Reactionary rhetoric reconsidered

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The article tries to develop a new theory of reactionary ideology by applying a rhetorical approach. Because to do so is to follow in the footsteps of Albert O. Hirschman, the structure of the article is a critical discussion of his thesis. The revised theory aims to improve on Hirschman's earlier version, first by rethinking the nature of rhetoric, and second by offering a more satisfactory definition of reaction itself. It is argued that reaction should not be identified with the political Right at large. Nonetheless, it comprises a seam that runs right through the Right's history, and down into the present. This is presented as reaction's identifying ‘rhetorical repertoire’. When Hirschman finds evidence of arguments from ‘perversity’, ‘futility’ and ‘jeopardy’, he is only offering a theory of conservatism. Reaction is distinct, even if one advantage of the rhetorical approach is to allow that its boundaries with other ideological traditions might be fuzzy, rather than rigid. Prospectively, we will better understand reaction as a repertoire of appeals to ‘indignation’, ‘decadence’ and ‘conspiracy’.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Pages (from-to)179-200
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Political Ideologies
Issue number2
Early online date6 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015


  • reaction
  • rhetoric
  • Hirschman
  • ideology
  • political Right


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