Unlike Neoclassical and earlier writers, Romantic and later ones view rhetoric with suspicion. Walter Ong, who points out that the age of Romanticism is also the technological age, explains how rhetoric and the terms associated with it became bad words after 1800.

With the advent of the age which from one point of view we call the technological age and from the other point of view the romantic age, rhetoric was not wiped out or supplanted, but rather disrupted, displaced, and rearranged. It became a bad word - as did many of the formerly good words associated with it, such as art, artificial, commonplace, and so on. Rhetoric was a bad word for those given to technology because it represented "soft" thinking, thinking attuned to unpredictable human actuality and decisions, whereas technology, based on science, was devoted to "hard" thinking, that is, formally logical thinking, attunable to unvarying physical laws (which, however, are no more real than variable human free acts). Rhetoric was a bad word also for those given to romanticism because it seemed to hint that the controlling element in life was a contrivance rather than freedom in the sense of purely "spontaneous" or unmotivated action, sprung up unsolicited from the interior wells of being. (In support of rhetoric, it might be noted that no such choice is possible: psychology can identify the real motives always underlying the seemingly random or whimsical choice - which is precisely unfree because its motives are not under conscious control. Fee action is not unmotivated action but action from motives consciously known.)" [p. 8]


Walter J. Ong, "Rhetoric and the Origins of Consciousness," Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture. Ithaca, N. Y. Cornell University Press, 1971.

Originally created 1987; last modified July 2000