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January 31, 2012 - Stephen Browne
"I shall ask no more than that you agree with Dean Inge that even though counting heads is not an ideal way to govern, at least it is better than breaking them." From, "Democracy: Its Presumptions and Realities" (1932); also in The Spirit of Liberty: Papers and Addresses (1952) by Judge Learned Hand (1872-1961)
Covering the Schwan's Speech Spectacular was one of the most fun but disappointing experiences I've had at work lately.
Fun because I love all thing connected with public speaking and rhetoric. Disappointing because I had a very limited time to hang around before I had to cover other events out of town. I'd have been perfectly happy spending the whole day there talking to students and coaches and listening to the presentations.
As far as we know, the serious study of how to teach speaking with grace and persuasiveness began in ancient Greece, right around the time they invented democracy and philosophy. After inventing democracy, they found they had to rely on persuading their fellow-citizens rather than, "Do it our way or we'll kill you." And at that there was a fair amount of backsliding from time to time when debate and discussion failed and governance reverted to brute force.
The study of how to speak persuasively was called "rhetoric" and along with dialectic (logic) and grammar, comprised the trivium, the first three of the seven liberal arts. If you got to this website The Sylva Rhetoricae here: http://rhetoric.byu.edu/ you'll find everything you need to know about classical rhetoric, from A for abating, to Z for zeugma.
After the foundations of rhetoric were established in Greece, it was further developed by Roman admirers of all things Greek such as Cicero. It fell into decline as the Roman Republic became an increasingly absolutist empire. That set the pattern. It doesn't take a genius to see that the arts of public speaking flourish when free parliaments flourish, and declines as free government declines.
All this is by way of saying, congratulations students. Aside from having a good time, bringing honor to your schools and your communities, and preparing yourself for college and careers, you are keeping alive a tradition every bit as important to the survival of free societies as skill at arms.
Bravo! Brava! Go knock their lights out in Duluth next week.
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