The best book I have ever read on this topic


Over the years I have worn out five copies of this work by Richard M. Weaver.  I finally splurged on the hardcover which I will never, I hope, highlight or underline.  I do use post it notes however.  The book is comprised of nine chapters, each covering a separate topic; in a way it has the feel of a masters thesis and might well have been.

The first chapter uses the Phaedrus to flesh out the nature of rhetoric.  Chapter two uses the Scopes “evolution” trial in Tennessee to illustrate the importance of the dialectic choices in advancing one’s rhetorical position.  I had read about and seen a motion picture presentation of the trial.  Weaver’s analysis made it clear to me that there was no way, absent a massive mistake by government counsel that the defendant could have prevailed.

Chapters three and four compare and contrast the way Edmund Burke and Abraham Lincoln formed arguments .  The author uses Burke’s arguments to conclude that, while Burke’s contemporaries viewed his a a leading proponent of conservatism, he was, philosophically, a liberal.  Abraham Lincoln, viewed as a liberal (in some respects for helping abolish slavery in the United States) was actually a conservative.  In Weaver’s view, Burke’s arguments where what he called arguments from circumstance which, in his opinion, were the liberals way of arguing.  In contrast, Weaver believed Lincoln argued from underlying principles as opposed to circumstance.  Weaver strongly believed that arguing from first or primary causes demonstrated a conservative philosophy.

Chapters five through nine deal with rhetorical aspects of grammatical categories, John Milton’s prose, what Weaver describes as the spaciousness of old rhetoric, the rhetoric of social sciences (and why writers of social science studies are often deemed rhetorically ineffective.  The final chapter discusses ultimate terms in contemporary rhetoric.  I was particularly impressed with his discussion of how rhetoric is applied by opposing sides in time of war.

I unreservedly recommend this book all readers.  An understanding of the topics covered in this book will make anyone a better reader:  a reader who can ask why a writer or speaker might have chosen certain words when framing arguments or stating implied facts.

This book is becoming increasingly difficult to find.  In the United States, Amazon is probably the best choice.