The Southern Point: Rhetorically Speaking, Part 2

Sir Tristram


John Randolph of Roanoke as a youth, Gilbert Stuart, 1804–1805

The rhetorician who practices “amplification” is not thereby misleading his audience, because we are all men of limited capacity and sensitivity and imagination. We all need to have things pointed out to us, things stressed in our interest. The very task of the rhetorician is to determine what feature of a question is most exigent and to use the power of language to make it appear so.

Richard Weaver, Language is Sermonic, pp. 219–220

Richard Weaver’s writing lays an ideal groundwork for a counter movement against the status quo modernist worldview, which has hitherto dominated ethnic discourse in the United States, towards a more authentic American conservative position able to embrace the racial concerns of Whites. Weaver teaches us how to persuade without exploiting, in a format conducive to the natural tendencies of the rural conservative mentality, the largest cross-section of the American populace—a constituency that we must win.  Neutrality is not an option.  If we don’t inspire this group’s allegiance, it will be fielded into the ranks of our enemies.

In “The Cultural Role of Rhetoric” Weaver argues that it is important to point out the distinctions between dialectic and rhetoric because their respective functions have been confused in modern times. Dialectic thinking is logical in an abstract vacuum of perception. When applied to human endeavor it tries to use a rational technique to solve problems that are also deeply entwined with history, custom, and culture. However, it is ill-equipped to think in these terms.  For example, think of how out of touch a computer would be if it was given the task of solving humanity’s problems. It may have a superior grasp of logical principles, but in the absence of an understanding of human nature and human interests and desires, it could not possibly generate  adaptive solutions. Likewise, dialectic taken out of its proper function does not deliver an accurate holistic picture of man and his condition in time.  Weaver suggests that this may have been a contributing factor in the Athenian justification of Socrates’ execution: too much dialectic.

Weaver’s thesis is that dialectic alone in the social realm subverts legitimate human interests. This trend is evident in all of the attempts to deracinate our discourse and to neutralize our speech that have gained such a foothold in the West since the Enlightenment. Whites must abandon such endeavors. The triumph of modern science has contributed to the marginalization of the proper sphere originally reserved to the poetic mode of rhetoric. Weaver believed that language was innately sermonic and that it was a mistake to try and denude it of all of its arousing, inspirational power—its power to appeal to human emotion:

Rhetoric is designed to move men’s feelings in the direction of a goal. As such, it is concerned not with abstract individuals, but with men in being. … Rhetoric begins with the assumption that man is born into history. If he is to be moved, the arguments addressed to him must have historicity as well as logicality. To explain: when Aristotle opens his discussion of rhetoric in the celebrated treatise of that name, he asserts that it is a counterpart of dialectic. The two are distinguished by the fact that dialectic always tries to discover the real syllogism in the argument whereas rhetoric tries to discover the real means of persuasion. From this emerges a difference of procedure, in which dialectic makes use of inductions and syllogisms, whereas rhetoric makes use of examples and enthymemes [i.e., syllogisms with missing propositions, to be filled in by the audience; see below]. In fact, Aristotle explicitly calls the use of example “rhetorical induction,” and he calls the enthymeme the “rhetorical syllogism.” This bears out our idea that rhetoric must be concerned with real or historical situations, although dialectic can attain its goal in a self-existing realm of discourse. Now the example is something taken from life, and the force of example comes from the fact that is or was. It is the thing already possessed in experience and so it is the property of everyone through the sharing of a common past. Through examples, the rhetorician appeals to matters that everybody has in a sense participated in. These are the possible already made the actual, and the audience is expected to be moved by their historicity.

The relation of rhetoric to “things-in-being” appears even more closely in the “rhetorical syllogism.” The enthymeme, as students of logic learn, is a syllogism with one of the propositions missing. The reason the missing proposition is omitted is that it is presumed to exist already in the mind of the one to whom the argument is addressed. The rhetorician simply recognizes the wide acceptance of this proposition and assumes it as part of his argument. Propositions which can be assumed in this manner are settled beliefs, standing convictions, and attitudes of the people. They are the “topics” to which he goes for his sources of persuasion.

Through employment of the enthymeme, the rhetorician enters into a solidarity with the audience by tacitly agreeing with one of its perceptions of reality. … The mere demonstration of logical connections is not enough to persuade the commonality, who instead have to be approached through certain “places” or common perceptions of reality (Visions of Order 63,64).

My main concern is to demonstrate that Richard Weaver’s conclusions about rhetoric indicate an awareness of the difficulty of objectivity in discourse that touches on human interests—a conclusion that would not surprise readers aware of the culture of critique that has dominated intellectual and media discourse at least since World War II.

It seems that one of the big traps that White Americans constantly fall into is the idea that there’s something wrong with, as Michael Polignano phrases it, “taking our own side.” It is well known that Jewish groups have no such hang up. Indeed, Jewish groups are famously self-interested (despite a long series of rationalization and apologia casting Jews as altruistically working for the good of all mankind; see here). And does anyone think that La Raza and the NAACP have the interests of all Americans at heart?

Pursuing our ethnic self-interest is, theoretically, an invulnerable position. But there are many millions of Whites in this country who are a long way from catching on.  Minority ethnic groups know this, and they exploit it. For this reason, another element is needed.

Weaver believed that ideally, rhetoric involves “truth plus its artful presentation” (Weaver, Language, 71) and that the ideal man was “the ‘lover’ added to the scientist” (78).  Dialectic involves logical analysis and the discrimination among and between various propositions and their opposites to determine the truth of a distinction or point. Rhetoric goes further and employs persuasive tactics to buttress that particular truth. Dialectic thinks, rhetoric does. Understanding is followed by actualization.

Rhetoric must be viewed formally as operating at that point where literature and politics meet, or where literary values and political urgencies can be brought together. The rhetorician makes use of the moving power of literary presentation to induce in his hearers an attitude or decision which is political in the broadest sense. (Weaver, Language, 225)

Our advantage as individuals spread out over an immense area, is that we can reach people at an immediate, local level. The bigger and more overextended the establishment becomes, the more it will ignore the subtle nuances of the diverse regional identities and folkways within the White populace. Eventually, this will cause the citizenry to look for actual, visible people, in their vicinity, who really care about them and who know how to talk their talk.

Weaver viewed such a development as a necessary step in the resuscitation of Western civilization.

Somehow our education will have to recover the lost vision of the person as a creature of both intellect and will. It will have to bring together into one through its training the thinker and the doer, the dialectician and the rhetorician. Cognition, including the scientific, alone is powerless, and will without cognition is blind and destructive. The work of the future, then, is to overcome the shallow rationalisms and scientificisms of the past two centuries and to work toward the reunion of man into a being who will both know and desire what he knows (Weaver, Up From Liberalism)

Then we can get operational and focus on the basic issue: showing Whites how to stop nullifying themselves, thereby empowering other minorities. We can reemphasize to them how other groups either feel no compunction about cutting to the front of the line, or are vengeful towards Whites because of historical grievances and thus unlikely to negotiate equitably.

In any case, the task involves changing this self-defeating point of view in Whites so that they feel comfortable to stand and deliver a passionate testament on behalf of their own kind. And yet, it is more than that, too.

We should not only want to stand up for ourselves, we should be willing to sacrifice the self to the greater good of the whole. So, it is both a call to self-affirmation and self-sacrifice, properly conceived. This may, at first, seem to be a strange and foreign concept to American Whites, raised on Emersonian conceptions of individualism and the virtue of an atomized self-interest in the context of Adam Smith’s philosophy and the free market mentality. However, there are many areas in this country, the South in particular, where the concept of communal kinship along racial/tribal//familial lines has borne an important meaning and value in the past.

Social Bond Individualism

Richard Weaver developed a peculiar combination sometimes referred to as “communitarian individualism” or “social bond individualism” that is pertinent in this consideration. By contrasting the styles and backgrounds of two famous individualists from the North and South, Henry David Thoreau and John Randolph of Roanoke, he establishes an original American alternative form of communal allegiance that avoids the isolated individualism of the Transcendentalists. In his essay, Two Types of American Individualism, he develops the following paradigm.

Light can be shed on our problem by examining two types of American individualism, each of which has had a major prophet. One of the types is not now, and I think never was, a feasible form of individualism, though there is something about it which fascinates a part of our nature. The other is not only feasible but is today very much needed, when the forces of regimentation and the example of totalitarianism are threatening to sweep away every principle of distinction that stands in their path. … Thoreau stood for individual isolation, but failed to see the consequences. Another way of meeting a dilemma is to slip between the horns, which means to find a third alternative without the painful consequences of the other two. The exponent of that method was John Randolph of Roanoke, now a half legendary figure, termed a “political fantastic” by one of his recent biographers and called a dangerous person by another critic, yet a figure of unique interest to one who has studied his career. Randolph stood with equal firmness against imperialism, especially in its disguised form of government welfarism, but he found an alternative to this and to simple withdrawal (p. 2). … As a defender of the dignity and autonomy of the smaller unit, he was constantly fighting the battle for local rights. But it was the essence of his position that the battle must be fought within the community, not outside the community and not through means that would in effect deny all political organization. … Randolph never lost sight of the truth expressed in Aristotle’s dictum that man is a political animal. His individualism is, therefore, what I am going to call “social bond” individualism. It battles unremittingly for individual rights, while recognizing that these have to be secured within the social context … The point I seek to make is that Randolph could not visualize men’s solving political questions through simple self-isolation (p. 4). … Common interest was the final justification of government, the source of the means of operation, the assurance that it would not become perverted or despotic (p. 7). …… [I]f we are interested in rescuing individualism in this age of conformity and actual regimentation, it is the Randolphian kind which we must seek to cultivate. Social bond individualism is civil and viable and constructive except perhaps in very abnormal situations. Anarchic individualism is revolutionary and subversive from the very start; it shows a complete despite for all that civilization or the social order has painfully created, and this out of self-righteousness or egocentric attachment to an idea (p. 16).

Weaver’s analysis of Randolph was, in part, based on his defense of the sovereignty of states trying to come into the Union in the early 19th century and his fear, well-founded indeed, that the federal government would get the upper hand on its creators (the states). Randolph provides an important link between the political theories of Thomas Jefferson, John Taylor and John Calhoun which continue to form the philosophic basis of White resistance to the Leviathan state in the United States. Each of these men was also an extraordinary individual. Yet they all recognized a level of community allegiance that overrode personal concerns and appetites.

Consider this from Calhoun’s Disquisition on Government:

I assume, as an incontestable fact, that man is so constituted as to be a social being. His inclinations and wants, physical and moral, irresistibly impel him to associate with his kind; and he has, accordingly, never been found, in any age or country, in any state other than the social. In no other, indeed, could he exist; and in no other — were it possible for him to exist — could he attain to a full development of his moral and intellectual faculties, or raise himself, in the scale of being, much above the level of the brute creation.

I next assume, also, as a fact not less incontestable, that, while man is so constituted as to make the social state necessary to his existence and the full development of his faculties, this state itself cannot exist without government. The assumption rests on universal experience. In no age or country has any society or community ever been found, whether enlightened or savage, without government of some description.

Calhoun was the strictest constitutionalist of his day as well as a conscious White racialist. He was also well aware of the original intentions of the Founders.

Thomas Woods also further refines the concept of communitarianism. He suggests that the commonwealth orientation of the American traditionalists has been nearly forgotten in today’s American right wing but that it used to occupy a central spot in our conservative thought.

Traditionalists based their attachments to community life, they insisted, not on a mere sentiment or nostalgia, but on serious reflections on history and human nature. … Central to the traditionalist’s view of human nature, therefore, was the insistence that the fundamental unit of society was not the individual but the group, that it is only within a social context that the goods of human excellence can be cultivated(130)…Traditionalists therefore insisted that society be viewed not as a mere aggregation of individuals but as a delicate edifice consisting of numerous geographic communities, each with rights and traditions of its own(132). … The existence of myriad autonomous political communities, they agreed, serves to frustrate the would-be reformer who seeks to impose a uniform General Will upon the nation as a whole. A unitary state may originate in the name of freedom, Weaver explained, “but once it has been made monopolisitic and unassailable, it will, if history teaches anything, be used for other purposes (133).

For those interested in following up on some other available Weaver essays, reviews, and summaries, try here, here, here, here, here, and here. Those who want to go further should move to his three primary texts: Ideas Have Consequences, The Ethics of Rhetoric, and Visions of Order.

*    *    *

In conclusion, Richard Weaver argues for the cultivation of a positive rhetoric in order to accomplish the goal of securing White Western civilization in the United States. He leads us to reject the ostensibly objective or neutral forms of discourse in social areas, which was typical of the mistaken rationalistic modernism of the 20th century, and move instead towards the development of a noble defense for our own culture.

By establishing deeper connections such as these, between thinkers of different generations, we can combine powerful streams of critical and creative thought that might otherwise be left to run in mutually exclusive routes. We need unity and a synthesizing alliance in order to counter a dangerous “Trojan Horse” usurpation, not only in our current space, but also along the timeline of history, too. We need a big tent that can accommodate the oddly gargantuan curvature of space-time in its totality.

White southerners have always understood the need for homogeneity as a basic prerequisite for a healthy culture. Like begets like. This is a source of strength far more  than the forced diversity programmed into us from media and political handlers. No matter what they say about our ‘progress’ and the triumph of the ‘New South,’ the old folkways and wisdoms are still present. But instead of being ashamed of this as President Obama would like us to be, through misappropriating a Faulknerian quotation, we should be proud.

Just underneath the surface, in the nooks and crannies of family living rooms, the playing fields, and the after hour get-togethers at favorite restaurants and bars, there bubbles up a powerful instinct towards group solidarity and a legendary fighting spirit. It is time to transmit this legacy to Whites in all of the other sections of the United States who have come to think that their country is just another empty shell of outdated slogans from the era when natural rights and egalitarianism were fab. The New World Order is yesterday’s news.

While we have traditionally practiced pluralism and differentiation in the economic and political spheres and respond specifically to rhetoric that does not forget this (State Rights!), we know that there must be a strong centripetal impetus from somewhere in the private sector, or from the culture itself, encouraging us to unite voluntarily as free associates, if we are to survive. The origin point for this orientation in the United States is the historical experience of the Old South, embedded in the rhetoric of countless speakers, writers and in the very genetic memory of millions of people. In a sense, it is not a thing of the past. It is.

We no longer have legal means to segregate and protect ourselves, our schools, and our communities.  But what we can do is choose to come together on our own. This right has not yet been denied.  If that ever does happen, then it shall be time to consider fighting another civil war. We can then do so with the full force of our ancestors driving us forward. Remember when Jefferson said “that the several States composing the United States of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government?”

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