I think I know what you mean when you say:
>In the history of rhetoric, it's a truism that rhetoric flourishes in a
>free society but languishes in an autocratic culture. If this is true,
>why has rhetoric had such a tough slog in Canada in the 20th C.? Does
>the anti-rhetorical bent in post-secondary education in Canada reflect
>something about a latent (to some not too hidden) resistance to free
>thought and expression in Canada?
But I mistrust that truism. My inclination, when looking at the history of
rhetoric in the US, is not to see the "free society" aspect of American
culture as being the engine behind the presence and/or revival of rhetoric
(and you must mean rhetoric as a school subject, because "rhetoric"
obviously flourishes in fascist and communist states) so much as the
professional-technocratic aspect of American society being the engine
behind rhetoric in America. Contemporary rhetoricians often defend their
practice in terms of democracy and free thought/speech, but as people like
Susan Miller and Sharon Crowley have argued, composition courses in the US
have consistently been about silencing students, not empowering them.
As to why rhetoric, and particularly composition, has had a tough slog in
Canada, my answer is almost always based in institutional reasons rather
than ideological reasons (although the two are obviously not unrelated).
Canadian archival materials and publications from the 40s, 50s, and 60s
pretty consistently identify the ghastly or beastly nature of teaching
composition; Canadians were also accutely aware of the exploitation of
graduate students that fueled US composition courses and seem to have not
wanted to repeat that practice (partly because there were so few graduate
students to exploit!); and many members of Canadian English departments saw
serious problems with American comp: it seemed to teach only mechanics, it
seemed to teach fuzzy logic, and/or it ignored the value of great
In short, I don't think Canadian English departments received as much
external pressure to be practical as did American English departments, and
Canadian English departments did not seem to see the financial pay-off of
undertaking comp to be worth risking what they saw as their professional
integrity. Maybe these pressures/values are changing?
Department of English
322C Minard Hall
North Dakota State University
Fargo ND 58103
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