Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 2010


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Communication and Rhetorical Studies


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Janie Harden Fritz

Committee Member

Calvin Troup

Committee Member

Richard Thames


Conservatism, Natural Law, Realism, Rhetorical Situation, Richard M. Weaver, Russell Kirk


The corpus of historically-minded "man of letters" and twentieth century leader among conservatives, Russell Amos Kirk, prompts one to reflect upon a realist rhetoric of order for conservative discourse in particular and public argumentation in general. In view of building a realist rhetoric of order within the present spectrum of modern to postmodern thought, this dissertation project contains two related layers of study. At one level, the author both builds and departs from the realist approach to communicative epistemology known as "rhetorical perspectivism" toward a theoretical framework for the study of rhetoric that is based upon Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas's legacy of classical realism. At another level, in light of the significance of Russell Kirk for the question of conservatism and postmodernism, from the vantage point of realism, the author considers Kirk's view on imagination, language, and life as against certain aspects of Hans Georg Gadamer's "philosophical hermeneutics." This comparison, next to a rhetorical theoretical study of The Roots of American Order regarding the essential constancy of human nature as such through history, points to some avenues by which Kirk's imaginative standpoint provides a way of taking the imagination as formative of communicative perspectives within and across "rhetorical situations." For conservative discourse and beyond, within this age of epistemological skepticism and moral relativism, Kirk's corpus provides for some ethical prospects for persuasion in terms of both argument and narrative, inclusive of the natural law as a basis for rhetorical ethics. In establishing parameters for a realist rhetoric of order, the author relies upon the work of Richard M. Weaver, who contributed to both movement conservatism and rhetorical theory during the twentieth century. In particular, the author embraces Weaver's connecting of genuine conservatism to philosophical realism, notwithstanding some necessary correctives toward classical realism regarding reality and ideation. Although this project in large part operates within the realm of rhetorical theory, some implications for the practice, criticism, and pedagogy of rhetoric are highlighted along the way with respect to a realist rhetoric of order.