Political Rhetoric in Comparative Perspective

Workshop: Rhetoric as a Political Tool in Early China V

Wednesday, 14:00-16:00, 502





The Caliph and the Rebel: Exchange of Letters between Caliph al-Mansur and Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya

The paper deals with some aspects of the Correspondance Between Caliph al-ManÒÙr (r.136/754-158/775) and the ÝAlÐd (ÍasanÐ) Rebel Muammad b. Abdallah b. al-Íasan b. al-Íasan b. ÝAlÐ b. AbÐ ÓÁlib, known as al-Nafs al-Zakiyya (in 145/762). The subject is part of a study on the socio-political history of the revolt of al-Nafs al-Zakiyya, in the year 145/762. For full abstract


Rhetoric that heals: Two models of moral persuasion in the Warring States

How do you produce change in an obdurate ruler who cannot transcend his condition, whether sadistic, depressed, bellicose or concupiscent? Is it possible to sway him trusting only in the power of language? Would then one use persuasion, seduction or dissimulation? In early China, the audience with a brutal, wicked or bloodthirsty king challenged all the resources of cunning and ingenuity which orators and court advisers had at their disposal. This recurring situation is already touched on in much of the philosophical literature of the Warring States period. In this presentation, I shall discuss competing models of suasion - as mirrored in the sources of the time – supposedly enabling the orator to spark a moral change in a ruler’s mind. I will contend that in the absence of both a public legal tradition and a legislative institution - as was the case in ancient Greece - the audience with a ruler generally credited with hardly any moral intelligence, if at all, became the classical pattern for the practice and refinement of several kinds of tekhnê rhetorikê.

The early Chinese political context may partly account for the invention of a kind of rhetoric for which transforming and healing the listener prevail over arguing and convincing him. What peculiar use of language is implied when one dispenses with sermons and remonstrations? The Mengzi, the Zhuangzi, the Han Feizi and the Zhanguoce, taken here as repositories of the early Chinese art of persuasion, will serve as our main sources to examine the role played by ethical reasoning and pathos, the importance of demonstration and examples, of puns and ploys, images and metaphors, all instrumental in bringing about a desired effect in the mind of the listener.


Ancient Indian political rhetoric: Inscriptions and Artha-sastra compared

Among the primary sources for ancient Indian political thought are Kautalya's Artha-sastra, a theoretical work built around a pragmatic and thoroughly anti-idealized image of the king, and the royal inscriptions of the classical period, which tend to present highly utopian images of what kingship is all about. A brief comparison of these two rhetorical visions will be offered together with a glimpse at the Sanksrit Epic's laboratory of political action.


The Rhetoric of 'Just War' in Rome

Since the early days of the Roman Republic, a strong cultural norm insisted on the principle that all the wars of the Roman people had to be "just" – i.e., undertaken in defense of Rome or its allies against unprovoked attacks or injuries. It was believed that the gods would grant victory to the Romans only on this condition. A special group of state priests (the fetiales) was in charge of certifying that the cause of war was just in each particular case, and all the proper procedures and rituals had been observed before a just war (bellum iustum) was declared. Among other things, in case of injury, the Roman had to demand satisfaction first, and could resort to war only if this demand was rejected by the other side. As the Roman Empire grew, the procedures connected with the ''fetial law" were largely abandoned, but the principle that only a just war was legitimate persisted. Vigorous debates on whether a particular proposed war satisfied this requirement are reported (with those opposing the proposal sometimes winning the day), and political opponents were repeatedly accused of implicating the Roman people in an unjust war (thus bringing the gods' displeasure on them).

The norm, then, was taken quite seriously. Or was it? One wonders, looking at the map of the Roman Empire. How seriously could anyone claim that all the wars which produced these huge conquests were defensive? Some scholars have even claimed that the concept of ''bellum iustum'' was, at least originally, devoid of an ethical content, and signified only insistence on proper rituals and formalities. This, I think, can be shown to be wrong. But how can the existence of such an ethical norm be reconciled not just with the actual foreign policy of the Roman state, but with the strong militaristic ethos of the Roman society? This ethos included, from a certain point on, the notion, openly proclaimed, that it was the gods' will that the Roman people should attain universal dominion. How could these contradictory notions co-exist in the Roman culture and public discourse?