Definition and Examples of the New Rhetorics

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

New rhetoric is a catch-all term for various efforts in the modern era to revive, redefine, and/or broaden the scope of classical rhetoric in light of contemporary theory and practice. 

Two major contributors to the new rhetoric were Kenneth Burke (one of the first to use the term new rhetoric) and Chaim Perelman (who used the term as the title of an influential book). The works of both scholars are discussed below.

Others who contributed to the revival of interest in rhetoric in the 20th century include I.A. Richards, Richard Weaver, Wayne Booth, and Stephen Toulmin.

As Douglas Lawrie has observed, "[T]he new rhetoric never became a distinct school of thought with clearly defined theories and methods" (Speaking to Good Effect, 2005).

The term new rhetoric has also been used to characterize the work of George Campbell (1719-1796), author of The Philosophy of Rhetoric, and other members of the 18th-century Scottish Enlightenment. However, as Carey McIntosh has noted, "Almost certainly, the New Rhetoric did not think of itself as a school or movement. The term itself, 'New Rhetoric,' and discussion of this group as a coherent revitalizing force in the development of rhetoric, are so far as I know, 20th-century innovations" (The Evolution of English Prose, 1700-1800, 1998).

Examples and Observations

  • "In the 1950s and 1960s, an eclectic group of theorists in philosophy, speech communication, English, and composition revived principles from classical rhetoric theory (mainly those of Aristotle) and integrated them with insights from modern philosophy, linguistics, and psychology to develop what became known as the New Rhetoric."
    "Instead of focusing on the formal or aesthetic features of a spoken or written text, New Rhetoric theory focuses on discourse as action: Writing or speech is perceived in terms of its capacity to do something for people, inform them, persuade them, enlighten them, change them, amuse them, or inspire them. The new Rhetoric challenges the classical division between dialectic and rhetoric, seeing rhetoric as referring to all sorts of discourse, whether philosophical, academic, professional, or public in nature and so seeing audience considerations as applicable to all discourse types."
    (Theresa Enos, ed., Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times to the Information Age. Taylor & Francis, 1996)
  • "According to [G. Ueding and B. Steinbrink, 1994], the label 'New Rhetoric' subsumes very different ways of dealing with the tradition of classical rhetoric. These different approaches have in common only that they verbally declare some common ground with the rhetorical tradition, and, second, they share the pathos of a new beginning. But this is all, according to Ueding and Steinbrink."
    (Peter Lampe, "Rhetorical Analysis of Pauline Texts: Quo Vadis?" Paul and Rhetoric, ed. by P. Lampe and J. P. Sampley. Continuum, 2010)
  • The New Rhetoric of Kenneth Burke
    "The difference between the 'old' rhetoric and the 'new' rhetoric may be summed up in this manner: whereas the key term for the 'old' rhetoric was persuasion and its stress was upon deliberate design, the key term for the 'new' rhetoric is identification and this may include partially 'unconscious' factors in its appeal. Identification, at its simplest level, maybe a deliberate device, or a means, as when a speaker identifies his interests with those of his audience. But identification can also be an 'end,' as 'when people earnestly yearn to identify themselves with some group or other.'
    "Burke affirms the significance of identification as a key concept because men are at odds with one another, or because there is 'division.'"
    (Marie Hochmuth Nichols, "Kenneth Burke and the 'New Rhetoric.'" The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 1952)
    - "While pushing rhetoric beyond its traditional bounds into the subconscious and perhaps even the irrational, [Kenneth] Burke is quite clear to maintain that rhetoric is addressed. This is an important point that is sometimes forgotten by scholars, especially those who think Burke's 'new rhetoric' is a quantum advance beyond classical and even modern conceptions of rhetoric. As much as identification expands rhetoric into new areas, Burke circumscribes the role of rhetoric with traditional principles. In other words, Burke supposes that there are many more instances of address than previously imagined, and therefore we must understand better how address works."
    (Ross Wolin, The Rhetorical Imagination of Kenneth Burke. University of South Carolina Press, 2001)
  • The New Rhetoric of Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca (1958)
    - "The new rhetoric is defined as a theory of argumentation that has as its object the study of discursive techniques and that aims to provoke or to increase the adherence of men's minds to the theses that are presented for their assent. It also examines the conditions that allow argumentation to begin and be developed, as well as the effects produced by this development."
    (Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, Traité de l'argumentation: La nouvelle rhétorique, 1958. Trans. by J. Wilkinson and P. Weaver as The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation, 1969)
    "'The new rhetoric' is not an expression representing the title of a modern view proposing a new type of rhetoric, but rather the title of a view attempting to revive the study of rhetoric as manifested in ancient times." In the introduction to his seminal work on this topic, Chaim Perelman explains his wish to return to those manners of proof that Aristotle called dialectically (in his book Topics) and rhetorical (in his book, The Art of Rhetoric), in order to draw attention to the possibility of rational reasoning that is not evaluated in logical or empirical terms. Perelman justifies his choice of the word 'rhetoric,' as a subject name for the view unifying dialectic and rhetoric, for two reasons:
    1. The term 'dialectic' has become a loaded and over-determined term, to the point where it is difficult to restore it to its original Aristotelian sense. On the other hand, the term 'rhetoric' has hardly been used at all throughout the history of philosophy.
    2. 'The new rhetoric' seeks to address every kind of reasoning that departs from accepted opinions. This is a facet that, according to Aristotle, is common to rhetoric and dialectic and distinguishes both from analytics. This shared facet, Perelman claims, is usually forgotten behind the more prevalent opposition between logic and dialectic on the one hand, and rhetoric on the other.
    "'The new rhetoric,' then, is more of a renewed rhetoric, aimed at demonstrating the great value that can be attained through reintroducing Aristotelian rhetoric and dialectic into humanist discussion in general and philosophical discussion in particular."
    (Shari Frogel, The Rhetoric of Philosophy. John Benjamins, 2005)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of the New Rhetorics." ThoughtCo, Feb. 12, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, February 12). Definition and Examples of the New Rhetorics. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of the New Rhetorics." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).