Carnegie Mellon University

Grand Challenge Freshman Seminar: Political Rhetoric

Course Number: 66-117

Without language, there would be no politics. Politics is about persuading others to adopt policies, to vote for candidates, to get out and march. Politics is about careful choices of language to frame issues, to make others see those issues in our preferred way. 

In this course, we will put the rhetoric of politics under the microscope, to identify its components and understand how they fit together into a powerful structure. We will use the tools of multiple disciplines in our analysis: rhetorical theory, both ancient and modern; cognitive science; contemporary discourse analysis; ethics; and philosophy of language. 

We will ask what it means for political rhetoric to be propaganda. We’ll explore how political advertising uses marketing techniques, taking advantage of our innate biases and cognitive dispositions. We will look at how a skillful speaker can control the topic in a dialogue or a debate. And throughout, we will ask the question: is this ethical? Where does persuasion cross the boundary into manipulation, and does that matter? What type of rhetoric do we want our political process to rely on? 

Our goal in this course is to provide students with the skills to recognize the rhetorical tools that political agents are using, and to develop their own responses in a skillful and informed way.

Academic Year: 2019-2020
Semester(s): Fall