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The Prophetic Tradition and Radical Rhetoric in America. James Darsey. New York: New York University Press, 1997. 279 pp. James Darsey's The Prophetic Tradition and Radical Rhetoric in America is an ambitious book, both in terms of the argument being made and the amount of material being covered.
Much of the book centers on this question of different rhetorics, contrasting two different version of American political talk. The first, which is well known, well-celebrated, and well-established in the educational curriculum in this country, is a way of speaking predicated on certain Enlightenment ideals of freedom and agency. These ideas, so the story goes, influenced America's founding fathers, found their embodiment in the U.S. constitution, and are the reasons we have universal education and advanced citizenship. This sort of political rhetoric, which Darsey associates closely with the early Whig party rhetoric, celebrates the capacity of individual agents to think and to act without requiring belief in some higher power guiding them. Reason, in effect, becomes its own guiding light. The second discourse, which remains both less known and less celebrated, is a rhetoric predicated on a “prophetic tradition,” one that continues to look to the power of absolutes beyond the confines of individual rationality. Darsey examines how Old Testament prophets, for example, called upon the Truth of Yahweh to demonstrate the rightness of their actions and to respond to the wrongs being perpetrated. ...
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