Fall 2016

Cicero to Trump: Political Rhetoric and the Public Fashioning of the Self


Christopher S. van den Berg (Section 01)


This course considers the role rhetoric plays in the formation and presentation of individuals for public consumption.  Rather than regard rhetoric as an insubstantial—or even dangerous—supplement to the allegedly real substance of political discourse, this class examines why rhetoric was and remains so essential to public presentation.  How does rhetoric make humans what they believe themselves to be?  We focus closely on the analysis and employment of skilled language and we examine how individuals employ language to fashion and present themselves.  The course includes a number of written assignments and the production and evaluation of speeches. Readings will draw from a range of ancient and modern authors: Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Quintilian, Hume, Nietzsche, Kenneth Burke, George Orwell, Foucault, and David Foster Wallace, among others.  We also consider contemporary debates on language usage and regulation, analyze successful rhetoric in modern politics, and examine rhetoric from the 2016 electoral season in the United States.

Fall semester.  Professor van den Berg.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016