The Power of Words: SNC Hosts Lecture on Political Rhetoric


Dr. Mark Glantz in dialogue | Mulva Library | Ella Kirby

On Tuesday, Oct. 25, the 2016 Election Series, sponsored by the St. Norbert College honors program, hosted the third of four lectures revolving around the 2016 election in the Mulva Library at 7:00 p.m.. Dr. Mark Glantz, a professor of Communications and Media Studies at the college, presented a lecture focused on political rhetoric.

Dr. Glantz began by recounting the definition of the word “rhetoric” and described it as meaning the language that we use. Rhetoric can be misrepresented within society in a highly negative way; Dr. Glantz showed a variation of social media quotes from new articles where the term rhetoric was misunderstood.

Looking back through history, Dr. Glantz explained that the Greek philosopher Plato had a considerable hatred towards rhetoric, believing it was a way of deceiving people.

Dr. Glantz stated, “Some of our own hatred of rhetoric probably comes from Plato’s influence on the entirety of Western civilization.”

In today’s culture, we can see rhetoric used daily within our society, exerting a particularly strong influence on the news and political advertisements, where it can be employed in both negative and positive ways.

“A lot of rhetoric isn’t intended for an enormous audience. Messages today more than ever are targeted at specific subgroups of the population and different demographic groups,” explained Dr. Glantz.

Dr. Glantz then contributed the theory that we initially require rhetoric to discuss rhetoric in the various ways that we do. He then showed a political advertisement that condemned the use of rhetoric in general, highlighting it as the paradox of reality, truth and action.

“It all amounts to the idea that we are supposed to prefer doing, and this [ad] ignores the fact that sometimes talking is doing. Sometimes talking is an important thing, and that’s particularly true in a democracy,” he said.

Dr. Glantz wanted to illuminate that rhetoric is not simply one-sided: although it can be used in a negative way; it can just as equally be used positively. Rhetoric can be used to cause conflict and chaos, but it can also be harnessed to promote peace and unity.

Dr. Glantz highlighted the value of rhetoric by posing the question, “If we didn’t have rhetoric, if we didn’t have talking, if we didn’t have argument, deliberation etc. in a democracy, how would we get things done?”

To further demonstrate the importance of rhetoric, Dr. Glantz informed students how our entire basis of knowledge was formed through rhetoric.

“Without rhetoric, we wouldn’t know anything. Everything you know, you were probably told about – through symbols, you read about it- through symbols.”

Another issue that Dr. Glantz brought to light concerning rhetoric used in the political election was its degree of certainty.

“The truth is that in politics and in democracy when we’re trying to create laws, we don’t have access to very many certainties. We can only go by probabilities,” he stated. “The only way anything gets done in a democracy is through talking, as much as sometimes we really hate that talking.”

Rather than immediately labeling rhetoric as bad, Dr. Glantz emphasized two crucial questions that need to be evaluated when it comes to thinking critically about rhetoric: its effectiveness and ethicality.

To end his lecture, Dr. Glantz summarized, “We have this rhetoric, and it’s awful sometimes, but we use the same tools of language for persuasion to do really positive things. […] Everything terrible that rhetoric does can probably be undone or stopped or halted with rhetoric that takes the opposite tone and opposite viewpoint.”


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