Wayne C(layson) Booth Robert Buffington - Essay

Robert Buffington

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent Booth engages the modern mind and its dualisms. It is an exciting book, not in the way that it proceeds—though much expanded, it suffers in several ways from its original lecture format—but in its good news. (p. xxxiv)

Booth does not attempt to establish an epistemology or even, despite the systematic appearance of the book, a systematic rhetoric…. What he attempts is to reestablish as intellectually respectable, roughly under the classical rhetorical heads of ethical proof and emotional proof, some of the other good reasons there are to assent to an argument besides empirical and logical proof: for example, the reason of expert testimony. It has always been a good reason in law, although the meaning of expert has come to be more and more narrowly defined…. (pp. xxxvi-xxxvii)

One of Booth's basic appeals is to our common sense—to what we sense in common as we go about our daily business. We necessarily judge and act daily without empirical or logical proof of our rightness, but certainly with a sense of reason more general, more objective than self-expression. Booth wants to promote common sense to a larger share in our intellectual and public life. (p. xxxvii)

By his own admission Booth is himself half a modernist, and he proceeds more warily than I perhaps have been suggesting. If we are made in rhetoric, there remains the question "Who or what made the universe such that it can be apprehended only in a shared language of values?" Booth believes that rhetorical questions lead ultimately to a "God-term," but he wants to emphasize—ever cautious with his 1971 student audience—that we need not "fall back" on an idea of God to refute the modern dogmas. Where his wariness weakens his argument is in his choice of the term values, which is not a postmodern term; borrowed from the marketplace, it is in the language of modern anthropological relativism and I think a distraction. (p. xxxviii)

Robert Buffington, "Rhetoric and Postmodernism," in The Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor; © 1975 by The University of the South), Vol. LXXXIII, No. 2, Spring, 1975, pp. xxxiv, xxxvi-xxxviii, xl.