Chapter published in:Argumentation across Communities of Practice: Multi-disciplinary perspectives
Edited by Cornelia Ilie and Giuliana Garzone
[Argumentation in Context 10] 2017
► pp. 99–125
Reason and passion in political rhetoric
The case of Louise Michel’s (1830–1905) revolutionary discourse
The central question, which I wish to answer with the help of the following case study in political rhetoric, can be formulated as follows: Can Louise Michel’s revolutionary rhetoric successfully combine reason (logos), character (ethos) and passion (pathos)? Michel’s revolutionary rhetoric is part of a long tradition of outstanding written and/or spoken freedom discourse. Moreover, it is an example of how an individual speaker adapts to and/or modifies existing preconditions and conventions within the genres of deliberation (communicative activity types within this genre: e.g. political speech, political essay, plenary debate) and adjudication (communicative activity types within this genre: e.g. court proceedings, arbitration; cf. van Eemeren, 2010, p. 143).In order to explore the general historical background of Michel’s speech, I first briefly summarize the philosophical discussion of the concept of „freedom“. After that, the central question will be tentatively answered on the basis of the classical Aristotelian trichotomy of logos, ethos and pathos. Louise Michel has been praised for her extraordinary courage, altruistic attitude and relentless energy. So there is no doubt that her ethos had a considerable impact on her rhetorical success. She was also highly efficient as far as the arousal of strong emotions in her audience is concerned (pathos).Less attention has been paid to Michel’s anarchist arguments (logos) and their verbal presentation. In this paper, some of the most important arguments to be found in her political speeches and articles will be analysed and critically evaluated. Moreover, Michel’s verbal presentation techniques will be described.Apart from the Aristotelian concepts of logos, ethos and pathos, Critical Discourse Analysis (cf. Fairclough & Fairclough, 2012) and Pragma-Dialectics, especially van Eemeren’s (2010, p. 40) elaboration of the concept of “strategic maneuvering” and its adaptation to the context of political rhetoric (cf. van Eemeren & Garssen, 2012), will be taken as a theoretical starting point. I conclude that Michel only partially succeeds in combining rhetorical efficiency with standards of rational argumentation. All in all, however, her political discourse has to be taken seriously.
Published online: 02 November 2017
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