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energy was Milton’s “systematic collec- tion” or his “frequent use of pairs of words similar in meaning to express a single object or idea,” giving Milton’s writing “the impression of thickness, which is in turn the impression of strength.”108 In ad- dition, in making reading Milton an he- roic undertaking, this “thickness” gives his prose “a dimensional quality, because this one [term] will show one aspect of the thing named and that one another.”109

Underlying Weaver’s praise of Milton is a deeper structure revealed in his par- ticular use of language and in the repeti- tion of particular themes. Milton “requires an enforcement of attention” and “an ac- tive sensibility incompatible with a state of relaxation.” His “arduousness of spirit” requires a similar stance to be taken by the reader; his “arduous style” defies con- vention and “feels no compulsion” to adhere to “some established norm.” Weaver repeatedly praises Milton’s “com- plexity,” which is more than to be ex- pected of the ordinary writer, along with his “passion” and “confidence.” Milton displayed “boldness,” “vigor,” “restless energy,” “zeal,” “vitality,” and “energy.” Weaver emphasized Milton’s “strength of purpose” and his “genuine passion” and described him as “the most defiant and brash kind of rebel.”

The image which emerges from the pertinences and the resonances of Weaver’s language is a manly image and it is apparent that, for Weaver, this quality of manliness is the virtue of the noble rhetor. Boldness and vigor, as well as strength and passion, drive the individual not bounded or constrained by social convention, but by principle alone. For Weaver, this ideal would have been the contemporary equivalent of the noble warrior, not unlike the chivalric knights who inspired the Southern aristocracy. The ethical speaker embodied not just strength of conviction but nobility of purpose, a rhetorical Percival.

The possession of this virtue did not in


and of itself make a rhetor noble. Weaver was clear that in addition to being an heroic figure, the ethical speaker must bring out that same heroism in his audi- ence. Here, too, Weaver’s language is re- vealing. The ignoble rhetor’s aim is “ex- ploitation” and repeatedly Weaver refers to the auditors of base rhetoric as “ob- jects.” This audience is “emasculated in understanding in order that the lover may have his way.”110 “[He] seeks to keep the understanding in a passive state” and does everything to “prevent a masculine exercise of imagination.”111

Weaver cited modern “journalism and political pleading”112 as emblematic of unethical rhetoric. Ignoble rhetoric keeps the audience “in a state of pupilage so that they will be most docile” by refusing to permit “an honest examination of alternatives...discussing only one side of an issue, by mentioning cause without consequence or consequence without cause, acts without agents or agents with- out agency....”113 In this way the base rhetor keeps his audience in a state of intellectual infancy, rendering them de- pendent and weak.

The noble rhetor is not just manly but attempts to make a man out of his listener.

A Program for Conservatives

Although death came to Weaver when he was still young, it was more than ten years after the publication of The Ethics of Rheto- ric. It seems only reasonable to wonder why, over the course of that decade, Weaver never corrected the misinterpre- tation of his work. For that matter, it gives one cause to wonder why Weaver was so circumspect at all. If he never intended that Lincoln, but Milton, should be his ideal orator, why be so circumspect and why allow the misinterpretation to con- tinue?

It is important to keep in mind that Weaver’s overriding concern was the proper definition of conservatism in the

Winter 2006

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