Treasury of Richard M. Weaver

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A Rhetorician’s Treasury of Richard M. Weaver


This treasury contains two items:  “Weaver’s Top Ten” essays and a sampling of Weaver on rhetoric, dialectic, and culture for those who haven’t the luxury of reading essay-length treatments just now.
CLICK HERE for “Weaver’s Top Ten.”
I have collected here some of the most trenchant comments Weaver makes, in his various essays, regarding the definition of rhetoric, the relation of dialectic to rhetoric, and of the cultural role of rhetoric. Weaver’s humanism is evident in these lines.

. . . the dialectician of our day has no adequate theory of man. Lacking such a theory, he of course cannot find a place for rhetoric, which is the most humanistic of all the disciplines. Rhetoric speaks to man in his whole being and out of his whole past and with reference to values which only a human being can intuit. The semanticists have in view only a denatured speech to suit a denatured man. Theirs is a major intellectual error, committed by supposing that they were going to help man by bringing language under the surveillance of science.There is never any question that rhetoric ultimately will survive this scientistic attack. The pity is that the attacks should ever have been made at all since, proceeding from contempt for history and ignorance of the nature of man, they must produce confusion, skepticism, and inaction. In the restored man dialectic and rhetoric will go along hand in hand as the regime of the human faculties intended that they should do. That is why the recovery of value and of community in our time calls for a restatement of the broadly cultural role of rhetoric (Language is Sermonic, 183-4).

Not only the character but also the degree of a culture is responsive to the prevailing image of man. For what man tells himself he is manifests itself soon enough in what he does and may even pre-determine what he can do. Historically speaking, man has been many things to himself, but the variation is only one side of the story. For if man has been many things, he is also one thing. Hovering over all the varieties is a harmonious ideal of man by which he must be judged if progression is to be at all possible. . . . Now there are some images of man which impede this by holding people down to a low level of awareness and potentiality. The student of culture will be critical of all images that threaten true reaction–that is, reversion toward a poorer and less truthful concept of what it means to be a human being (Visions of Order, 134).
Rhetoric seen in the whole conspectus of its function is an art of emphasis embodying an order of desire. Rhetoric is advisory; it has the office of advising men with reference to an independent order of goods and with reference to their particular situation as it relates to these. The honest rhetorician therefore has two things in mind: a vision of how things should go ideally and ethically and a consideration of the special circumstances of his auditors. Toward both of these he has a responsibility (Language is Sermonic, 211).

The following is all taken from one section of one essay, “The Phaedrus and the Nature of Rhetoric,” in The Ethics of Rhetoric:

(On viewing all speech as a kind of love–and here he footnotes the New Testament allusions to God as both Logos and Agape–Weaver writes:)

Thus, rhetorical speech is madness to the extent that it departs form the line which mere sanity lays down. There is always in its statement a kind of excess or deficiency which is immediately discernible when the test of simple realism is applied. Simple realism operates on a principle of equation or correspondence; one thing must match another, or, representation must tally with thing represented, like items in a tradesman’s account. Any excess or deficiency on the part of the representation invokes the existence of the world of symbolism, which simple realism must deny. This explains why there is an immortal feud between men of business and the users of metaphor and metonymy, the poets and the rhetoricians. The man of business, the narrow and parsimonious soul in the allusion of Socrates, desires a world which is a reliable materiality. But this the poet and rhetorician will never let him have, for each, with his own purpose, is trying to advance the borders of the imaginative world. A primrose by the rivers brim will not remain that in the poet’s account, but is promptly turned into something very much larger and something highly implicative (14).Now rhetoric as we have discussed it in relation to the lovers consists of truth plus its artful presentation and for this reason it becomes necessary to say something more about the natural order of dialectic and rhetoric. In any general characterization rhetoric will include dialectic, but for the study of method it is necessary to separate the two. Dialectic is a method of investigation whose object is the establishment of truth about doubtful propositions. . . . But there is a branch of dialectic which contributes to ìchoice or avoidance,î and it is with this that rhetoric is regularly found joined. Generally speaking, this is a rhetoric involving questions of policy, and the dialectic which precedes it will determine not the application of positive terms but that of terms which are subject to the contingency of evaluation. Here dialectical inquiry will concern itself not with what is “iron” but with what is “good.” . . . [Hence] The education of the soul is not a process of bringing it into correspondence with a physical structure like the external world, but rather a process of rightly affecting its motion. By this conception, a soul which is rightly affected calls that good which is good; but a soul which is wrongly turned calls that good which is evil. . . . There is, then, no true rhetoric without dialectic, for the dialectic provides that basis of ìhigh speculation about natureî without which rhetoric in the narrower sense has nothing to work upon (15-17).

We now see the true rhetorician as a noble lover of the good, who works through dialectic and through poetic or analogical association. However he is compelled to modulate by the peculiar features of an occasion, this is his method (18).

. . . interest in actualization is a further distinction between pure dialectic and rhetoric. With its forecast of the actual possibility, rhetoric passes from mere scientific demonstration of an idea to its relation to prudential conduct. A dialectic must take place in vacuo, and the fact alone that it contains contraries leaves it an intellectual thing. Rhetoric, on the other hand, always espouses one of the contraries. This espousal is followed by some attempt at impingement upon actuality. That is why rhetoric, with its passion for the actual, is more complete than mere dialectic with its dry understanding. It is more complete on the premise that man is a creature of passion who must live out that passion in the world. Pure contemplation does not suffice for this end. As Jacques Maritain has expressed it:

love . . . is not directed at possibilities or pure essences; it is directed at what exists; one does not love possibilities, one loves that which exists or is destined to exist.

The complete man, then, is the lover added to the scientist; the rhetorician to the dialectician. Understanding followed by actualization seems to be the order of creation, and there is no need for the role of rhetoric to be misconceived.

The pure dialectician is left in the theoretical position of the non-lover, who can attain understanding but who cannot add impulse to truth (21).