They’ll be coming for Aristotle soon

A reader discovers why rhetoric is no longer taught in schools and universities:

Thanks to your writings on the topic, I’ve started to understand much more about the role of rhetoric and dialectic in communication.  I’m currently reading The Ethics of Rhetoric by Richard Weaver and came across this brilliant passage about practitioners of “base rhetoric,” which he defines as “speech which influences us in the direction of what is evil.”

Examples of this kind of contrivance occur on every hand in the impassioned language of journalism and political pleading.  In the world of affairs which these seek to influence, the many are kept in a state of pupillage so that they will be most docile to their “lovers.”  The techniques of the base lover, especially as exemplified in modern journalism, would make a long catalogue, but in general it is accurate to say that he seeks to keep the understanding in a passive state by never permitting an honest examination of the alternatives.  Nothing is more feared by him than a true dialectic, for this not only endangers his favored alternative, but also gives the “beloved”…some training in intellectual independence.

What he does therefore is dress up one alternative in all the cheap finery of immediate hopes and fears, knowing that if he can thus prevent a masculine exercise of imagination and will he can have his way.  By discussing only one side of an issue, by mentioning cause without consequence or consequence without cause, acts without agents or agents without agency, he often successfully blocks definition and cause-and-effect reasoning.  In this way his choices are arrayed in such meretricious images that one can quickly infer the juvenile mind which they would attract.  Of course the base rhetorician today, with his vastly augmented power of propagation, has means of deluding which no ancient rhetor in forum or marketplace could have imagined.

It’s amazing how even a basic understanding of this subject allows one a much more precise and clear view of the world; frauds, charlatans, and wizards are readily identifiable.  I suppose that’s why it isn’t taught in public schools.

Actually, I tend to disagree with the assertion that the true dialectician is the base rhetorician’s greatest fear. Understanding and utilizing dialectic is good. But understanding and utilizing both dialectic and rhetoric is better, because while the dialectician has the ability to see through the base rhetoric, the true rhetorician has the ability to understand, confront, and publicly defeat it.