Aristotle suggested that, among his three artistic proofs, logic (logos) should be the most powerful persuader in human affairs. Even modern proponents of his system of rhetoric, the late Edward P. J. Corbett among them, emphasized logos over ethos and pathos.
What we might desire and what actually works to move hearts and minds are very different. Humans are moved far more by appeals to emotion and character than by appeals to logic.
That’s why terms such as “class warfare” are tossed about nary a blush. Sure sounds scary, doesn’t it? That’s because real class warfare is damned scary; it’s also something we’ve never encountered in America (or at least not to the extent once seen in Europe).
Howard Kurtz surveys the current use of the term in regard to the wrangling over the Bush economic recovery package. Kurtz asks:
But is it class warfare to point out that most of the benefits will go to the wealthiest Americans, as was the case with the 2001 tax cut? Or is it class warfare to propose such a tilt in the first place?
The answer to both questions, of course, is: of course not. Using term class warfare is itself a form of, shall we say, rhetorical warfare. In this case the signifier has no signified. “Class warfare” identifies nothing. It’s purpose is merely to argue by inducing fear and/or derision.
UPDATE (11:55 a.m.): E. J. Dionne Jr. considers “class warfare” in today’s column. He even quotes Harold Lasswell!