reprinted Vol 117, No 3, Summer 1988)
“Tocqueville and the rhetoric of civil religion in the presidential inaugural addresses” by Michael E Bailey, Kristin Lindholm, Christian Scholar’s Review Spring 2003
“Constituting ‘the People’ as Rhetorical Interruption: Barack Obama and the Unfinished Hopes of an Imperfect People” Communication Studies Vol 61 No 5, Nov/Dec 2010
March 17 NO CLASS – SPRING BREAK
March 24 Narrative
“Telling America’s Story: Narrative Form and the Reagan Presidency.” By: Lewis, William F. Quarterly Journal of Speech, Aug 87, Vol. 73
“Deep stories, nostalgia narratives, and fake news: Storytelling in the Trump era,” Francesca Polletta and Jessica Callahan, American Journal of Cultural Sociology (2017)
March 31 Fourth Essay Due: Write a rhetorical analysis of a political artifact (speech, commercial, etc.) of your choosing.
“(Re)-Signing Reconciliation: Reading Obama’s Charleston Eulogy through a Rhetorical Theory of Adaptive Racism” Mark Lawrence McPhail Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Volume 23, Number 3, Fall 2020
“The Complicity of Racial and Rhetorical Pessimism: The Coherence and Promise of the Long Civil Rights Movement” David A. Frank Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Volume 23, Number 3, Fall 2020
“’Childish Things’: Tragic Conservatism, White Evangelicalism, and The Challenge of Racial Reconciliation John B. Hatch Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Volume 23, Number 3, Fall 2020
April 7 Populism
“The Populist Chameleon: The People’s Party, Huey Long, George Wallace, and the Populist Argumentative Frame,” Michael J Lee, Quarterly Journal of Speech Vol 92, No 4, Nov. 2006
“Trump and American Populism: Old Whine, New Bottles,” Michael Kazin, Foreign Affairs, 2016
April 14 Rhetoric of Science
April 21 FINAL PAPER DUE: NO LATE PAPERS WILL BE ACCEPTED