What is the power of rhetoric?


The power of rhetoric is profound and multi-dimensional, influencing both individual perspectives and broader societal structures.

  • Influencing Perceptions and Decisions: Rhetoric plays a crucial role in shaping the stories and narratives that govern societal values and individual behavior. Russ Roberts on the discusses how rhetoric has transformed over two centuries, affecting everything from democratic processes to constitutional interpretations. Particularly, it influences how freedoms and governmental powers are perceived and debated in society 1.

  • Narrative Control and Social Movements: Rhetoric can dominate narrative control, which affects societal discourse significantly. Bhaskar Sunkara on the points out the asymmetry in rhetorical power, where some groups might influence national dialogues without possessing the actual power to enact change. This disconnect can create a scenario where rhetorical maximalism prevails over practical and substantial policy-making 2.

  • Building Urgency and Action: Effective rhetoric can also construct compelling narratives that inspire action. Trung T. Phan discusses the three-part structure utilized in impactful speeches, where personal stories (story of self), collective identify (story of us), and calls to action (story of now) create powerful and mobilizing messages 3.

    The Power of Rhetoric

    Russ and Deirdre discuss the provocative thesis that rhetoric matters as much as she says it does, exploring how the stories we tell ourselves have changed over the last 200 years. They delve into the relevance of the Constitution as a restraint on government power, highlighting the erosion of its effectiveness and the dangers of losing sight of its principles in favor of case-by-case decision making.


    Jonah Goldberg on The Suicide of the West
  • Tools of Persuasion and Argument: Ben Shapiro defines rhetoric as the art of utilizing emotion or logic to make arguments more persuasive. This choice impacts how effectively one can convince others, underlining rhetoric’s role in both everyday communications and formal debates 4.

Overall, rhetoric not only influences individual beliefs and societal norms but also holds the power to mobilize or stagnate movements, shape political landscapes, and alter public perceptions.