portant distinctions, and specifically the invisible middle ground. Because the very existence of this middle way remains unarticulated, it escapes critique. The middle way, moreover, is not harmless or impotent but, as Weaver warned: “To re- cur here to the original situation in the dialogue, we recall that the eloquent Lysias, posing as a non-lover, had con- cealed designs upon Phaedrus, so that his fine speech was really a sheep’s cloth- ing. Socrates discerned in him a ‘peculiar craftiness.’ One must suspect the same today of many who ask us to place our faith in the neutrality of their discourse.”119 In the public arena there are powerful voices for whom any inclination, whether right or left, is a distraction from pruden- tial business.
The seduction of the middle ground is that it promises success. It is utile. The politician who takes a radical position will not be elected. The student who ad- vocates a radical theory risks alienation and failure. The individual who insists on adhering to a radical posture is ostra- cized. This phenomenon has long been noted by the extreme left. Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and others on the radical left have derided the nation and the me- dia for their right-wing conservatism while the voices of the right decry the advance of liberalism. The vast middle ground has become ascendant. Within the popular dialogue, the range of opinion is so nar- row as to be negligible. The recent presi- dential contest between John Kerry and George Bush demonstrated the distance “conservatism” has traveled toward the middle, with both candidates in favor of a massive consolidation of police power (Homeland Security and the Patriot Act); federal management of the economy; military adventurism (that would have
alarmed the fathers of limited and consti- tutional federalism); and legislation to federalize education (“No Child Left Be- hind”), with the only difference between the two candidates being the degree and level to which each one was willing to commit.
The true conservative, Weaver’s con- servative, has been pushed to the distant fringes of the party, his voice silenced in the political dialogue lest he make the party seem “extremist.” It is now more important to win legislative seats and to hold office than to advocate positions and to defend principles. Weaver, it would seem, was mistaken on one count: he believed that one could not stick to the middle ground and remain successful in politics, and that eventually the people would cry out for an heroic rhetoric. With prophetic insight, Weaver chose to con- clude his chapter on Milton by noting:
...people like to feel they are hearing of the solid fact and substance of the world, and those epithets which give us glimpses of its concreteness and contingency are the best guarantors of that. The regular balancing of abstract and concrete modifiers, which we meet regularly in Shakespeare, mirrors, in- deed, the situation all of us face in daily living, where general principles are clear in theory but are conditioned in their applica- tion to the concrete world. The man of eloquence must be a lover of ‘the world’s body’ to the extent of being able to give it a fond description.
With these conditions practically realized, we might again have orators of the heroic mold. But the change would have to include the public also, for, on a second thought suggested by Whitman, to have great ora- tors there must be great audiences too.120
The heroic speaker will not—cannot— be heard until one is man enough to listen.
71. Richard M. Weaver, The Ethics of Rhetoric (Davis, California, 1985), 86. 72. Richard L. Johannesen, Rennard Strickland, and Ralph T.
Eubanks, “Richard M. Weaver on the Nature of Rhetoric: An Interpretation,” in The Vision of Richard Weaver, ed. Joseph Scotchie (New