A Rhetoric of Moral Imagination: The Persuasions of Russell Kirk
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This rhetorical analysis of a contemporary and historical social movement, American conservatism, through a prominent intellectual figure, Russell Kirk, begins with a description of the author's work. Ideologies, arguments, and sentiments are considered as implicit rhetoric, where social relations are defined by persuasion, ideas, historical appeal, persona, and various invitations to shared assumptions. First, a descriptive historical context is the foundation to explore the beliefs, communicative strategies, and internal tensions of the conservative movement through the development of various identities and communities during its rise as a formidable political power. Second, an analysis of the author and the author's texts clarifies argumentative and stylistic choices, providing a framework for his communicative choices. The thesis of this discussion is that the discourses implicit and explicit in the author's writing and conduct of life were imaginative and literary products of what he termed "moral imagination." How this imagination developed, and its impact upon his persuasion, was a unique approach not only to an emergent intellectual tradition but also to the disciplines of history, fiction, policy, and audience. This work argues there were two components to Kirk's rhetoric of moral imagination. First, his choosing of historical subjects, in biographical sketch and literary content, was an indication of his own interest in rhetorical efficacy. Second, he attempted to live out the sort of life he claimed to value. I argue he taught observers by an ethos, an endeavor to live a rhetorical demonstration of what he genuinely believed was good. As demonstrated by what many who knew Kirk identified as an inner strength of character and conduct, his rhetorical behavior was motivated by a love for and a curiosity toward wonder and mystery. By an imaginative reading of history, his exemplars of more properly ordered sentiments of a moral order sought to build communities of associational, relational persons that found identity in relation to other persons. His ambition was to explore and communicate what it meant to be human - in limitation, in promise, and in the traditions and customs that provide a framework for "human" in a culture.
Jones, Jonathan L. (2009). A Rhetoric of Moral Imagination: The Persuasions of Russell Kirk. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from