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Taking the Inward Journey: Prophetic Rhetoric's Listening Function



What I would like to do in this essay is to turn my attention to what I call prophetic rhetoric’s listening function. In other words, how does the prophet know what the prophet declares? How does the prophet know that God is calling the prophet to do the work of God? How does the prophet know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it? How does the prophet know when a rebirthing moment is taking place? How does the prophet get this revelation and thereby become empowered to share this “new” vision of the deity with society? I argue that, before the prophet speaks or offers a prophetic witness, the prophet must do work. All prophets must engage in what Elizabeth O’Connor calls the “inward journey.” For her, the inward journey is composed of three elements: the engagement with self, the engagement with God, and the engagement with the other. However, the inward journey can only start when we enter a space of deep silence, which leads to what I call prophetic listening. It is with this type of listening that the prophet begins to create ethos that ultimately leads to logos.
Andre E. Johnson
Since James Darsey’s foundational text,
The Prophetic Tradition and Radical
Rhetoric in America
, many rhetorical scholars have turned their attention to the
prophetic tradition to study and examine prophetic rhetoric.1 Many of these studies
however center on discourse. For instance, my own work on prophetic rhetoric has been
heavily logos-driven. I have been more concerned with how one identifies prophetic
rhetoric. Instead of identifying who is and who is not a prophet, my aim has been to
identify whether or not a rhetor adopted a prophetic persona. I have also been
concerned with the whiteness of the field, therefore framing much of my study of the
tradition within the African American variety.2
However, after rereading what Thomas Fuerst calls Martin Luther King’s “kitchen
table epiphany” (in this special issue), I began to look at prophetic rhetoric again. While a
student in graduate school, I presented a paper at the National Communication
Association that centered on listening and prophetic rhetoric. Drawing from Darsey’s
contention that “at the center of prophetic rhetoric is the prophetic ethos,” I contended
that one could not separate the rhetoric from the prophet.3 The rhetoric itself starts with
the prophet’s knowledge of self and understanding of vocation. In other words, what
produces the rhetoric is the prophet’s understanding of who the prophet is and whom the
prophet ultimately serves. Therefore, I reasoned that studying any piece of prophetic
rhetoric affects how we analyze and examine the discourse. Thus, one cannot separate the
rhetoric from the prophet or from the conditions that compelled the prophet to speak.
Moreover, this is not something that the prophet seeks, but is more of a burden. It
is a struggle in which the prophet wrestles with God until the prophet resigns to the call
and to the will of God, which only God has placed upon the prophet’s life. Once this
happens, the prophet is “completely subjugated to the will of God.”4
In order to submit to the will of God, the prophet must have a re-birthing experience.
However, this experience is more than some feel-good, fleeting feeling. It is an experience
that ultimately leads to a profound encounter with God that radically changes the prophet’s
life. Darsey, writing about this rebirthing process of the prophet states:
Taking the Inward Journey
All the prophets had such an experience, which served to impose a new teleology on their
lives…Applied to the prophet, rebirth is a mechanism for overcoming the anxiety of chaos by the
complete subordination of the self to the divine will; the prophet exchanges self for certitude, the
absolute negation of chaos. It is from this position that the prophet makes [the prophet’s] criticism
of [the] society; the prophet stands as a synecdochal realization of God’s will.5
Further, Darsey writes:
The reception of any truths, the perception of the legitimacy of any crisis, depends on a sense
of the authenticity of the speaker’s commitment…Authorship must, in the case of the
prophet, rest with God. The unity of ethos and logos comes about in the prophet’s definition
as servant to the message. I. A. Richards’ idea that “to be sincere is to act, feel and think in
accordance to one’s true nature” is illuminating in this context. The prophet’s sincerity
derives from the abolition of personal motive, from abnegation, so that “one’s true nature”
becomes synonymous with the divine message and one’s pathos with the divine pathos.6
Therefore, for Darsey the “prophetic commission is one of service, and consistent
with a character of servitude, indebtedness to the gift, the message of the prophet must
bear continuing testimony to his or her helplessness and loss of self, particularly self-
conceived as a rational, calculating faculty. Through the effacement of the self, the
prophet strives to present the uncolored vision of the divine.”7
What I would like to do in this essay is to turn my attention to what I call prophetic
rhetoric’s listening function. In other words, how does the prophet know what the
prophet declares? How does the prophet know that God is calling the prophet to do the
work of God? How does the prophet know what to say, when to say it, and how to say
it? How does the prophet know when a rebirthing moment is taking place? How does
the prophet get this revelation and thereby become empowered to share this “new”
vision of the deity with society?
I argue that, before the prophet speaks or offers a prophetic witness, the prophet
must do work. All prophets must engage in what Elizabeth O’Connor calls the “inward
journey.”8 For her, the inward journey is composed of three elements: the engagement
with self, the engagement with God, and the engagement with the other. However, the
inward journey can only start when we enter a space of deep silence, which leads to what
I call prophetic listening. It is with this type of listening that the prophet begins to create
ethos that ultimately leads to logos.
As mentioned earlier, much of prophetic rhetoric scholarship and, indeed, much
of traditional rhetorical scholarship has focused on the spoken word instead of on
listening or on the engagement in silence. One reason for this lack of interest in listening
has been the importance of discovering and/or rediscovering suppressed and oppressed
voices in society. Society has suppressed and oppressed voices from “full dialogic
participation” and “sought to be recognized and heard within the public sphere.”9 Thus,
more emphasis has been placed on
finding one’s voice
Another reason why listening has been in what Welton calls the “theoretical
basement,”10 is because of our traditional Western approaches and theories. The classical
theories that have grounded our concept of communication have regulated listening at best
secondary while focusing primarily on the speaker and persuading an audience. Ratcliffe
offers an example of this when she mentions that by reading Aristotle’s
will learn how to produce enthymemes and how to analyze them, but not how to listen.11
However, maybe the reason lies in the meaning of speaking and listening that
originated from the beginning. Gemma Corradi Fiumara, in her book
The Other Side
of Language: A Philosophy of Listening
, notes how the Greek word
(speech) has
found a residence in our way of thinking about communication and how
hearing) has somehow disappeared from our intellectual canon.12 She argues that we can
better if we also refer to the verb
. She writes:
Of course this verb (logos) means ‘say’, ‘speak’, ‘enunciate’, and if we begin from this well-
known rendering and follow the same semantic path we come upon similar meanings, such as
‘reason’, ‘account’, ‘expression’, etc. There is a need, however, to look further into the possible
ways of understanding such a pivotal word in the west as logos.13
She further comments “that the meaning the Greeks assigned to the word
gradually gained worldwide acceptance and whatever might have been passed down
through the action word
has been disregarded.”14
This has profound implications for Fiurama as she argues that many link
(speech) to word, word to language, language to speech, speech to thought, and thought
to reason. She argues that society continues this line of thinking by linking reason to
logic, logic to knowledge, knowledge to power, and power to discourse. Finally,
discourse links to being human. Therefore, to be human is to be able to speak. 15
For Fiumara, this leads to a logocentric society fixated on words and verbal
expression, which leads to a
society governed by words and verbal expression.
It invariably leads to a government dominated by the masters of discourse and a culture
deeply rooted in the production of messages. Therefore, Fiurama argues that there is
too much emphasis on speech and not enough on listening. Thus, as literary scholar
Krista Ratcliffe says about Fiurama’s work, “[Fiurama] calls for both a reinterpretation
of our logos and a restoration of a fuller
based on the Greek action
.”16 This
will lead to a philosophy of listening, which Ratcliffe says would “offer us other codes
for conducting ourselves in the world.”17 Quoting Fiurama, Ratcliffe suggests that a
philosophy of listening “is an attempt to retrieve the functions of listening which may
allow for truer forms of dialogue.”18
However, Mark Muldoon laments about this solitary focus of silence when he notes that
the few existing studies of silence have been too narrow and abstract. He argues that either
there has been an essential or needful connection between silence (listening) and discourse.
Whereas the “dialectic between utterance and silence must be preceded by a much larger
dialectic that must be taken into account first, namely, the dialectic between noise or silence,”
silence has been reduced to what Picard calls “an autonomous phenomenon,” or, as
Muldoon quotes Ihde, a “non-experience” that lacks humanly perceived presence.19
In other words, when scholars discuss listening and silence, they usually connect it
to discourse. In short, we are silent long enough so that we may get a chance to speak.
Taking the Inward Journey
Fiurama notes this when she says, “The highest function of silence is revealed in the creation
of a coexistential space which permits dialogue to come along.”20 Throughout her chapter
Silence and Listening
, she attaches discourse or speech to the nature of silence.
Therefore, Muldoon wants to move silence away from being defined too narrowly
and too abstractly. He states:
Silence is not an ideal presence that exists between the oral sounds of our verbal discourse.
The oral sound and the silence it punctuates are both differing levels of audition. The sound
of spoken words and silence do not stand in opposition to one another-they are modulations
in our ability to perceive auditory qualities in the ambient environment.21
He goes on to say that before any “philosophical analysis” of silence can be fruitful,
“it must be presumed that silence is foremost an aural perception that draws on our
ability to make oral sounds and to listen.”22 Muldoon’s effort here is to move silence
away from discourse in order to appreciate the silence itself. Even though I appreciate
the strengths that silence produces through dialogical concerns, for the purposes of this
essay I, too, want to take the focus of listening away from dialogical considerations and
onto an inner listening, which is birthed from what has been called “deep silence.”
Bernard Dauenhauer, in his book
Silence: The Phenomenon and Its Ontological
, states that there are three modes of deep silence: the silence of intimates,
liturgical silence, and the silence of the to-be-said.23 For the purposes of this essay, I will
focus on the silence of the to-be-said.
Dauenhauer notes that the “silence of the to-be-said” is “silence beyond all saying,
the silence of what-ought-to-be-said in which what-is-said is embedded.”24 Or perhaps
better, the silence of the to-be-said tests all that is said. For Dauenhauer, this mode of
deep silence is a level of quietness beyond speech, which a person engages by figuring
out what needs to be said, only after hearing what the “other” has already said by way of
critical reflection.
According to Dauenhauer, hearing the “other” engaging in critical reflection and
waiting to respond can only be achieved through the deep silence of the to-be-said.
However, this reflection is not a passive waiting to hear, but an active waiting so that the
person engaging in the silence can ultimately respond to what is being said. It must be
emphasized that we do not create this silence by the cessation of speech. Rather, we
recognize that silence exists prior to but not opposed to speech. Therefore, Dauenhauer
Deep silence is encountered as the silence, which pervades utterance. It runs through
utterance…it appears not to flow but to abide…deep silence is not intrinsically correlated to
some determinate utterance. Occurrences of deep silence are thus not measured against
anything other than the persons participating in deep silence.25
For Dauenhauer, people engaging in deep silence authenticate the silence on their
own terms. Since silence is not measured against anything other than the persons that
are participating in it, focus is placed on ethos when the to-be-said is spoken.
However, Dauenhauer does not mention how this waiting on the “to-be-said”
should take place. In other words, while the prophet is engaging in deep silence, critically
reflecting on what the “other” has said, what should the prophet do? I argue that it is in
this silence that prophetic listening can take place.
Prophetic listening is defined as
being engaged in the mystery of deep silence that
calls for a critical and self-reflective listening to offer up a prophetic witness to society
Along with this definition, there are four stages of prophetic listening: listening to
oneself, listening to the community, listening to society or the culture, and, finally,
listening for a response. By listening in silence through these four stages, the prophet is
listening for the appropriate time to take prophetic action.
Listening to Oneself
The first stage of prophetic listening is listening to oneself. This type of listening is
for the express purpose of self-examination and selfreflection. In other words, it is an
engagement with oneself. Elizabeth O’Connor, in her book
Journey Inward, Journey
, affirms that we must be people “who are engaged with ourselves if we are going
to find out where we are and where we want to go.”26 This means being open to the
possibilities of who we are and, more importantly, where we fit in the whole scheme of
things. O’Connor continues:
Each of us tends to see only what concerns us or meets our need, and to be blind to
everything else. We are not conscious of what is around us or within us…As people on an
inward journey we are committed to growing in consciousness, to becoming people in touch
with our real selves, so that we know not only what flows at the surface, but what goes on in
the depths of us.27
In order to offer a prophetic witness and to speak out against the injustices and evils
of the world, prophets must see themselves as situated amidst the injustices and evil in
the world. Therefore, the prophet must examine herself to see where one is in relation
to the evil and what part the prophet may even play. This calls for a Socratic type of
inner questioning, a questioning that digs deep in the soul. Some examples of this
Socratic questioning are: What role do I play in the injustice I seek to eliminate? What
is my main purpose and goal for doing what I believe I need to do? What are my
motives? These types of questions, aimed at getting a clearer understanding of the
prophet’s(?) call and a better understanding of what the prophet must engage, need to
be asked and truthfully answered.
After the questioning the prophet sits and waits, believing that answers will come
forth. It is out of this deep questioning that the prophet can hear the truth in her
Taking the Inward Journey
situations and therefore begin to receive the power from within to offer a prophetic
witness. This type of questioning also strengthens the prophet for the journey so that, as
O’Connor reminds us, the prophet is “not always demanding from others what must be
discovered by tilling and tending the soil of the prophet’s own [life].”28
Listening to the Community
The second stage of prophetic listening is listening to the voices in the community or
listening to the people that the prophet represents. For the prophet to be authentic, the
prophet cannot “be” without “being” in community with people that the prophet claims to
represent. In short, the prophet sees herself as a member of the community, and the
prophet’s credibility is strengthened not by the way the prophet can craft words and make
an argument but by the way the prophet listens to the stories of the community.
Ratcliffe’s rhetorical listening model is helpful here. For Ratcliffe, rhetorical
listening is a trope of interpretive invention and occurs when listeners invoke their
capacities and their willingness:
(1) To promote an understanding of self and other that informs our culture’s politics and
ethics, (2) to proceed from within a responsibility logic, not from within a defensive
guilt/blame one, (3) to locate identification in discursive spaces of both commonalities and
differences, and (4) to accentuate commonalities and differences not only in claims but
cultural logics within which those claims function.29
Ratcliffe also calls for listeners to “stand under” the discourses of others. For
Ratcliffe, this means allowing the discourses to “wash over, through, and around us and
then letting them lie there to inform our politics and ethics.”30 Ratcliffe writes:
Standing under the discourses of others means first acknowledging the existence of these
discourses; second, listening for the (un) conscious presences, absences, unknowns; and third,
consciously integrating this information into our world-views and decision-making. …By standing
under the discourses of others and rhetorically listening to them, we may transpose a desire for
mastery into a self-conscious desire for receptivity; this process both invites the desires of others
into our consciousness and accords these desires a place in which to be heard.31
For Ratcliffe, rhetorical listening then has the potential to “function productively as
a code of cross-cultural conduct,” that can help us to “avail ourselves with more
possibilities for inventing arguments that bring differences together, for hearing
differences as harmony or even as discordant notes.”32
Drawing on Ratcliffe’s work, I argue that the prophet must “stand under” the
discourses of the people that the prophet represents for two reasons. First, the prophet
needs to hear the people in order to discern what is going on in their hearts and minds.
The prophet must have some idea of the joys, pains, and struggles that the people that
the prophet claims to represent are going through. Therefore, the prophet is not a
“detached other” in the prophetic process, but a partner that shares with the people.
Second, it helps the prophet create ethos before the prophet speaks. Traditionally, the
establishment and definition of ethos has been limited to previous status or name
recognition or to what one could establish within the speech. However, I argue that the
prophet creates ethos by empathetic listening in the community so that when the
prophet does speak the prophet carries instant credibility.
This complex idea of ethos being created through listening is in its embryonic stage
and thus will not be fully outlined here. However, it is enough to say that since prophetic
rhetoric is ethos-centered, the listening function is no longer secondary but primary,
which enables the prophet to produce prophecy. The prophet may have been called
and may even have been given something to say without engaging in, sharing with, and
listening to the community, but the prophet would not have the credibility and
authenticity that can only come from listening to the people she represents. Otherwise,
the prophet may speak truth, but comes across as inauthentic.
Moreover, after listening and sharing with the people, the prophet brings these
voices back into the silence. It is in the silence that the prophet hears and listens again
and again to the stories, laments, pains, and joys of the community. By listening again to
the voices of the community, the prophet can engage in rhetorical listening and can seek
ways of invention that address the concerns of the people.
Listening to Culture
However, before the prophet addresses the concerns of the people, the prophet
must also listen to the wider culture. Prophetic listening on this level involves more than
listening to the voices outside of the prophet’s community or the voices in opposition to
some sort of prophetic witness. It is more than surface or cursory listening. It is more
than listening from the newspapers and other mass media forms. Prophetic listening on
this level involves a deep listening that goes to the heart of the matter, a listening that
goes behind the rhetoric or the façade that mask itself as the ultimate reality. Prophets
listen to the soul of society to try and discern what society is truly saying. In short, it
involves listening to the spirit of the culture, listening beyond the surface.
The prophet believes that only when the prophet is listening to the soul of society can
the prophet then care enough to speak truth. As Walter Wink succinctly puts it, “We
cannot minister [prophecy] to the soul of America unless we love the soul.”33 By listening
to the soul of society, the prophet attempts to discern her “true vocation under the God
who holds the destiny of all nations.”34 Only by listening to the voices of society and taking
them back into the silence can the prophet then discern a prophetic course of action.
When back in the silence, the prophet engages in what I call a hermeneutical
discerning of the times. In the study of hermeneutics, the process of interpretation is
called the hermeneutic circle. Stephen Littlejohn writes that the circle happens when
one “look[s] at a specific text in terms of a general idea of what that text may mean, then
modify the general idea based on the examination of the specifics of the text.”35 This
implies a critical listening in which the prophet engages in a contemplative interpretation
of what is heard. In other words, critical listening to the voices of culture interprets in
the silence, leading to a deeper listening on a contemplative level.
Contemplation at this level, Gray Matthews writes, “involves both thought and action,
yet it is not simply a synthesis of theory and practice; rather, contemplation is the source
or ground from which action grows.”36 Matthews, agreeing with Thomas Merton, believes
Taking the Inward Journey
that “contemplation is more than prayer and meditation, that it actually offers a significant
vantage point from which one can more fully understand and criticize society.”37
The contemplative listening stage is important for the prophet because in discerning and
interpreting the voices of society, “contemplation uncovers the wholeness where analyses and
interpretation fragment wholes into parts.”38 Without celebrating this wholeness, the prophet,
who may have a desire and/or a call to speak on behalf of the other, would be rendered
ineffective. Merton succinctly puts it in perspective when he says:
He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own
self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love will not have anything to give to
others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his
aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his
doctrinaire prejudices and ideas.39
Listening for a Response
The final stage in prophetic listening, after listening for self-examination and
reflection, after listening to the voices in the community, after listening to the voices of the
culture, is offering up the voices; the prophet needs to lift all of these voices up to God and
listen for a response. The reason for this is because the prophet is a person of faith. The
prophet believes that God has called her and that God is guiding and leading her.
Therefore, the prophet wants to know: What am I going to do with all of these voices? In
other words, what is the prophet going to say and how is the prophet going to say it? At
this point, much could be said about the rhetorical canon of invention. However, it is
enough to say for the purposes of this essay, that invention for the prophet only comes
when the prophet is engaged in a deep silence that leads to prophetic listening.
In this essay I have attempted to argue that prophetic rhetoric begins
discourse. Since prophetic rhetoric is ethos-centered, the prophet must engage in
prophetic listening. My concept of prophetic listening is in the embryonic stage and
needs to be fully developed. I believe that Ratcliffe’s work in rhetorical listening, along
with Matthews’s contemplative communication, are productive avenues to venture down
for a clearer understanding of prophetic listening. Also, Merton’s work on
contemplation would be most helpful along with a descriptive analysis of ethos and how
it is explicated in listening to the community. Many of these subjects were beyond the
scope of this essay but point to the fresh and futile ground for further scholarly inquiry.
1James Darsey,
The Prophetic Tradition and Radical Rhetoric in Americ a
(New York: New York University Press, 1997).
2Andre E. Johnson, “Will We have Ears to Hear: The African American Prophetic Tradition in the Age of Obama,”
African American Pulpit
13, no. 2 (Spring 2010): 10-14; “The Prophetic Persona of James Cone and the Rhetorical
Construction of Black Theology,
Black Theology Journal
8, no. 3 (2010): 266285;
The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry
McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition
, (city: Lexington Books, 2012); “‘To Make the World So
Damn Uncomfortable’: W.E.B. Du Bois and the African American Prophetic Tradition,”
Carolinas Communication Annual
32 (2016): 1629;
No Future in This Country: The Prophetic Pessimism of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner
, (city: University
Press of Mississippi, forthcoming 2020). See also Andre E. Johnson and Anthony J. Stone, “The Most Dangerous Negro in
America: Rhetoric, Race and the Prophetic Pessimism of Martin Luther King Jr,”
Journal of Communication and Religion
41, no. 1 (2018): 8-22.
The Prophetic Tradition
, 28
4James Darsey,
The Prophetic Tradition and Radical Rhetoric in America
(1997, repr., New York: New York University
Press, 1999), 28.
5Ibid., 29.
6Ibid., 8586.
7James Darsey, “The Legend of Eugene Debs: Prophetic Ethos as Radical Argument,”
Quarterly Journal of Speech
74, no. 4
(1988): 436.
8Elizabeth O’Conner,
Inward Journey, Outward Journey
(Washington, D.C.: Harper and Row, 1975).
9Michael Welton, “Listening, Conflict and Citizenship: Towards a Pedagogy of Civil Society,”
International Journal of Lifelong
21, no. 3 (MayJune 2002): 197208, 197.
10Ibid., 199
11Krista Ratcliffe, “Rhetorical Listening: A Trope for Interpretive Invention and a ‘Code of Cross-Cultural Conduct,’”
Composition and Communication
51, no. 2 (December 1999): 195 224, 199.
12Gemma Corradi Fiumara,
The Other Side of Language: A Philosophy of Listening
, trans. Charles Lambert (New York:
Routledge Publishing, 1990).
13Ibid., 1.
14Ibid., 2.
15I am indebted to the work of Gray Matthews for his succinct analysis of Fiurama’s work.
16Krista Ratcliffe, “Rhetorical Listening,” 203.
17Ibid., 203
18Ibid., 203.
19Mark S. Muldoon, “Silence Revisited: Taking The Sight Out Of Auditory Qualities,”
The Review of Metaphysics
50, no. 2
(December 1996): 275298, 276.
The Other Side of Language
, 99.
21Muldoon, “Silence Revisited,” 277.
22Ibid., 278.
23Bernard Dauenhauer,
Silence: The Phenomenon and Its Ontological Significance
(Bloomington, IN: Indiana University
Press, 1980), 1619.
24Ibid., 19.
25Ibid., 21.
Inward Journey
, 12.
27Ibid., 13.
28Ibid., 14.
29Ratcliffe, “Rhetorical Listening,” 204.
30Ibid., 204.
31Ibid., 207.
32Ibid., 203.
33Walter Wink,
Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces that Determine Human Existence
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 105
34Ibid., 105.
35Stephen W. Littlejohn, Theories of Human Communication (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomas Learning, 2002), 188. 7th
36Gray Matthews, “Thomas Merton and a Contemplative Foundation for the Practice of Communication,” paper presented
at the
National Communication Association Convention, Chicago, IL, November 2004
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
In this essay, we examine King’s rhetoric during the last year of his life, (April 4, 1967- April 3, 1968)—focusing specifically on the issues of race. In examining several texts of King, we argue that King adopts a prophetic persona of a pessimistic prophet—especially when addressing issues of race and racism. In exploring King’s rhetoric and noting King’s directness and firmness when addressing the race issue, we argue that King’s rhetoric found a home in the African American prophetic tradition in his attempt to dismantle hegemonic politics and institutional racism. Specifically, we argue that Martin Luther King was radically dismantling white hegemony; and becoming one of the most hated men in America.
First published in 1990. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.
This paper argues that listening is a seriously neglected theme in adult education theory and contemporary philosophy. It postulates that critical reflection on listening is particularly salient in our world of manifest socio-economic inequality, cultural conflict and adversarialness. This paper contends that we learn to listen, and that political listening can be usefully understood as a pedagogical practice of democratic citizenship. Listening must be cultivated by persons and collectives if we are to hold civil society together with minimal, but crucial, solidarity and commitment to the commonwealth.
Eugene Debs, widely acknowledged as one of America's foremost radical figures, spoke at a time when the agrarian “ethos of responsibility” was eroding under the pressures of industrialization. In response, Debs fostered a legend that was heavily ethical and called for a renewal of American virtue. Though his radicalism, viewed from the Graeco‐Roman tradition of Quintilian's “good man speaking well,” seems perversely calculated to ensure defeat and to alienate, a less unidimensional and more sympathetic view of Debs's relationship to his time and of his legacy is achieved by looking at him against the fudeo‐Christian tradition of Old Testament prophecy. Such a perspective at least partially reconciles our modern positive evaluation of Debs with his apparent rhetorical failings in his day.
The Other Side of Language
  • Fiurama
Fiurama, The Other Side of Language, 99.