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Stoneman, Ethan

Spring 2013, 43:2, pages 134-154

The Available Means of Preservation: Aristotelian Rhetoric, Ostracism, and Political Catharsis

Abstract:  The aim of this essay is to demonstrate how Aristotle’s conception of tragic catharsis provides a basis for fleshing out the political office he tacitly assigns to rhetorical defending a city-state’s constitution against its characteristic forces of corruption so as to promote stability over the long-run. By inquiring into the Politic’ emphasis on preservation and its endorsement of ostracism, this essay argues that Aristotle’s theory of constitutions enables a rethinking of rhetoric’s political efficacy in terms of a non-representational cathartic process that by means of facilitating civic purgation renews a community’s political identity and so strengthens its commitment to the task of preserving the constitution. It demonstrates how, in articulating the grounds for exile, appeals to ostracism work toward the clarification both of the community’s organizing principle and the emotional bonds of political philia. The essay concludes by reflecting on the persistence of rhetorical catharsis in today’ Western democracies.