Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Rehabilitating Emotion: The Troublesome Case of the Ku Klux Klan

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Rehabilitating Emotion: The Troublesome Case of the Ku Klux Klan

Article excerpt

The impulse that leads us to reject instruments . . . that can be turned to any and every purpose is that we know that we are the good guys and the Nazis are the bad guys. We should like to find some way of making this knowledge as clear to everyone as it is to us . . . . The trouble is, of course, that this same sort of knowledge-claim is made, in all sincerity, by the bad guys, and that we shall never have any resources available that will not be equally available to them.

Richard Rorty (1990, pp. 639-640)

Intellectual historians may observe at some future time that the closing decades of the twentieth century were not kind to logos, or reason.(1) After centuries of reason reigning supreme in Western metaphysics, many scholars in the humanities and social sciences now look suspiciously on appeals to reason or rationality as providing the single, preferred procedure for knowledge validation. Those who call themselves poststructuralist or postmodern frequently have criticized reason as a central facet of a dysfunctional and untenable Enlightenment project. Jacques Derrida's (1967/1976) critique of logocentrism provides only one example of this poststructuralist orientation. Joining Derrida, Lyotard (1979/1984), and others in opposition to grand narratives of reason are those feminist scholars who depict the domination of logos as instrumental to the maintenance of patriarchy. For example, given modernity's many problems, including the valorization of reason over emotion, Sandra Harding (1986) notes with approval the "often beneficial ways in which the modernist world is falling apart" (p. 164).

Responses to this critique of logos in recent years have been manifold, and no single satisfactory alternative to the modern vision of rationality is certain (or even likely) to emerge. The conceptualization of alternatives to Enlightenment reason has begun (e.g., Fisher, 1987), but no end to this theorizing is imminent. Minimally, many scholars now conceive of rationality as a contested and contestable notion, given that multiple rationalities are said to exist. Some academics have even rejected reason altogether as a dangerous and confining idea (see Bernstein, 1986), although Mary E. Hawkesworth (1989) and others complain in response that such thinking wrongly elides reason with Enlightenment reason. Instead, scholars like Hawkesworth conclude that "a critical feminist epistemology must avoid both the foundationalist tendency to reduce the multiplicity of reasons to a monolithic 'Reason' and the postmodernist tendency to reject all reasons tout court" (Hawkesworth, 1989, p. 556).

Against this backdrop of efforts to fashion more satisfactory accounts of reason, I wish to warn that one increasingly popular move in remaking moral philosophy and rhetorical and argumentation theory, the choice to ally reason with emotion, is not without peril.(2) A monolithic "Emotion" - or even a commitment to some specific emotion - is not a simple corrective for a metaphysical faith in reason, and those scholars who make the admirable attempt to deconstruct the reason/emotion binary in Western metaphysics must be aware that reconstructive efforts in this area have their own pitfalls. By calling attention to these pitfalls, I do not mean to discourage this reconstructive effort. Instead, I suggest that scholars should be aware of the potential problems that confront them in undertaking such a project. While more promising than the uncritical valorization of reason by their Enlightenment predecessors, contemporary theories that link emotion to reason or fuse reason with emotion are not guaranteed to produce an improvement over the Enlightenment's marginalization of emotion.

In what follows, I make my case by examining the rhetoric of that most troublesome of sources, the Ku Klux Klan. In the discourse of one Klan leader, I find a theory of rationality that links a concern with giving reasons to an insistence on the importance of racial instinct and emotion. …

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