Thursday, October 08, 2015

U.S. Rhetoric and Latin America

Christa J. Olson, "But in Regard to These (the American) Continents: U.S. National Rhetorics and the Figure of Latin America." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 45, 3 (2015): 264-277.


This essay draws attention to the vital role that the “other” America has played in the creation of (U.S.) American rhetorics. It examines how U.S. presidential invocations of the Monroe Doctrine make use of the figure of Latin America to imagine the United States and its role in the world. In 1823, when James Monroe articulated what became the “Monroe Doctrine,” the idea that the United States had a two-continent sphere of influence was novel at best. Over time, however, U.S. public discourse developed a ubiquitous common sense in which U.S. strength, security, and even national being have a hemispheric basis. From Monroe’s assertion that actions against any American state would manifest “an unfriendly disposition toward the United States” to Theodore Roosevelt’s lionized national virility and into the present moment, the figure of Latin America—present and absent—has become powerfully definitive for U.S. national image.

I have never read an analysis of U.S.-Latin American relations focused specifically on rhetoric. That angle often comes up, but is a side note to something else. Olsen asserts that the construction of U.S. presidential rhetoric stems in large part from they articulations of Latin America.

In this essay, I make a simple assertion that aims to have far reaching consequences for rhetorical studies. The assertion is this: while it may be possible to study the rhetorical histories of the United States without attending to the figure of Latin America, it is entirely inadvisable. Omitting Latin America leaves us with a foreshortened perspective on the theory and practice of American rhetoric. Rhetoricians working in the United States ought not only look southward when we invoke American rhetorical history but also re-examine U.S. domestic rhetorics with an eye toward Latin America. From Manifest Destiny’s westward vision to Audre’s Lorde’s intersectional critiques, Lincoln’s Civil War politicking to Roosevelt’s Arsenal of Democracy, Latin America figures consistently in U.S. public argument yet is obscured, repeatedly elided in the midst of its own prevalence. This essay illuminates one example of that Latin American presence-in-absence, inviting further work to trace it across the whole of U.S. rhetorical practice.

She argues that presidents may not even have been conscious of how Latin America helped form their rhetoric.

This can perhaps be seen as a companion to Brian Loveman's No Higher Law, where he argues how important Latin America is as a training ground for U.S. policies elsewhere. U.S. practices of imperialism, invasion, counterinsurgency, etc. all were formed in large part in Latin America and then used elsewhere in the world as part of U.S. foreign policy.


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