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Latest update: August 7, 2000

Hirschman, Albert O., The Rhetoric of Reaction

The Belknap Press of Harvard Univerxsity Press, Cambridge, London, 1991.

Hirschman started out to look at reactionary rhetoric, but, in the process, discovered that both opposing parties rely on rhetoric almost to the exclusion of argument. "Flaubert once employed a marvelous phrase to blast the opposing schools of philosophers that assert everything to be either pure matter or pure spirit: such affirmations, he said, are 'two identical impertinences (deux impertinences egales). (fn. omitted. At p. 168.)

Hirschman saw his effort in The Rhetoric of Reaction as trying to expose the intransigence of such positions and their conflict with democratic resolution of difficult issues. Faced with research that shows that most democracies operate with pluralism that really represents "a standoff between bitterly hostile opposing groups." There is little evidence that the public discourse requisite to the preservation and stability of democracy has moved us very far from the "deux impertinences egales." (Ibid. pp. 168-170.)

So it seems that one thing we must do in teaching for peace is to teach our students the difference between shouting rhetoric and engaging in discourse and reasoned argument. In that effort, Hirschman's identification of traditional rhetoric used by both opposing parties to avoid "melding the opposing points of view" is a good first step.

Reaction by Jeanne Curran.

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