In Plato’s Phaedrus and other dialogues, Socrates reveals an unflattering opinion of rhetoric:
Soc. Is not rhetoric, taken generally, a universal art of enchanting the mind by arguments; which is practised not only in courts and public assemblies, but in private houses also, having to do with all matters, great as well as small, good and bad alike, and is in all equally right, and equally to be esteemed-that is what you have heard? (Phaedrus, translation by Benjamin Jowett)
Later, in Gorgias, he describes living a life of virtue as the true path to happiness:
Follow me then, and I will lead you where you will be happy in life and after death, as the argument shows. And never mind if some one despises you as a fool, and insults you, if he has a mind; let him strike you, by Zeus, and do you be of good cheer, and do not mind the insulting blow, for you will never come to any harm in the practice of virtue, if you are a really good and true man. (Gorgias, translation by Benjamin Jowett)
While it’s been more than a few days since I read these in college, I couldn’t help but remember them when reading George Lakoff and hearing about the New Enlightenment, which espouses something like a rhetoric of the political mind, understanding how people process what they hear and experience, and speaking in a way which is persuasive given this understanding of mind. Professor Lakoff even laments many liberals’ response to his exhortations, where they say that they couldn’t follow his advice because it is like advertising and they want to speak the truth plainly, in the Old Enlightenment way.
Not that I disagree with Professor Lakoff; what is the point of having hopes and aspirations if you can’t express them in a way which helps make them come true. Still, I understand the Old Enlightenment resistance.