[KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever
cbcox at ilstu.edu
Mon Nov 3 20:26:22 EST 2014
China is of course now an openly capitalist society. The title of its ruling
(and quite authoritarian) party is a joke.
China was never a democracy, but from the 1940s to the early 1980s there was
a good deal of _local_ democracy. See Fanshen by William Hinton.
There is another old joke. Wherever two Maxists get together they form three
And incidentally, the Protestant (particularly the Calvinist) emphasis on
Scripture, by creating warring interpretations, and warring sects, was
arguably the mother of democracy and religious freedom. It became obvious
that the 'new' religion, patriotism, could not survive without religious
From: kb-bounces at kbjournal.org [mailto:kb-bounces at kbjournal.org] On Behalf
Of Cerling, Lee
Sent: Monday, November 03, 2014 5:32 PM
To: Cerling, Lee; Gregory Desilet; Ed Appel
Cc: kb at kbjournal.org
Subject: Re: [KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever
Here in this week's copy of *The Economist,* there is a story about a grass
roots, religiously inspired challenge to the authoritarian Communist Party
orcing-official-rethink-religion-cracks> . It seems to me that the power of
this challenge comes precisely from what is believed to be a divinely
inspired text; and if you took away that belief from the situation, I
suspect the challenge would melt away as well.
It seems like this contradicts your thesis; but perhaps I am
misunderstanding. What do you think?
Lee Cerling, Ph.D.
Assoc. Professor of Clinical Management Communication Center for Management
Communication Marshall School of Business University of Southern California
From: <Cerling>, Lee Cerling <cerling at marshall.usc.edu>
Date: Monday, November 3, 2014 at 4:04 PM
To: Gregory Desilet <info at gregorydesilet.com>, Ed Appel
<edwardcappel at frontier.com>
Cc: "kb at kbjournal.org" <kb at kbjournal.org>
Subject: Re: [KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever
Okay, Greg; that is a very helpful, clarifying response. Here is a point on
which I think we have a genuine disagreement. You say in your response:
"But I do believe that as soon as a group of people believes
a text to be the word of God it amounts to stepping on a banana peel and
initiates a skid straight into authoritarianism. And there may also be a
bundle of motivations involved in believing a text to be divinely inspired,
but one clear consequence is authoritarianism-even where the text in
question may claim to be, as you claim for the New Testament,
anti-authoritarian. You can't fight the authoritarian fire with more fire.
And the history of the Catholic Church as an institutional religion
perfectly illustrates this."
I think that is the wrong metaphor to illustrate how these kinds of texts
function in actual human societies. I think that, whenever a powerful text
arises (whether there is the claim to divine inspiration or not),
institutions arise that try to enforce specific readings of that text. So
in my view, powerful texts, sacred or secular, are typically appropriated by
human beings toward authoritarian ends; and this is a feature of human
societies, an anthropological/sociological point, more than a rhetorical
point. This is as true of the Declaration of Independence as of the
(Jewish) Scriptures and the (Christian) Bible. There is always an attempt
at "institutional capture" of a text.
However, what is delightful and maddening in human history is that, however
well-designed or well-intentioned the texts are (i.e.,
covenants/catechisms/constitutions/contracts/etc.), institutions can never
absolutely control the meanings of texts, and the texts constantly break out
beyond the bounds of the apparent intentions of their authors. Thus, "all
men are created equal" was appropriated by women and slaves, despite
American institutional attempts to prevent those readings.
I believe that language always does that; that this is characteristic,
irreducible power (dynamos) of human language. And I believe that this
power (dynamos) can be even more present in texts believed to be divinely
inspired than in "secular" texts. Thus the biblical language that describes
divine speech is frequently organic: seed, fire, rain, light-always moving,
growing, transforming, changing, illuminating things. Language is not
static; this is a point well recognized in the Western religious traditions,
and I believe in the Eastern traditions as well.
So to me, the history of the Catholic Church as an institution illustrates
the exact opposite of what you take it to illustrate: despite its attempt
to control the reading of the text, it failed completely and utterly,
resulting in both the hundreds of Protestant denominations, and even
resulting in the Enlightenment and contemporary secularism, by my way of
reading history (fwiw, Brad Gregory's The Unintended Reformation makes that
kind of an argument).
For a Burkean, this rhetorical overflow and richness of language that
necessarily results in multiple readings of the text is an obvious
logological point. For a theologian, such an array of readings might either
be taken as a sign of the Holy Spirit (I.e., Luther's own view), or as a
sign of devilish schism (I.e., the Pope's view). Regardless, there is this
rhetorical point: the language cannot be always appropriated for
authoritarian ends; the language that authoritarians rely on to reinforce
their authority always slips out of their control to ends that subvert their
intentions. This loss of control of the text is a deliberate rhetorical
project; and a great part of the delight of knowing Burke, in my view, is
that he helps us see much more clearly how this rhetorical process works.
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