ABSTRACT

As the popular narrative has it, the modern speech discipline in the United States was born out of a concern for democracy and reason. However, this story occludes other, decidedly undemocratic, foundational ideas that were at the heart of rhetoric and oratory during the first half of the twentieth century. Given contemporary concerns with both deliberative democracy and affect theory, rhetoricians and speech teachers would benefit today from a fuller understanding of some of the undemocratic ideas that influenced the modern rhetorical renaissance. This article helps accomplish this by focusing on the work of Gustave Le Bon, whose concern with persuasion and the masses was influential on early scholars of rhetorical oratory, including James Winans, William Brigance, and James O’Neill. Indeed, it was Gustave Le Bon who popularized the notion that the masses were like a psychological crowd devoid of reason and the ability to deliberate.

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