Overcoming the Rhetoric of Jacobinism

One of the most powerful tools of social control is capacity to define words.  George Orwell established the ominous potential of the political darkness extending from such power.  We in the United States find ourselves subjugated increasingly to a dangerous rhetorical world of doublespeak.  Al Gore recently compared the killing of 19 children and teachers at Uvalde to the refusal to hear children crying out as victims of climate change.  His comparison is not unlike his longstanding comparison of disagreement with his interpretation of the Earth’s proper temperature as analogous to Holocaust denial. 

The propriety of this definitional rhetorical power is seen in individual political partisans.  AOC, a Jacobin member of the House of Representatives, was pleased to ‘take it to the streets’ protesting against the Supreme Court overturning Roe.  As the incredible heroine of her own fictional story, she was arrested and detained by police.  Her arrest was fictional but usefully supported by legacy media giants and by holding her hands behind her back as if she was handcuffed. It was enough to create the vital social media meme of her oppression at the hands of brutal authorities.  While arrested, she was able to break free and lift the clenched fist like her superhero Josh Hawley and then she was swiftly rearrested and placed back in invisible handcuffs. 

We in America live in a propaganda culture exceeding the imagination and means of Orwell.  Social media tech giants, and traditional media giants like Disney and ABC, converge with academia and our nation’s largest employer -- the federal government -- to create a seamless propaganda reality.  We are now discovering that the previous empirical reality of two negative quarters of economic growth equating to a recession is no longer a proper definition.  We will not be experiencing any recession for the foreseeable future -- or at least as long as propaganda subjects make the correct political choices.  Epistemic hero Deborah Birx discusses the intimate rhetoric of deception with regard to her work in the White House regarding COVID.  She acknowledges that the vaccines were no such thing and that ‘they’ “overstated” the matter. 

The American public is subjected to such a daily deluge of falsehoods and political spin misrepresentations that faith in our institutions continues to plummet to new record lows.  The military, public schools, journalism, the government, and universities are caught up in a growing cynicism and concerted belief by the public that truth tellers are lying.  The institutions feign ignorance as to why the public is ‘so angry.’ They continue to coach us rhetorically as to how we ought to redirect our anger to their chosen enemies. 

These problems hardly need further clarification but what to do going forward is the challenge.  Here are some rhetorical steps that should be taken:

  1.  Supplant the chronological metaphor of Jacobin ideology. Here on university campuses, a primary way students are rhetorically motivated to depart from the values of their parents and join the cause of wokeism is the promise of “progress.”  The Jacobins are moving everyone “forward” and they cast themselves as “the future.”  Resistance to this needs to capture the future orientation of policy in our language.  Though values often have an understanding and creation in the past, they must be defended as a basis for a better future.  As an example, the Constitution is a historical document but it is also the most successful vehicle of statecraft to move such a mass of humanity forward.  Additionally, Judeo-Christian values, while rooted in statements made thousands of years ago, anticipate a better day as revealed in political utterances as diverse as the Gettysburg address and Martin Luther King’s allusions to the prophet Amos. 
  2. Turn arguments.  This is the secret weapon of successful debaters.  Understand your opponents root warrant (see Stephen Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument).  Make claims that reverse key warrants.  There is nothing making the world more masculine and patriarchal than the technology of abortion.  A simple true and empirical statement such as this reverses the rhetorical field and places the opponent on the defensive. 
  3. Stop using “back” language.  This is rooted in point number one.  Too often we hear advocates saying “take back” or “fight back.”  The Jacobin tradition is the oldest of human traditions.  It is the reign of tyrants and violence.  Humanity’s oldest story is to rule by intimidation and public threat.  Cancel culture is but one manifestation of this ugly tradition.  What those idealists resisting Jacobinism seek is the eternally new day that is ‘fighting forward.’  Such language attracts young people and helps them see how there is a place for them in the new world. 

America as an ideal political project can be saved. This reality has huge ramifications for the entire world since the absence of America would leave nations like China, Russia, North Korea and Iran as the provincial rulers of much of the world.  This is a path of darkness and Jacobinism is an ancient radical call for destructive revolution that will bring authoritarians to power.  Saving the American republic requires a savvy mastery of language that is the root of all political power. 

Dr. Ben Voth is a professor of rhetoric and director of debate at Southern Methodist Unviersity in Dallas, Texas.  His most recent book, Rwanda Rising, documents the importance of debate to prevent unjust violence. 

Image: Public Domain

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