The Morality of Spin: Virtue and Vice in Political Rhetoric and the Christian Right

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9781442210523: The Morality of Spin: Virtue and Vice in Political Rhetoric and the Christian Right
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The Morality of Spin explores the ethics of political rhetoric crafted to persuade and possibly manipulate potential voters. Based on extensive insider interviews with leaders of Focus on the Family, one of the most powerful Christian right organizations in America, Nathaniel Klemp asks whether the tactic of tailoring a message to a particular audience is politically legitimate or amounts to democratic malpractice. Klemp’s nuanced assessment, highlighting both democratic vices and virtues of the political rhetoric, provides a welcome contribution to recent scholarship on deliberative democracy, rhetoric, and the growing empirical literature on the American Christian right.

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About the Author:

Nathaniel J. Klemp is an assistant professor of political science and philosophy at Pepperdine University. Klemp is also the founder of LifeBeyondLogic.com, a social media-based blog on practical philosophy.

Review:

Klemp (Pepperdine Univ.) examines the place of rhetoric in a free society marked by popular sovereignty. Noting that the merits of rhetoric in politics has been a hotly contested topic within the realm of political theory since the days of Plato and Aristotle, Klemp astutely points out that this very important question has received very little attention at the real-world level of actual boots-on-the-ground politics. In this work, Klemp joins these two approaches, and he does it very well. Building off the work of Plato, Aristotle, John Stuart Mill, and more heavily from the work of John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas, Klemp breaks down rhetoric into three categories--"deliberative persuasion," "strategic persuasion," and "manipulation"--and proceeds to examine the moral qualities of each of these categories. After establishing his theoretical foundations, Klemp moves into real-world politics and examines the implications of the various types of rhetoric in different contextual environments using case studies of three Christian Right groups. This is a very strong piece of work. Summing Up: Highly recommended. (CHOICE)

Is it ethical for political operatives to say almost anything, no matter how outrageous, to get their way? What if those political operatives are religious groups that claim to be guided by biblical principles? The Morality of Spin moves beyond the usual news cycle discussion of such questions to give us an in-depth inquiry into the ethics of political discourse. I am especially impressed by the book’s rich understanding of democratic political theory as well as its close attention to the language of argumentation. (Robert Wuthnow, Princeton University)

This sorely-needed analysis of the political practice of “spin” derives new conceptual distinctions from real-world practice. The engagingly written cases illustrate why straightforward persuasion is good, strategic persuasion neither good nor bad, and manipulative persuasion condemnable. Klemp breaks fresh analytic ground with an innovative definition of manipulation as the intent to undermine another’s capacity to choose. An important book for any deliberative theorist or any citizen concerned with the uses and misuses of rhetoric in today’s politics. (Jane Mansbridge, Adams Professor, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University)

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