- Raised Voices, Anger, and Liberty in the Later Eighteenth Century
The later eighteenth century in Europe would have provided fertile ground for talk radio. One can easily imagine in that context the persistent tone of moral and cultural outrage, the giddy vilification by intolerant participants of those unwashed heretics who hold different opinions, and the eagerness of political, social, and religious entities to manipulate all the parties as part of their various exercises in social control. Already in 1964 Jacques Ellul wrote in Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes that the modern mass media have made it possible to use the techniques of propaganda on a seemingly unprecedented scale, in part because the mass media can create an environment so constant and omnipresent that its nature as a deliberately manipulated construct goes virtually unnoticed. It is the old idea that if one repeats a lie often enough, and in enough places, it comes to be perceived as truth. And what better way to hype the lie rhetorically than by uttering it in a voice of bellicose rage? How dare [End Page 85] anyone question, anyone disagree? In contemporary schoolrooms this is called bullying; in political discourse it is called motivating the base.
How appropriate, then, for Andrew Stauffer to devote an entire book to examining how the propagandistic manipulation of anger—and of the rhetoric of anger—functioned within the revolutionary context of later eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century Europe. His larger subject is what he calls "the democratization of anger" (1), a phenomenon that he sees as arising from both the French Revolution's legitimation of anger as a political and rhetorical tool, and from the rapid expansion of the periodical press during the revolutionary era. In The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), Jürgen Habermas envisioned a "public sphere" likewise grounded in the burgeoning eighteenth-century European periodical press. But Habermas imagined a sphere that was far less "public" than his terminology implies, a field of discourse confined primarily to literate men of clear social, economic, and intellectual influence. Though it did not explicitly exclude them, Habermas's public sphere pointedly did not include women, working-class persons, or others whose access to public privilege and influence was constrained in one way or another. There are no huddled masses in Habermas's public sphere.
Enter the French Revolution, whose hallmark is the pervasive anger that inhabits not just written discourse, but also the broader public discourse of social and political actions ranging from bread riots and the women's march on Versailles to the storming of the Bastille and the Terror itself. Anger was an integral part of the "street theater" that characterized the Revolution. In Great Britain, the locus for Stauffer's study, anger was channeled into distinctly rhetorical manifestations rather than into widespread public violence. In one of its early appearances, for instance, this anger pervades the pamphlet war over Paine, Burke, and the "revolution controversy." But this anger then spins off into legal forms in the trials of Eaton, Hardy, Thelwall, and others for publishing what His Majesty's Government found objectionable. Here the issue was not simply public utterance, but formal publication, so that the issue of free speech becomes tied to that of a free press. The government exercised its power to the fullest in using the war with France (and its revolutionary republican ideals) as a club with which to beat into submission all opposition to its authoritarian stance. Adopting the measured and often tempered prose of official proclamations, the government allowed its allies (and employees) among the periodical press to indulge in the verbal savagery that the government wanted to seem to be rejecting. Of course, this tactic merely fueled the anger on the other side, and that anger naturally enough played out both in words and in actions—indeed, in "actionable" actions, as is evident from the...