The Rhetoric of Conflict in Political Theory
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The language surrounding the decision to go to war in American political discourse is often very divisive and draws upon numerous rhetorical traditions. Early research on the question of what types of arguments favoring war has been largely inconclusive. Alongside the facts concerning conflict are numerous orators drawing upon various discourses and intellectual traditions seeking to sway their audience either toward or away from conflict. One such study is the work of James Andrews who conducted case studies to develop an “American adolescence” theory suggesting that arguments of honor and principle were the most persuasive in convincing men to take up arms. This research, however, fails to convincingly answer this question. In this dissertation, I use a rhetorical framework to investigate the types of arguments used in early-American history that try to influence the decision to go to war. Primarily, this dissertation examines Andrews’ theory of principled arguments and employs a second variable, that is, arguments of expediency. I argue that principled arguments are not as successful as Andrews concludes and instead arguments of expediency are more commonplace than arguments of principle. Additionally, I argue that expedient rhetoric is a necessary component for mobilizing mass support for a war but expedient rhetoric is not necessary when arguing for inaction. Rather, principled arguments can also serve to motivate audiences toward inaction. To examine whether Andrews’ theory of principled arguments is largely correct, I first demonstrate that Machiavelli used arguments of expediency in an attempt to convince the Medici to go to war. From this example, I conduct three case studies where arguments of principle and arguments of expediency are both present. I find that in arguments prior to the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican-American War are largely a mixed bag. In the American Revolution and the War of 1812, arguments of expediency are often capable in convincing men to take up arms. However, I demonstrate that in the Mexican-American War, arguments of principle may help to limit the severity of conflict.
Brown, Ted H (2014). The Rhetoric of Conflict in Political Theory. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from