Preserving Honor: Nixon-1970 and Bush-2007
Right Wing Rhetoric and Kenneth Burke
William F. Murphy, Ph. D.
Sociology has long been interested in ideologies as a causal agent in social change. If we include religious beliefs we go back to Max Weber as our classic model. Yet the academic focus on ideology as a set of beliefs about an ideal society and evaluation of the existing social order could not adequately explain ideology as a motivator for social change. One need only look at the policy debates today to see why. We use the term “policy wonk” to describe those who engage in such debates. Wonkishness and German academia was a deadly combination. What was lacking in this approach was an awareness of the drama that defined the political struggles toward realizing the ideologically defined goals. This is the contribution that KB makes to the sociology of ideology. Rather than an ideal society, it is a goal in which the appropriate actors create a scene that reflects their ideal characteristics. Instead of a class/group/stratum of people advantaged by the existing social order, we have a group of actors with malevolent motives and characteristics who oppose transition to the new ideal order. We find yourself today in a battle of dramas in which characters who are good or bad struggle politically to determine the outcome of minor inns and or significant battles whether it be the war on Christmas healthcare or to end that war in Iraq. In these struggles the heroes represent the right values and the opponents have characteristics of resentment and hatred that lead them to oppose these values.
Burke discussed the imagery of identity and transformation in a poetic and literary context. The writer might identify an undesirable trait in oneself and endow some "outward enemy" with that trait. Then in overcoming the enemy, the writer has transformed the identity of the protagonist. The character attributes of the nation and its people are personified, the figure of speech in which an object is represented as having human attributes and addressed as if it were human. While personification could apply to any role, organization, or stratum of society, the terms is best applied in those instances in which personal attributes of the nation or people are highlighted by the contention that its character is at stake. In this argument, the nation, like any individual, has a reputation to maintain and defend.
This indeed may be the rhetoric but the actual intent is to preserve the faith and trust of loyal consituents given a policy that may well ruin lives and fail to achieve demonstrable benefit to the nation. It is well known that the fate of South Vietnam was the ignominious fall of Saigon after the US refused to intervene again. What is often ignored is that the Communists did not end up in Hawaii as predicted and the only countries invaded by the victorious North were Communist China and Pol Pot's Cambodia. Nevertheless, the rhetoric has retained credibility for many over time so that similar rhetorical symbolism can be invoked under totally different circumstances 37 years later.
In the political rhetoric of Nixon the most striking metonym was that of the United States as a "pitiful, helpless, giant". This transformation in the national identity of the United States would occur if he failed to respond to North Vietnam's use of Cambodian territory. Domestic opponents were linked to the Communist world by the term, "forces of totalitarianism and anarchy." Thus a validation of a national identity as strong and resolute is maintained by linking opposition to the enemy and acting against it. In the Rhetoric of Motives, he analyzes the implications of identification and identity transformation in rhetoric [p.12]. The rhetorical identification by negation was defined in the Rhetoric of Religion with respect to proscribed actions. In other words in stating, "you are not", one means "Thou shalt not" [p.20].
With the myriad of media sources, today’s political discourse more closely corresponds more closely to Burke’s image of the barnyard of rhetorical discourse. The stream of events produces an apparent complicated array of proposals and policies that seemingly defy order and logical consistency. Yet there are consistent patterns which can best be analyzed through dramatism, which is ideally suited to the “barnyard.” The pentad of scene, actor, act, agency, and motive can be used to construct scripts that are accepted by an audience and repeated in new variations on the same theme. The rhetoric of Iraq and the New Right in many ways follows the same scripts used during the Vietnam war. Consider, for example, two speeches: 1) the 1970s speech by Nixon announcing the invasion of Cambodia and the 2007 speech by Bush announcing the surge. One need only compare the G. W. Bush in 2005 with Nixon in 1970. Bush asserted:
“Our nation is being tested in a way that we have not been since the start of the cold war. . .If we do not defeat these enemies now, we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. We are in a war that will set the course for this new century, and determine the destiny of millions across the world.
And Nixon in 1970:
But if the enemy response to our most conciliatory offers for peaceful negotiation continues to be to increase its attacks and humiliate and defeat us, we shall react accordingly. . . . My fellow Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home. We see mindless attacks on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last 500 years.”
If, when the chips are dawn, the world's most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.
Indeed, North Vietnam and Communist countries have been replaced by the axis of evil/al Quaida, the silent majority by Americans who support the troops, Nixon by Bush, and the anti-war hippies by liberal moveon.org. However, the rhetorical characterization of the actors and their motives resonate and provide meaning to some “conservative” audience. Starting with Burke’s pentad, I included Joseph Gusfield’s study of how opponents are characterized in social movements (Prohibition), Jurgen Habermas on technocratic language, and Holsti on enemies.
What is evident in political discourse is the continuing development and evolution of political scripts. These scripts characterize actors, acts, and scenes in such a way that they are credible to some political audience. Once accepted the same logic is applied to new derivations of the same script. At the same time we can describe situations in which alternative scripts gain credence and become more credible to others in the audience. If one watches cable news, one can identify the following script:
The right wing view:
Scene: Imminent terrorist threat to America and Americans
Actors: Leaders who perceive the threat and act forcefully against terrorists
Brave soldiers who sacrifice in order to stop terrorists
 Terrorist enemies who seek to bring down the US and kill Americans
 International Communism seeking world domination
[2005 and 1970]Weak unpatriotic liberals who disrespect soldiers and are more concerned with the rights of terrorists than the threats they pose.
The liberal view:
Scene: Hostile sectors of Islamic World support Al Quaida elements to commit terrorist acts.
Actors: Leaders who negotiate with Muslim world to develop common cause against Jihadists.
Bush/2005 v. Nixon/1970
Bush: “Our nation is being tested in a way that we have not been since the start of the cold war. . .If we do not defeat these enemies now, we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. We are in a war that will set the course for this new century, and determine the destiny of millions across the world.”
Nixon: ”But if the enemy response to our most conciliatory offers for peaceful negotiation continues to be to increase its attacks and humiliate and defeat us, we shall react accordingly.
Bush: “Yet America has confronted evil before, and we have defeated it - sometimes at the cost of thousands of good men in a single battle. When Franklin Roosevelt vowed to defeat two enemies across two oceans, he could not have foreseen D-Day and Iwo Jima - but he would not have been surprised at the outcome. When Harry Truman promised American support for free peoples resisting Soviet aggression, he could not have foreseen the rise of the Berlin Wall - but he would not have been surprised to see it brought down. Throughout our history, America has seen liberty challenged. And every time, we have seen liberty triumph with sacrifice and determination.
Nixon: If, when the chips are dawn, the world's most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.”
“. . .Whether I may be a one-term President is insignificant compared to whether by our failure to act in this crisis the United States proves itself to be unworthy to lead the forces of freedom in this critical period in world history. I would rather be a one-term President and do what I believe is right than to be a two-term President at the cost of seeing America become a second-rate power and to see this Nation accept the first defeat in its proud 190-year history.”
[The fighting men]
Bush: “I met a proud mom named Rose Ellen Dowdell. She was there to watch her son Patrick accept his commission in the finest Army the world has ever known. A few weeks earlier, Rose Ellen had watched her other son, James, graduate from the Fire Academy in New York City. On both these days, her thoughts turned to someone who was not there to share the moment: her husband, Kevin Dowdell. Kevin was one of the 343 firefighters who rushed to the burning towers of the World Trade Center on September the 11th - and never came home. His sons lost their father that day, but not the passion for service he instilled in them. Here is what Rose Ellen says about her boys, "As a mother, I cross my fingers and pray all the time for their safety. But as worried as I am, I'm also proud. And I know their dad would be too."
Nixon: “I ask for your support for our brave men fighting tonight halfway around the world-not for territory-not for glory-but so that their younger brothers and their sons and your sons can have a chance to grow up in a world of peace and freedom and justice.”
Not only individuals but also collectivities such as the “A merican people,” “silent majority,” and the “axis of evil” are actors in political rhetoric. Burke’s pentad allows us to identify the components of a script and then compare the characterizations of scene, actor, act, agency or means, and purpose or motive. Burke's concept of the entelechy defines a meaningful relationship between actor, scene, act, and agency such that characterizations of scene, actor, and act resonate as scripts so as to have meaning for the audience. Contemporary media driven "scripts" focus on the actor and then characterize the scene and acts/policies to fit that of the actor. Right wing characterizations center on macho, heroic, physically dynamic, patriotic, and religious actors. Their policies and actions are characterized so as to reinforce the actor. Similarly the scene is interpreted in like manner. Therefore any analysis has to look at the mechanisms by which scene and act are characterized so as to logically follow from the motives or the actor.
Kenneth Burke and Sociology
In order to understand current political rhetorics there are additional concepts that should be added to a dramatistic analysis of the characterizations utilized in speeches, books, and media accounts. They include the following:
1. Altercasting(Goffman): the characterization of domestic opponents and foreign adversaries that are defined in such a way as to logically establish one’s own identity.
2. Technocratic legitimacy(Habermas): the depersonalized characterization of acts such that personal motives and characteristics are absent. Policy wonks are most likely to use these scripts. Cable news would deem impersonal policy evaluations to be a sure way to kill their ratings. Their audience would find such stories to be lacking in the emotional sustenance that confirms their preferred self image.
3. Identity validation: the act demonstrates the character of the actor.
Social movements: The process of mobilizing large populations on behalf of a cause requires a dramatic view of the scene and relevant actors so that the actions of the audience will appear as an appropriate response. Gusfield and Edelman have shown how the rhetoric and ideology have formed an awareness of group characteristics so that large numbers are mobilized to act on behalf of a cause.
Reading Kenneth Burke leaves one with a sense of having discovered a new means for the analysis of social action. However, for any sociologist steeped in the positivist tradition, it is very difficult to delineate concepts and definitions which can be used in empirical studies. My previous interest was to extract conceptual categories from the Grammar of Motives and the Rhetoric of Motives to facilitate the analysis of political rhetoric and/or politically related news stories. The categories could also be applied to any type of cultural product that is amenable to content analysis.
In the Grammar of Motives Burke outlines the five aspects of a drama, Scene, Actor, Act, Agency, and Purpose(motive). He then discusses various logical requirements for consistency between scene, agent, and act which he refers to as ratios. The cases which he analyzes are largely from philosophy or literature. Marxism and behaviorism are included. Perspectives based on idealism are associated with agency and purpose because they posit mental characteristics (motives) as the grounds for action. Materialism and positivism are associated with scenic characterizations because of the emphasis on impersonal causes.
To explain the rhetorical consistency between scene, agent, and act, he develops such concepts as motivational constitution, metonymy, identity transformation, mystification, and hortatory negation. Motivational constitution refers to the rhetorical situating of motives in the scene of the act. Metonymy refers to the reduction of motives to the agent. In the Rhetoric of Motives, he analyzes the implications of identification and identity transformation in rhetoric. Mystification--following Marx and Bentham--referred to the referring of motives to ultimate principles rather than partisan or class interests. The rhetorical identification by negation was defined in the Rhetoric of Religion [p.20] with respect to proscribed actions. In other words in stating, "you are not", one means "Thou shalt not".
A number of sociologists have drawn upon Burke. C. Wright Mills in the article, "Situated Acts and a Vocabulary of Motives" referred to Burke's analysis of motives as public statements about agents. Symbolic interactionists were drawn to the dramatic pentad (scene, agent, act, agency, and purpose) as a general frame of reference. This approach inspired Joseph Gusfield and Peter Hall. Hall linked Burke's perspective to that of Murray Edelman concerning political language and symbolism.
In addition Burke's insights have parallels in attribution theory and mass media research. The social psychological concern with whether persons attribute acts to situational constraints or personal motives of the individual correspond closely to Burke's scene-agent ratio. The greatest contribution from mass media research lies in the analysis of how "enemies" are described.
Despite the extensive influence that Burke has had, one finds few references to specific ideas other than the pentad, the concept of motive, and his definition of "secular prayer." My own reaction to his work was a strong impression that he had redefined how we should view social reality. However, I also found it very difficult to delineate specific ideas as potential hypotheses for further research. From the extent and nature of their references to Burke, I believe many other sociologists had a similar reaction.
Burke's critical insight concerns the rhetorical process by which definitions of the scene are made consistent with characterization of the actor and the act. He labels this the scene/agent/act ratio. In this context, the pentad can be reduced to a triad of scene, agent, and act. The last two aspects, agency and purpose(or motive)meld into scene and agent respectively. From this perspective we can observe and analyze a variety of cultural phenomena such as the following: TV sit-coms scripts, televised or printed news stories, political speeches and ads, the professional ideologies in education and social work, and even sociological theories.
One can identify sociological, anthropological, and social psychological theories with useful concepts and theories that are equivalent to the dramatistic pentad. The objects of analysis are properly defined as cultural, as any objectification of social interaction. They could be typical explanations or interpretations of activities or individual acts, fictional stories in print or on television, political rhetoric or political news stories, legal statements which interpret criminal acts or charges of defendant violations of one's rights, or even theories or philosophies which deal with human behavior. Any of these cultural phenomena would involve specification of the characteristics of individual actors and definitions of the scenes in which they act. Burke's concept of the ratio argues that characteristics of actors and their actions must be consistent with definitions of the scene.
These cultural data are organized in a dramatic structure which can be analyzed using Burke's frame of reference and the concept of ratio. As Burke states: "From the motivational point of view, there is implicit in the quality of a scene the quality of the action that is to take place within it. This would be another way of saying that the act will be consistent with the scene"[Burke, Grammar of Motives, p. 7] Similarly scenes and agents can reflect a synecdochic relation in which one is reduced to statements about the other. He goes on to interpret historical labels on such periods as the Elizabethan period and the romantic era as defining the scene by properties which are associated with agents.
These ratios manifest his acute sensitivity to the subtleties of language in characterizing individuals or the scenic environment in which they act. However, I do not feel the term, ratio, conveys the sense of logical structure which his analysis provides. I would prefer the term for the rhetorical syllogism, enthymeme. In the dramatic context, the script contains premises concerning the scene and agent which lead logically to the definition or characterization of the act. If we are to analyze the script and determine its structure, we must be able to delineate these premises and show their relationship to the characterization of the act.
It is my belief that if we utilize Burke's dramatistic methodology to analyze rhetoric, media, ideology, etc., we will find standard scripts which change over time but nonetheless show commonalities in the characterization of scenes and agents. Ben Stein in the View from Sunset Strip, identified such scripts across a number of superficially different sit-coms as well as detective/crime shows. If we compare 40's war movies with the current fare, we would notice that the enemy has shifted from the foreign agent (Nazis, commies, or Japs) to an internal cabal centered in the CIA or Pentagon which is willing to sacrifice lone American heroes to its own ends i.e. Rambo, Day of the Condor, etc. From the metaphor of the script, it is clear that there is more than one type of actor. Usually there is a source of opposition such as an opponent, a recalcitrant deviant, or an enemy which are part of the script. Burke did touched briefly on the functions of opponents so we have to rely on Edelman and Holsti for further analysis. Edelman referred to enemy characterizations as "condensation symbols" which focus diverse anxieties and emotions on a common perception of an enemy. These symbols then are used to mobilize political support for some sort of action. In my dissertation, I analyzed Nixon's Vietnam related speeches and media coverage. I argued that period signaled the shift to "cynical" reporting wherein Presidential motives as stated by Nixon were assumed to be false and the actual motives were attributed to partisan political interests.
Other examples can be shown in deviant behavior and the analysis of ideology. Labeling theory examines societal processes involved in identifying offenders as possessing deviant motives and characteristics. Even the highly depersonalized and often obtuse writings about education reform have an underlying dramatic structure which can be analyzed from this perspective. A characterization of the student as "ready to learn" is logically linked to a definition of the present educational setting as somehow frustrating that inclination.
If we are content with identifying phenomena which can be described using dramatistic terms or the dramatic metaphor, we have contributed little to sociological theory. The central contribution of Burke was to demonstrate how the characterization of the scene is linked to that of the agent and how both characterizations are used to derive the act. In the words of Sorokin, we are evaluating how cultural objects are integrated in logico-meaningful fashion. The "ratios" or my use of the term enthymeme can be used to identify specific scripts which are in play and how they are appropriated by various individuals, organizations, or social groups to interpret events and situations.
Having suggested that dramatism can be the source of both theoretical as well as metaphorical concepts, I would now examine Kenneth Burke's writings in order to develop hypothetical constructs analogous to scripts which may become familiar throughout a society and enhance the credibility of any event which whose interpretation may be consistent with them. I shall proceed first with the development of a scheme for the various ways in which actors and/or their actions may be characterized in rhetoric. These modes may be bound together by a particular script or dramatic pattern. How the various actors are "cast" in order to develop the "setting" indicates what policy will appear to be the appropriate response.
Burke's observations can be elaborated by those of Harold Kelley, Murray Edelman, Stanford Lyman, Peter Hall, Guy Swanson, and Ole Holsti. These theorists represent a variety of theoretical perspectives besides dramatic criticism such as, political ideology, symbolic interactionism, communications research, and attribution theory. Since these sources are concerned with problems different from my own, the original concepts are also very different from my current use of them. I shall, nevertheless, draw upon the following conceptual approaches to the definition of social actors:
(1) Constructs based on the attribution of causes and intentions to explain behavior, as developed by Fritz Heider and later attribution theorists;
(2) Perspectives on the social process of providing public labels for individuals and "accounts" (motives for behavior, as suggested by C. Wright Mills, Nelson Foote, Marvin Scott, Stanford Lyman, Peter Hall, John Hewitt, and Kenneth Burke;
(3) Guy Swanson's conceptual distinction between transcendence and immanence (immanence referring to the perception that the intentions and purposes of the social order as a whole are present in the authority structure, with transcendence referring to the perception that the purposes of the society as a whole are separate from those of the authority structure);
(4) Murray Edelman's observations concerning alien definitions of actors, administrative rituals, and political quiescence as well as mobilization against personified enemies.
These theoretical approaches are related to Burke's concept of motivational constitution, mystification, metonymy, identification and transformation, polar opposite definition, and technocratic rhetoric. Operationalizing these concepts requires that they be restated in a format compatible with scientific convention for the framing of hypotheses. In particular the mode by which one discrete cultural entity is defined must be linked to a comparable definition for another entity. For example, the characterization of a specific agent must be linked to that of a specific act. This process is much like the scene/agent/act ratios of Burke.
Therefore in "operationalizing Burke" I would consult related theories and use them to assist in developing a set of enthymemic patterns that are useful in analyzing the dramatic structure of cultural data. In the following section, I shall show how the above sources have contributed to the categories developed for classifying the actors in the rhetoric. These same sources have also suggested certain hypotheses about how the classes for the characterization of actors are interrelated to form patterns in the definition of a political situation.
B. The Motivational Constitution and Mystification
Burke's analysis of scenes and agents was based on the concept of the motivational constitution. It refers to characterizations of "transcendent" actors and their motives. These actors may be either sacred founders and past leaders of the collectivity, the collectivity as an actor, or those members who have made heroic sacrifices for the collectivity. The prior definition of such actors as part of the legitimacy symbolism of a regime provides the present occupants of legitimate authority positions with a source of motives to which they may attribute their political acts. Similarly, purposes derived from Weber and Durkheim are deemed to underlie our current efforts in sociology.
The "motivational constitution", is analogous in its rhetorical function to that of the legal constitution in jurisprudence:
A legal constitution is an act or body of acts done by agents (such as rulers, magistrates, or other representative persons), and designed to serve as a motivational ground (scene) of subsequent actions . . .
In political rhetoric it refers to the characterizations of "transcendent" actors and their motives. These actors may be either sacred founders and past leaders or people who have made heroic sacrifices for the good of all. Examples of the former are the founding Fathers and recently deceased Presidents. The latter characterizations refer to soldiers such as POW's who have made extraordinary sacrifice on behalf of the country and are thus appropriate as role models for all citizens. Once characterized these agents serve as the basis of subsequent acts and therefore constitute the scene for these acts. Political examples include the rhetoric and characterizations developed for the Vietnam and Persian Gulf war. In another example, Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy served the Democratic Party well as the personified source of political principles for its political positions. Soldiers in wartime and the Democrat constituencies of labor and farmers were presented as role models to be emulated by the audience.
At some point in time, an actor may be explicitly and vividly characterized and this character is then assumed thereafter. Edelman refers to this rhetorical tendency as metonymy. Once a particular term such as "silent majority" or founding fathers has been established as having a certain character with appropriate motives and attributes, then the term can be used subsequently without modifiers, its meaning being understood by the audience. This approach differs somewhat from that of the motivational constitution. The question is whether the subsequent characterizations are applied directly or placed in the scene as a transcendent source of purpose.
With reference to the actors and purposes which function as a motivational constitution, we may find dramatic characterizations of a past President, of the founding fathers as a general collective actor, fallen or injured soldiers, or the civil rights martyrs. Such characterizations may be given to develop dramatically a particular argument, or there may be no felt need to emphasize the characteristics and motives of the actor, and he may simply provide the name. For instance, the bravery, suffering, and patriotism of the soldiers may be assumed in the term, "our fighting men". This leads to the question of how such characterizations are linked to subsequent acts in that they serve as a personified scene in which those acts occur.
C. Constitutional Attribution: Referencing the Motivational Constitution as a Source of Motives
The purpose of developing and referring to a motivational constitution in a speech is to use that constitution as a source of motives for some policy. The establishment of this link is critical for legitimacy, although positive constituent response is also necessary. There are two levels in the categories: the first refers to the characterization of the actors used as legitimacy symbols, and the second refers to the characterization of the policy or act of the leader as fulfilling the purposes established by that actor.
Constitutional attribution is not unlike the Marxian term mystification, which refers to the abstractions or ruling ideas used to cloak the material interests of the ruling class. Burke's discussion of mystification--based on the work of Marx and Bentham--refers to an emphasis on noble motives as the basis of an action. Conversely the "un-masking" of such rhetoric involves a stress on personal advantage as the motive. Therefore the interest of an opponent is to link his rival's actions to his personal interests, while linking his own to higher purposes. This un-masking will be defined personal attribution based on the link to personal or partisan advantage. In a "debate" situation of competing rhetoricians, one rival might anticipate the accusation of personal advantage and refute it through disclaimers relating the action to personal "disadvantage." This interplay will be discussed below.
Occupants of authoritative positions must relate the motives for all their decisions to requirements of their position as set down in that statement of purposes of the order, its constitution. They are not likely to suggest personal or factional interests as the basis of a decision, but rather attempt to defend themselves against such an accusation by opponents.
3. Personification of a Collective Actor: Validation or Transformation of Identity
Burke discussed the imagery of identity and transformation in a poetic and literary context. The writer might identify an undesirable trait in oneself and endow some "outward enemy" with that trait. Then in overcoming the enemy, the writer has transformed the identity of the protagonist. In the political rhetoric of Nixon the most striking metonym was that of the United States as a "pitiful, helpless, giant". This transformation in the national identity of the United States would occur if he failed to respond to North Vietnam's use of Cambodian territory. Domestic opponents were linked to the Communist world by the term, "forces of totalitarianism and anarchy." Thus a validation of a national identity as strong and resolute is maintained by linking opposition to the enemy and acting against it.
Personification refers to rhetoric which emphasizes the character attributes of the nation and its people, the figure of speech in which an object is represented as having human attributes and addressed as if it were human. While personification could apply to any role, organization, or stratum of society, the terms is best applied in those instances in which personal attributes of the nation or people are highlighted by the contention that its character is at stake. In this argument, the nation, like any individual, has a reputation to maintain and defend. Personification involves defining this reputation or identity along with what it could become in the negative sense. In other words, the explicit characterization of this positive identity and its potential negative transformation involves an emphasis on personal attributes that qualify for the application of the personification category.
Another instance in which personification of collective actors in terms of positive and negative attributes occurs is in the opposite characterizations of domestic supporters and opponents. Linking supporters to the positive national identity enables them to share these attributes, while opponents are linked to the negative transformation. Thus, the motives of each group are personified in polar opposite terms.
For example, the leader might say that the people are patriotic and willing to sacrifice their personal interests so that the nation might prove to the world that it can meet the "challenge." They will demonstrate these virtues, of course, by supporting his policy. On the other hand, opponents refuse to support the policies and must, therefore, be unpatriotic and selfish. This rhetoric seeks to gain political support by invoking the would-be supporter's desire to identify himself as courageous, moral, or whatever, and avoid being identified as cowardly, immoral, etc.
Guy Swanson's distinction between transcendence and immanence is analogous to these definitions of the motivational constitution. It is important to note that he was not interested in rhetoric so much as how states were identified in medieval Europe. Transcendence referred to a state definition in which God established purposes (motives) which were to be followed by the governmental institutions. Immanence referred to a definition in which the institutions themselves were presumed to follow divine will and purposes.
5. Technocratic Depersonalization and Causal Situational Attribution
In an analysis of materialist philosophies, Burke refers to the reduction of scene to impersonal causes. In like manner, action is reduced to motion in response to external causes. Personal motives are replaced by scenic stimuli. However, even in this depersonalized form there remain agents in the form of "experts". However, these agents are skilled at interpreting the external conditions and acting according to those causes. Unlike the "founding fathers" of a motivational constitution, the experts are not sources of national purpose but rather definers of situational requirements. This is a form of legitimation that has been discussed by Jurgen Habermas in an essay, "The Scientization of Politics and Public Opinion." To paraphrase, technocratic legitimation involves the suppression of discourse about group interests and purposes and the allocation of resources by rational decision-based criteria which are both scientific and objective. I read this as suggesting that administrative acts are now related to impersonal situational conditions rather than the personal motives of political leaders and interest groups. The experts become the arbiters of resource allocation and of demands for sacrifice for collective needs. Situational requirements are impersonal and causal rather than personal and intentional, and their validity rests with the credentials and expertise of those who interpret them.
Experts are usually drawn from the professions and have appropriate credentials. Economists, military officials, physicians, and diplomats are examples of professions in which specialized knowledge relevant to policy-making is presumed. In the case of military experts, they may specify in depersonalized form a military situation and an appropriate policy to handle the situation, without personally labeling the allies and the enemy. During this period, for example, the Pentagon developed a number of terms for policies and military situations which depersonalized the participating actors: "stalemate", "domino theory", "protective reaction", "ARVIN", and "pacification" were common terms, contrasting with the personified view of the conflict as being between those who represented the hopes for peace in the world and the enemy who sought to humiliate us. The use of depersonalized terminology may be intended to narrow the audience to those familiar with the specialized terminology and also to define the situation such that political identities are not involved. By the latter, I mean that, should the rhetoric omit references to the national identity or the identity of any other actors, then those committed to any of these identities will not be encouraged or aroused to emulate or defend them.
Within this context I would include both the characterization of some actor as an expert and the characterization of the policy which is advocated by such experts.
6. Attribution to Personal or Partisan Political Interests
This category applies to those instances in which the motives for the policy or act are attributed to the personal interests of the actor or to some sectarian interest; i.e., some subgroup to which the actor also belongs. In politics the customary assertion would be that a policy is designed to enhance the electability of its proponent or to further the election chances of his party, the sectarian sub-group. In political rhetoric about oneself this mode of characterization usually occurs by way of disclaimer. One denies personal or partisan interests as motives for a policy by suggesting that these interests would be best served by some other policy. Nixon characterized withdrawal from Vietnam as the easy way out and the one that would best serve his political interests. Then he asserts that his choice is indeed based on national ideals and interests, not personal or partisan ones. On the other hand, Nixon's interpretation of opposition actions and the media's presentation of the actions of both are likely to stress personal and partisan interests as motives.
7. Dimensions of Altercasting: Empathic vs. Alien
The remaining rhetorical types involve the characterization of opponents. Burke did not develop his ideas on opposition. As noted above, he linked the identification of opponents to the negation of one's own identity. By rhetorically stating "you are not", one means "Thou shalt not". A thorough reading of recent researchers provides a much more detailed set of conceptual categories. These can be presented in the format of polar opposite types. First, there are two dimensions for the altercasting of an opponent: the empathic vs. alien modes of characterization, and the foolish-passionate vs. rational-responsible modes. The notion of altercasting comes from symbolic interactionist observations on how actors attempt to present a conception of the role the other is expected to fulfill in an ongoing negotiation of identities. Because the term is used here in connection with the characterization of an opponent, the interaction is between a leader and his audience about the nature of the opponent. In this situation, the leader seeks to cast the opponent in a role that justifies his policy and contributes to the identification of one's own side.
I shall present two dimensions of altercasting, beginning with the empathic mode of characterizing opposition actors, who can be viewed as possessing human attributes and goals in common with oneself, or as holding alien, malevolent motives at variance with basic human sentiments.
a. Empathic personification of an opposition actor
When there is a conflict situation between two collectivities, rhetoricians may vary the degree of perceived enmity by their characterization of the opposition. If the latter is described as malevolent and lacking any human qualities in common with one's own side, then the characterization would be alien; if, however, it is presented as sharing common human qualities and motives with one's own side, the characterization is empathic--implying a potential for common understanding between the two actors despite their opposition. Some reason will be given for the opposition which implies the correctness and legitimacy of one's own position or policy, the most common explanations referring to the lack of understanding by the opposition of "our" position, bad influences on the opposition which they do not know about, and the lack of certain qualities such as maturity. With these assertions about the opponent, one can still maintain the eventual resolution of conflict while retaining a belief in the legitimacy of one's own position.
b. Alien personification of an opposition actor
As the term alien implies, this type refers to a definition of the opposition emphasizing the "respects in which he does not share our human traits and potentialities for empathy, for compassion, and for social attachments. . . . These typifications most efficiently symbolize resolute malevolence because by definition they cannot become part of the social bond, the symbols of community that induce other political adversaries to resolve their conflicts. . . ." The characterization of the alien enemy, therefore, centers on its intentions and goals to do harm to the nation and its fighting men. The will to injure is not presented as secondary consequence of the pursuit of other goals, but rather as his central goal. The images evoked center on themes of satanic malevolence, subhuman savagery, and deviant or criminal subversion. Nixon's rhetoric includes characterizations of both North Vietnam and the anti-war movement that are relatively empathic (both sides want peace or are deeply troubled Americans) and others that are more alien (seeking to defeat and humiliate us and representing forces of anarchy). His view varies according to whether he seeks to justify a policy of negotiation or one of military action.
c. Dimensions of altercasting: irresponsibly passionate vs. rationally directed
From the dramatistic perspective, the alien enemy is equivalent to the malevolent villain who seeks the hero's ruin. In addition, sophisticated drama may include a character possessed by some ruling passion, who unwittingly helps the villain achieve his goal of doing in the hero. Merelman points out how ideologies personify political forces as heroes, villains, and fools.
...In Marxism, the forces of the market are personified in the actions of capitalists (villains). Marxism then personifies its heroes as a righteous working class preparing to do battle . . . Marxism's fools are those workers who are seduced away from Communism by the blandishments of the capitalists; those socialists who think it will be possible to avoid a final confrontation with the villains; and those who have had moral and religious scruples foisted on them by the capitalists.
In my analysis, the "fool" would refer to the emotionally irrational actor who was also empathic in that he shared the good intentions of the speaker. Because of excessive passion or a lack of common sense, however, he unwittingly aids the enemy by opposing the President. This characterization of an opponent helps to explain why people with good intentions might oppose Presidential policy.
On the other hand, enemies may be distinguished by two kinds: those driven by vile and savage instincts--the deviant enemy--and those rationally directed in the disciplined pursuit of evil principles. In other words, the altercasting of opponents allows for a four-fold classification as follows:
empathic fool would-be partner
Alien deviant villain
Foreign enemies are likely to be presented as rational and directed, with their characterizations varying only between empathic and alien, whereas the irresponsible-passionate classification seems appropriate for domestic opponents.
At the same time, the alien-irresponsible mode of characterization may be used to link opponent motives and attributes to those of the foreign enemy. The opponent is characterized in terms of uncontrolled and undisciplined passion or even animal instinct. His actions, such as violent demonstrations, are attributed to these qualities. But the opponent may also be said to have many of the good traits and the common goals of the nation and the people; it is due only to ignorance and political thinking dominated by some emotion (blind hatred of war, softness, etc.)that he participates in actions whose consequences unintentionally aid the enemy in achieving his goals.
If we accept the notion that people have a repertoire of dramatic "scripts" by which to interpret events, then it becomes a legitimate scientific enterprise to delineate their logical structure. Kelley and Jones concluded from their experiments that people are more likely to attribute the causes for the actions of an opponent to that person's personal motives and the causes for their own actions to the requirements of their situation. Ole Hosti's study of enemies in international conflicts noted that the alien characterization of an enemy is linked to decisions to take military action. While these findings "ring true" in common sense, they do indicate that there are logical constraints in the scripts that are used to interpret events and the scenes, agents, and acts involved with these events.
Burke had little concern for the various disciplines in the arts and social sciences. He followed his own sense of what was significant for the dramatistic pentad. If we are to apply his insights in sociology then we must provide the definition of what we wish to analyze and the hypotheses concerning meaningful linkages between characterizations of actors, acts and motives combined with the definition of the scene.
Posted by murphbil
at 2:14 PM EDT