Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for coming to listen to my seminar on speeches. *the topic is*. The answer is a resounding yes! I’d like to support this view with two favourite speeches of mine, No evil can happen to a good man by Socrates and The political criminal of today must needs be a saint of the new age by Emma Goldman. These orators challenge their narrow-minded societies by affirming timeless ideals such as moral integrity and individual sovereignty with powerful rhetoric, thus gaining success through enduring ideological significance.
Socrates’ speech to the jury was shaped by both his own ideals and context – he asserts his own moral virtue and philosophical wisdom, criticising the spiritual decay and entrenched self-pity of Athenian society after military defeat by Sparta. He uses tight, eloquent logic to turn the trial against intolerant Athenian democrats who accuse him of undermining the social, political and religious status quo. The aporia “…that having no adequate knowledge of the Beyond, I do not presume that I have it” creates a sense of humility towards cosmic forces, countering claims of religious irreverence. However, Socrates’ witty sententia “I to die, you to live… Which is better only God knows” implies monotheistic undertones which challenge the strictly polytheistic audience, emphasising their fallibility while highlighting his righteousness. Moreover, His defiant display of moral and religious self-determination is reinforced by the high modality in his proclamation “I shall obey God rather than you” and the hyperbole in “I shall not alter my conduct if I have to die a score of deaths”. The antithesis “Virtue springs not from possessions, but from virtue springs possessions,” scorns the materialistic and self-absorbed nature of Athenian society and democracy, portraying Socrates in a light of moral and spiritual goodness. As you can see, Socrates heavily antagonised the jury with his moral self-righteousness and paternalistic intellectualism. Thus, his acceptance of his martyrdom only serves to cement his principles of moral integrity and individual sovereignty in history.
To elaborate, Socrates’ speech is regarded as successful because his philosophies appeal to an innate sense of morality and freedom that have been deeply ingrained in our modern democratic society. The metaphor and self-referential analogy “a kind of gadfly to a big generous horse, rather slow because of its very bigness,” as a critique of the inefficiency of Athenian democracy, retains relevance to today’s world where many ‘democracies’ are highly oppressive and lack moral integrity, such as Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Russia. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the triplets “wealth and honour and glory” with “judgement, truth and the soul” still raises questions about the modern world’s ever-increasing materialism and the corresponding descent into spiritual apathy. The paradox “If you put me to death, you will not be doing greater injury to me than to yourselves,” is reflective of contemporary society’s appreciation that freethinkers like Socrates have been valuable to the social, political and intellectual progress of humanity. This is reinforced by the oxymoron “to be good cheer about death,” which can be related to modern day freedom-fighters unintimidated by state brutality such as Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama. Hence, Socrates’ speech stands today as a masterpiece of philosophical rhetoric which resonates the universal values of individual sovereignty and moral integrity, appealing to our modern enshrinement of civil liberties and the transparent rule of law.
Similar to Socrates, Goldman’s Address to the Jury (1917) altruistically appeals to a jury on grounds of morality, self-determination and free speech. WWI America was a politically charged society that highly valued patriotism and Goldman was eventually put on trial for her anarchist, anti-conscription activities. From the outset, she uses satire and logic to attack the intolerance of the conservative American government. She satirises Marshall McCarthy and his men using sarcasm: “…wielding not a sword, nor a gun or a bomb, but merely their pens! Verily, it required courage to catch such big fish!” This condescending tone and pen vs. sword metaphorical imagery highlights the heavy-handedness of the government, undermining its moral authority. Furthermore, the use of tricolon in “Progress is ever renewing, ever becoming, ever changing” reinforces the depiction of American law and society as very narrow-minded and stagnant. Goldman uses the anaphora “never within the law” to describe the American, French and Russian Revolutions and freethinkers such as Socrates, Galileo, Bruno, and most notably, Jesus. Her daring juxtaposition of herself with this sacrosanct figure highlights her insightful assertion that progressive ideals have always martyred their advocates. Through this, Goldman asserts her own moral duty to challenge an unreasonable social status quo, but inflames the conservatively biased jury to disregard her profound but humiliating logical assertions. Despite not being acquitted, her stunning repartee serves as an enduring testament to the principles of morality, self-determination and free speech.
In modern contexts, Goldman’s assertion of self-determination and free speech remains relevant in several key ways. Her social climate parallels the modern ‘War on Terror’ and its undermining of civil liberties. By metaphorically describing American law as “stationary, fixed, mechanical, ‘a chariot wheel’ …without ever going into the complexity of the human soul,” Goldman creates robotic imagery of an unreasonable, oppressive regime that suppresses individual rights. Contemporary audiences can find relevance in the wave of anti-terrorism legislation in the post 9/11 world, such as the US Patriot Act, which have sacrificed rights to empower the state. Goldman also questions what constitutes ‘true’ patriotism in a world of conflicting national, social and political interests. Goldman is able to introduce her own more open-minded interpretation of patriotism by personifying it: “he [patriotism] is enchanted by her [America’s] beauty, yet sees her faults, too,” thus parodying the blind, bigoted and masculine patriotism held by the jury. Her speech echoes the dangers of ultranationalism, as evident today in the Palestinian-Israeli, Serbia-Kosovo and China-Tibet-Taiwan disputes. She then echoes the ongoing fight for liberty today in places like Burma and Tibet with the light-dark imagery in her concluding metaphor: “We are but atoms in the incessant human struggle towards the light that shines in the darkness – the…liberation of all mankind!” Hence, we today receive her speech as a skilful rhetoric that asserts the principles of self-determination and free speech, questioning the perpetuation of government heavy-handedness and intolerant nationalism.
In conclusion, speeches which stand the test of time fulfil two criteria – the effective use of rhetoric devices and the exploration of universal, timeless values which resonate long after its initial delivery. The speeches of Socrates and Goldman, though initially unable to fulfil their purpose in hostile social climates, are now respected as enduring testaments to the power of oration and the ageless ideals of moral integrity, individual sovereignty and free speech.
Dave – 2006
Yet another one of Dave’s finest essays. See my comments for Dave’s Module A Essay. To surmise: Excellent use of diction, sophisticated use of T.E.EM, impeccable structure, succinct attack of question. Epitome of HSC Response, received perfect 20/20.