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The Democratic Irony: Loyalty, Demagoguery, and the Sacred in Western Rhetoric

Adam M Blood, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation explores loyalty discourse and its role in the democratic contest between rights and virtues I argue that loyalty, when asserted as a requirement for citizenship, provides a rational basis for demagogic rhetoric. Additionally, I advance the assertion that rhetors who utilize loyalty discourse frequently utilize the topos of the sacred to give their rhetoric a stable basis for coherence. I begin by outlining the defining features of loyalty as a civic virtue. Next, through a retelling of the story of Socrates’ trial and the theorists that arose in his wake, I demonstrate that loyalty served as the thematic backdrop for Western rhetorical theory’s origin story. These two opening chapters provide the foundation for an investigation of the relationship between loyalty, demagoguery and the sacred. From there, I analyze the use of loyalty discourse in diverse contexts to look for consistent trends and themes. In the first case study, I investigate the tension between the virtue of loyalty and the rights of association and expression in the context of one of the most harrowing episodes in America’s rhetorical history: the saga of Senator Joseph McCarthy. The second case study outlines the incoherence of loyalty in the context of the neoliberal market through an analysis of the discourses surrounding LeBron James’ departure from and return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The third case study conducts an analysis of Clint Eastwood’s 2014 film American Sniper to illuminate the mythic narratives that shape America’s understanding of patriotic loyalty. Finally, I conclude this dissertation by outlining a series of guidelines that can help ensure an ethical and productive approach to loyalty discourse.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Blood, Adam M, "The Democratic Irony: Loyalty, Demagoguery, and the Sacred in Western Rhetoric" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI13857431.