Burkean Social Hierarchy and the Ironic Investment of Martin Luther King

James F. Klumpp

In the opening decades of the twenty-first century, social demographics will pose their greatest challenge yet to the American culture: the point will be passed when Americans whose ancestors arrived on these shores from Europe will slip from a majority to a plurality. In the time of this great change, Americans will face the need to reinvent power relationships to construct a less graded society drawing life from its rich ethnic and racial mix. To make this future, Americans must begin from a past and present rife with differentiated power. They must confront a long history of racism -- from 250 years of slavery to the internment of Japanese-Americans -- from which they must fashion a multiracial culture. And they must confront the resistance of male and white power in their own time -- documented in the glass ceiling and anti-immigrant agitation -- that must be overcome if a productive and just society is accomplished. Will the American strength -- the diversity of heritage and experience -- be its advantage or its downfall?

All of the resources of the society will need to contribute to assure creation of a better society, including the devoted energies of the custodians of discourse. Discourse can be a resource through which we achieve the just and productive society that manifests a community for all, or it can be the poison that precludes the "better life." The challenge to those of us who study discourse is all the greater because discourse is a domain that reveals a particular obstacle to such cultural transformations: ofttimes sorting friend from foe and advance from retreat is surprisingly difficult. Rhetoric is the art in which discourse is turned toward inventing the future from the material of the past and present. The process through which adaptation emerges from the midst of reaffirmation is a delicate process that defines the tentativeness inherent in peaceful change. Understanding the transformation and meeting the challenge of facilitating its success will require all the resources our understanding of discourse can muster.

In the face of this complicated challenge, the need for the resources of Kenneth Burke's writings on rhetoric seems compelling. A plethora of Burkean concepts present themselves to students of discourse as powerful perspectives on the challenge: language "as equipment for living," permanence and change, perspective by incongruity, the power of symbolic motivation, symbols of authority, symbolic transformation, attitudes toward history and, of course, hierarchy. Perhaps no concept rushes as quickly to the heart of the challenge the society faces as hierarchy. The central questions of the time seem posed by the fact of social hierarchy: Can a society be constructed that is consistent with the equitable values of democracy when the differences of a diverse population offer so many opportunities for social gradation? Or, perhaps even closer to the point, can the tension between equality and merit yield to social forms that maximize productivity and social justice? Burke theorizes the difficulties and opportunities inherent in the intertwining of hierarchy and discourse. This interpenetration of discourse and social form -- so prevalent in Burke's many concepts -- defines precisely the challenge to, and thus the opportunity for, students of discourse.

The potential contribution of the Burkean perspective -- particularly his concept of hierarchy -- is threatened, however, by the rush to simplify the Burkean notion to help locate him as either friend or foe. I believe that two tasks are critical to reinstall the power of the concept for the potential it has at the heart of the coming challenge: to expand the texture of the concept by reacquiring its place in Burke's system and to explore the potential power of the concept to help us negotiate the complicated hierarchical impact of discourse. A revitalized Burkean concept provides another tool with which critics can approach the challenging problems of the next century.

Thus, I will argue for the vitality of criticism grounded in the Burkean notion of hierarchy. I will argue that the Burkean notion is a complex set of arguments, rife with ambiguity which permits friendly and unfriendly constructions as the notion is taken beyond the Burkean corpus. I should preface such a project by shunning a commitment to "purify" misinterpretation of Burke's words or thoughts. Although much of the dispute over the implications and usefulness of hierarchy in the Burkean system results from extrapolations which depart from Burke in important ways, I recognize that the dispute begins in the ambiguities in Burke's work. I will deal with Burke's words, to be sure, but by using them to explore the issues with dramatistic or logological criticism as the context. I will begin by identifying the notion of hierarchy in the Burkean viewpoint, then will explore its possibilities for criticism, and finally illustrate with an examination of a foundational plea for equality.

A Burkean Viewpoint on Hierarchy

Over my years of teaching Burkean criticism, no element of Burke's theory has been as controversial with my students as the assertion that "hierarchy is inevitable." Of course, the assertion read as a statement about social hierarchy goes against a basic faith of the American left. Among the most virulent reactions to this statement are those of respected feminist colleagues who view hierarchy as a characteristic of patriarchy and whose personal commitments to constructing social equality seem challenged. This history makes a focus on Burke's position on the inevitability of hierarchy appropriate. If Burkean criticism is, in fact, rooted in the assumption that gradations of social station are intractable and beyond the influence of discourse, the current project is a non-starter. So close attention is mandated to axioms and assumptions about hierarchy in working the relationship between hierarchy and discourse.

Such attention reveals that Burke's argument for hierarchy is neither as straight-forward nor as simple as its centrality to his system would indicate. The claim of intractability is often stated in terms of social hierarchy: "social hierarchy is an inevitable part of the human condition." Note 1 Furthermore, the claim is taken to be a characteristic of what political scientists used to call "the distribution of power in society," a rather static characterization of pecking order; in pentadic terms, hierarchy is an empirically documented fact about the social scene. By rooting hierarchy in a scenic-dominated account of human relations, this account makes hierarchy's place in symbolic action derivative.

This image fits the metaphysics of a social scientist which Burke explicitly rejects (PC li) more than that of a humanist whose system evolves from literary interests. I will attempt to locate the latter interest as a more fruitful stance for rhetorical criticism, thus rooting social hierarchy in interpretive processes. Explicating this position will require exploring (1) the claim of inevitability and (2) the arguments that establish the claim.

Locating the Claim

There are, in fact, at least three possible constructions of the claim that "social hierarchy is inevitable." The first is to take the claim as an empirical claim about status relations in human society. "Inevitable" in this construction implies the universality of the generalization. The second would take hierarchy to be a dimension of status relations, useful to grade societies from authoritarian to egalitarian. With this interpretation "inevitability" would be not so much an empirical claim as an operational entailment definitionally ancillary to a particular system for understanding culture. The third possibility would take hierarchy to be what social scientists would call "a variable," one of the alterable dimensions of ongoing social life through which social relations are accomplished. This third possibility is a more fluid construction in which "inevitable" has some of the flavor of operational fact that characterizes the second possibility, but is grounded in social praxis rather than a "scientific model."

These three possibilities are neither a continuum nor are they mutually exclusive but, as primary stances, they enact dramatically different moralities. Lurking behind the first is a hint of authoritarian societies with rigid caste gradients. A claim of "inevitability" in this context entails a resignation from the possibility of alternative social relations. This attitude of resignation precludes meaningful moral judgement. The second stance, by contrast, opens the possibility of categorizing and then passing moral judgement on societies. Because this possibility is based in categorical method, it also introduces the possibility of setting off particular societies in which Burke's method might be appropriate from others in which it would fail. The third stance opens the possibility of the richest morality of choice by individuals and societies but based on what is done with hierarchy rather than the fact of hierarchy. I will argue that this final stance opens a place for symbolic action and therefore offers the most promise for insightful criticism.

Arguments to Support the Claim

The question which sorts various arguments for the inevitability of hierarchy are summarized by this question: In Burke's account of hierarchy, is hierarchical social status posited as the source of hierarchy in social systems, or is hierarchical social status viewed as derived from some more basic hierarchical action? The empirical claim among the three possible stances would entail the former position; the other stances are consistent with either of these positions. By tracing Burke's arguments for hierarchy, I will indicate my claim that the third stance with a focus on hierarchy in language reveals the most fruitful approach to criticism. To do so, I examine three potential lines of argument.

The straight empirical argument. The empirical claim about social status implies a test by an immediate search for disproving examples. I have never found a place in the Burkean corpus where I believe that empirical generalization is the main force of his claim nor where Burke offers a proof based solely on generalization across societies. Although Burke has penned many claims, and "never" is a bold assertion, argument by empirical generalization would seem unlikely given the typical contextualist moves of his systematic inquiry. Note 2 Typically, only two universals -- the common experience as biological animals and symbol using -- mark Burke's discussion of humans (see, for example, PC 275). Furthermore, Burke is far more likely to generate proof from the rich variety of human societies than to generalize across them. Note 3

Hierarchic structure is inherent in systematization. The second line of argument is proffered in Rhetoric of Motives:

The hierarchic principle itself is inevitable in systematic thought. It is embodied in the mere process of growth, which is synonymous with the class divisions of youth and age, stronger and weaker, male and female, or the stages of learning, from apprentice to journeyman to master. (141)
Burke's argument here is that the act of systematization -- roughly arrangement -- trades on the ordering of elements. Such orderings establish hierarchies. This becomes especially true when the ordering has an aura of development. So-called "natural hierarchies" thus emerge such as age being superior to youth and master to apprentice.

Three things are important to observe from this line of argument. First, Burke explicitly refers to the hierarchial principle as the inevitable element. The assertion is that systematization elevates the principle of the system over the specific content of the system. In developmental series, this is the entelechial principle evident in the "end" of the series. Thus, the principle of age takes precedent over the ages of a group of people. Age is a natural entelechial principle, so the older among the group of people are elevated over the younger. In this way, the hierarchic elevation of the principle reaches down into social order and imposes status hierarchy. Thus, the force of the argument for the claim about the social system is not empirical but derivative from the claim about systematization.

Second, the argument reverses the relative power of social status and interpretive construal, linking the two by elevating the latter to primary. Burke continues in the paragraph to explain how he moves from the claim about the definition of systematization to social hierarchy:

But this last hierarchy [apprentice to journeyman to master] is as good an indication as any of the way in which the "naturalness" of grades rhetorically reënforces the protection of privilege. Thought in its essence purely developmental, the series is readily transformed into rigid social classifications, and these interfere with the very process of development that was its reason for being. (141)
System requires a rhetoric -- perhaps it is better at this point to say motive or orientation -- which pronounces the differentiations and grading that define it. When the abstract orientation of the system is turned toward humans, social hierarchy results. Furthermore, the social hierarchy performed in the motive then shapes social action. Now hierarchy has become a living social system in which masters assert their superiority, consumers seek the work of masters rather than apprentices, and apprentices strive to learn so that they may pass through the structure of social rituals that will see them arriving at the level of the masters. In short, if systems are to be lived within, then the notion of hierarchy that is inherent in the notion of system -- the supremacy of the systemic principle -- infuses the lived-within system with social hierarchy.

Thirdly, the ironic voice enters this relationship between systemness and social hierarchy to introduce variation within the hierarchy. The final clause of this last quotation indicates that hierarchies contain internal irony. The tendency to create social structure with rigid class gradients mutes the developmental energy: masters attempt to protect their privilege. Of course, equally plausibly, the developmental principle provides power that can be employed to weaken the rigidity of social hierarchy: a master without an apprentice is less a master. This irony infuses the rhetoric of ritual. If rituals are too open, their social significance is lost; if too closed, pressure builds to dethrone masters. Thus, a rhetoric develops in which the master richly praises the achievement of the apprentice and the apprentice proudly celebrates the master. The resources of this rhetoric permit variation in the relative power of each within the hierarchy. In sum, the relationship between the principle of systemness and the social hierarchy is rhetorical, therefore rests on a paradox, and is capable of generating reconfigured power relationships.

The analysis performed on master and apprentice can equally be performed on other principles based on time, or value, or natural sequences. There are, no doubt, other systemic principles as well, and each has potential as rhetorical force to create social hierarchy. But is a principle of hierarchy evident in all ordering? Or, does Burke's argument merely apply to those orderings which do obviously build on such a principle? Two examples from Burke's series in Rhetoric of Motives may help explore these questions: "stronger and weaker" and "male and female." These two pairs are not naturally developmental, and Burke never provides a similar account of hierarchical entailment in ordering them. The viability of this second argument depends on doing so.

The first is fairly straight-forward from the act of valuing. "To value" is to elevate (and thus a particular type of systematization). In language, valuing is performed through differentiation and grading. "Stronger" is a value based in a particular hierarchical principle (although not a natural one like aging, but grounded in the language act of valuing). One can certainly imagine other hierarchical principles, including, I believe, a hierarchical principle that values weakness over strength (one can imagine two psychologists discussing their patients in a way that makes the "best" one the one with the "best" weaknesses). The act of elevation which inheres in valuing, however, does imply a graded differentiation which, through the same logic as in the developmental series, becomes a principle of social structure.

Burke's inclusion of "male and female" is even more interesting and goes to the heart of the dispute about the inevitability of hierarchy. (Certainly it is as much a manifestation of sexism as "White" and "Black" would be a manifestation of racism, although in Burke's defense, it is not clear whether he is asserting or reporting here.) A differentiation of male and female is an ordering of a kind. It also contains a principle -- either biological or gendered differentiation -- but neither term naturally defines itself as the entelechial principle which transforms differentiation into hierarchy. This seems to represent a principle that requires something more to transform into social hierarchy. We would have to look beyond the natural resources of developmental principles to find another resource that can create a hierarchical principle to order male and female -- the story of Adam and Eve, for example -- and thus serve as a basis for transforming the distinction into social hierarchy. These two examples -- "stronger/weaker" and "male/female" thus entail the resources of language beyond mere organizing, and thus bring us to the third potential line of argument.

Hierarchy is entailed in the character of language. There are several ways of constructing such an argument, let me develop one. Note 4 It begins with the character of naming. A name marks off particular parts of undifferentiated experience as important (GM 24; PC 92). In doing so, a name must inherently elevate its principle over other possible principles, thus a hierarchic principle lies at the center of definition. To define is to "mark off," and to stress that which is marked off (GM 24).

As an inherent resource of naming, one of language's native powers is to systemize experience into hierarchy. A name creates a hierarchy of the elements of lived experience -- those to which we attend elevated above those we ignore. To name me a "professor" invokes several hierarchic principles simultaneously: for example, one's work (or one's employment) as one's identity, or bureaucratic title over activity (cf., teacher as an alternative). In fact, more than elements of experience are elevated in the simple act of naming -- the name invokes a cluster of vocabulary which may be called upon as a way of understanding. Names are not isolated in a sort of dictionary singleness in language-in-use, but are tied to complexes of vocabulary which accompany invocation. When a single word is considered within these complexes taken as a whole, invoking "professor" as my moniker places me in the context of an activity in which the name signifies my success. An act of language carries attitudes which further elevate particular elements of experience and disparage others: in our example, the name "professor" uttered with contempt "He is one of those tax-sucking purveyors of venom to our young" or with awe "You must meet Professor Klumpp. He is on the faculty at the University of Maryland."

These resources of language may be overt or implicit in language. So-called scientific vocabularies -- what Burke calls semantic meaning (PLF 140-43) -- work to avoid elevating, yet they implicitly contain hierarchic principles which value objectivity and precision over motive and ambiguity (PC 95-96).

The central argument here is that hierarchy, its creation or invocation, is intrinsic in language. This does not yet, of course, indicate that social order inherently invokes hierarchical principle. To the central argument must be added the power of language to structure social order. There are three alternative relationships which may form this bridge. First is the link between language and action. Burke punctuates characterizations of action not in the single space-time metaphysics of a moment but in the complex patterns of behavior that he calls "motives." "Motives are distinctly linguistic products," Burke writes in Permanence and Change.

We discern situational patterns by means of the particular vocabulary of the cultural group into which we are born. Our minds, as linguistic products, are composed of concepts (verbally molded) which select certain relationships as meaningful. Other groups may select other relationships as meaningful. (35)
Motives thus structure our action. In Attitudes Toward History Burke writes:

"Action" by all means. But in a complex world, there are many kinds of action. Action requires programs -- programs require vocabulary. To act wisely, in concert, we must use many words. . . . Names shape our relations with our fellows. They prepare us for some functions and against others, for or against the persons representing these functions. (4; emphasis in original).
The complexes of action which we recognize as social hierarchies are played out in the distribution of value with particular vocabularies of motive.

This is the principle evoked in the second bridge and Burke's most obnoxious statement to those who are concerned about social hierarchy: the clause in his "Definition of Man" where he characterizes humans as "goaded by the spirit of hierarchy" (LSA 15). Note 5 Upon introducing this phrase Burke immediately offers an alternative phrasing "moved by a sense of order," thus tying the point with his argument from systemization. He then discusses the phrase in terms of his discussion of hierarchy in Rhetoric of Motives. But the phrase may be fleshed out equally well by reference to the principle of piety and system-building discussed in Permanence and Change. Once humans have named something, they work to perfect the name; that is, they respond to the thing in terms of the name they have applied and the names which cluster with it in a motive (PC 74+). This is the same impulse that gives rise to the "well-rounded statement about motives" in Grammar of Motives (xv; thus, the pentad), and the fifth clause of his definition "rotten with perfection" (LSA 16). "The principle of perfection," he writes, "is central to the nature of language as motive. The mere desire to name something by its 'proper name,' or to speak a language in its distinctive ways is intrinsically 'perfectionist'" (LSA 16). The language user carries the hierarchical impulse which singles out "the significant" from linguistic naming into social acting. Actions then order the social order.

The third basis for the merger of language and social structure Burke explains in a scheme of "hierarchies of terminology" explicated in Language as Symbolic Action (373-76). Burke differentiates vocabularies in four domains: the physical, the grammatical, the socio-political, and the supernatural. Burke argues that we draw names from one of these domains to allow us to pronounce relationships in the other. For example, we employ the invocation "Father" toward God (supernatural) in a gesture that recognizes His elevation over us with a terminology and hierarchical principle drawn from the socio-political domain of the family (socio-political). In addition, of course, the invocation's use in religious authority (creator) also reinforces the terminology's power within the family (my father created this family in his image). "Father" and "child" also invoke the physical in asserted biological link. In fact, in a culture whose metaphysics is dominated by physical scientism, the socio-political is often experienced as less real than the physical, so the metaphorical move from the physical to the socio-political is more powerful than the move from the supernatural to the socio-political.

Our example has by now illustrated the resources of language which can harden into hierarchies of social order -- for example, sexism and patriarchy. Language provides the mode by which these hierarchies are performed in social action. But does their emergence represent an inherent characteristic of language or merely an avoidable perversion of language's power? Burke answers:

To say that hierarchy is inevitable is not to say that any particular hierarchy is inevitable; the crumbling of hierarchies is as true a fact about them as their formation. But to say that the hierarchic principle is indigenous to all well-rounded human thinking, is to state a very important fact about the rhetorical appeal of dialectical symmetry. And it reminds us, on hearing talk of equality, to ask ourselves, without so much as questioning the possibility that things might be otherwise: "Just how does the hierarchic principle work in this particular scheme of equality?" Though hierarchy is exclusive, the principle of hierarchy is not; all ranks can "share in it alike" (RM 141; emphasis Burke's). Note 6
Equality of human relationship is possible in social status. It is one of the possible distributions of power. But two things must always be said about such equality. First, to seek it invokes the hierarchic principle in which equality is elevated over inequality. Note 7 Second, equality is established rhetorically (the metaphor of equality seems to evoke the physical metaphor of a scale with each tray equally distant from the horizontal plane) based on some hierarchical principle: thus, (Hierarchic principle 1) gender is not a proper principle of social inequality, (Hierarchic principle 2) those who discriminate on that basis are to be condemned.

Thus, the essential position of this line of argument is that hierarchy is born in the inherent hierarchical principle in the nature of language, and derivatively experienced in social order. Language neither dictates a particular hierarchy nor precludes relationships of equality. Language merely dictates that ordering will follow from the inevitability of a hierarchical principle.

My preference is for this last line of argument. Burke never explicitly and completely develops the line of argument in his work, but at many places he indicates this justification. In Rhetoric of Motives he writes: "In any order, there will be the mysteries of hierarchy, since such a principle is grounded in the very nature of language" (279). In many places in his work, Burke stresses that (1) no single hierarchical principle is inevitable, and (2) human action is shaped by the hierarchical principle not to the hierarchy per se. Burke's assertion, therefore, is not fundamentally an empirical assertion, but the following of an inherent characteristic of language into its implications in human action.

Of course, one final argument needs to be examined: merely saying Burke does not base his claim in empirical generalization does not release us from the empirical obligation. If non-hierarchical societies can be found, isn't the line of reasoning defeated? It is at this point that Burke's commitment to the hierarchical principle rather than to hierarchy becomes crucial. Even a society that values equality, or a society that lives out equality, operates on the hierarchical principle that elevates equality over inequality and invokes some hierarchical principle to declare the basis of equality in social status. In one sense, we could therefore challenge anyone to point empirically to a social order they believe escapes hierarchical principle and we would point out the hierarchic principle.

But is the game rigged? Is this not a manifestation of what Stephen Pepper has called contextualism's "catch me if you can" theory of truth? The charges assume that Burke's "game" is empirically sorting social orders into hierarchical and non-hierarchical and asserting that the latter set is empty. On the contrary, his assertion is more dramatic, a part of his major methodological move: removing language from the traditional viewpoint which contextualizes it within a radical institutional functionalism, Note 8 to conversely view the power of discourse forms as a context for society. Note 9 In an addendum to Counterstatement Burke explains this difference: that his primary empirical facts are language practices and sociality and, contrary to traditional social science, his task is to view the latter from the perspective of the former rather than the other way around (218).

Does such a focus make Burke only relevant to societies founded on inequality? Although the question would seem natural, it merely reiterates the emphasis on social function over language and the sorting task that preoccupies traditional social science. Burke would displace the question itself, stating the basic task of social science differently: the pragmatic task is to work with the powers of language in society toward a more humane social order. Indeed, Permanence and Change is a plea for such a "program."

The notion of hierarchy in Burke's work is part and partial of his primary task: to explore the implications of a viewpoint that features language as the primary human act infusing social order. Burke's work is, therefore, contextualist in viewpoint, and the empirical question of social hierarchy becomes a methodological correlate of the method's power to explain variety of social form, rather than a threshold test of the method's assumptions.

An Attitude Toward Hierarchy

Before exploring the implication on criticism, a visit to Burke's attitude toward hierarchy will illuminate the critical stance implied in his viewpoint. In fact, "attitude" -- complete with the ambiguity it has for Burke -- is just the right word. Burke sees attitude as a pre-action closely tied to the body. When he proposes to add it to the pentad to create a hexad, the move is designed to add the body to the mix (GM 237-38). The representative anecdote is "we are ready to grasp the hammer before we reach it, and the attitude of manipulatory response directs the approach" (George Herbert Mead quoted on 238). So we are interested in Burke's predisposition toward the struggles entailed in hierarchy.

The most unfortunate result of locating Burke's notion of hierarchy in social status is to therefore identify Burke with a rhetoric of domination (see, for example, Foss and Griffin 340). This characterization ignores the major leveling social project in Burke's work, and leaves us with an portrayal at great variance with the activism which is certainly a feature of Burke's work. Don Burks is certainly correct biographically when he characterizes Burke's attitude as "an endless questioning of bureaucratic hierarchy" (229). Burke mixes a linguistic realism with a social activism. Note 10 Hierarchy is an inevitable part of the former, and a central dimension of the latter upon which rhetoric plays out. In fact, Burke's tracing of the power of hierarchy as a linguistic resource into social hierarchy is to focus on the rich possibilities for linguistic strategies that create a wide variety of forms in social hierarchy. Those resources have been exploited in power relationships of domination, and Burke is concerned with unmasking this domination (for example, in his greatest criticism "The Rhetoric of Hitler's Battle" PLF). But these are the same resources with which democratic institutions, or other projects toward greater social equality, must construct the rhetorical motives for greater equality. Burke's interest as a social critic -- from his program in Counterstatement, to his communistic call for social leveling in Permanence and Change, to his call for the comic corrective in Attitudes Toward History -- is far more egalitarian than the identification of Burke's project with a rhetoric of domination implies.

This does not, in the end, merge Burke's objectives with the feminist project, nor indicate that other feminist arguments which identify sexist elements in Burke's work are unjust. Note 11 Certainly Burke more easily locates our current hierarchical pain in capitalism and productionism than he does in a patriarchy, and there is still plenty of room for considering the Burkean dialectic route to equality versus the formal idealism which derives rhetorical theory from social circumstance. But locating the Burkean position on hierarchy as a characteristic of social form rather than rhetorical form distracts attention from these more crucial issues. Burke's mix of social activism with linguistic realism posits social hierarchy as a scene rather than an agency and charges those who would change social hierarchy with recognizing the promise and traps inherent in language as an agency for doing so.

Hierarchy in Rhetorical Criticism

The pragmatic contribution of Burkeans to the 21st century will not, however, be in theory. Although we read Burke's collected works as a theory of language, their power is ultimately in the interpretation empowered by the perspective. So my focus on the placement of hierarchy within Burke's theoretical system is instrumental to the payoff in criticism. To introduce criticism into the complex, the characteristic Burkean move is to make a space for the critic. I now turn, therefore, to the task of opening the relationship between linguistic hierarchy and social form and placing the critic into the space thus created.

Burke develops the critical resources of hierarchy most fully in Rhetoric of Motives. The central importance of hierarchy in that discussion has probably been underemphasized by rhetorical critics. Burke had introduced the concept of rhetorical motive in Counterstatement under the rubric of "patterns of experience" (150-61), defined it in Permanence and Change (19-21), considered its possibilities as a method for understanding the power of language in Philosophy of Literary Form (106n), and finally explicated it in Grammar of Motives. In Rhetoric of Motives, Burke opens the concept of motive to see the possibilities for criticism within it.

Of course, rhetoric fills the inside of such motives. Motives move people in particular directions, largely by socially appropriating value among the elements of the context created through the strategies of the motive. In Permanence and Change, Burke explains the relationships between language, sociality, and motive: "The question of motive brings us to the subject of communication, since motives are distinctly linguistic products. We discern situational patterns by means of the particular vocabulary of the cultural group into which we are born" (35). Burke stresses the social invention of rhetorical strategy: "Our very concepts of character depend upon the verbalizations of our group. In its origins, language is an implement of action, a device which takes its shape by the coöperative patterns of the group that uses it" (PC 173). Thus, the intricate dance of interlocking social action is founded in the possibilities of rhetorical strategy.

I have slipped into a metaphor of internality now, and that choice is important for the critic. Social hierarchy becomes scenic in the critic's account of the rhetorical act. This, in turn, leads the critic to consider questions of power and domination that mediate between the rhetorical act and social hierarchy with scenic ratios. My argument is that this metaphor best emphasizes Burke's merger of the linguistic power of hierarchy and the social power of hierarchy. The metaphor of an interior space, therefore, allows us to consider the implications for the critic.

If critics are to enter these hierarchies, they must punctuate accounts of the rhetorical act more socially. Burke recommends decoding social hierarchy by reconstructing the motive's cycles of terms (RR 174-207) or by considering the culture's response to its historical situation (ATH). The latter is particularly striking because it provides a diachronic account of the shifting authority in human history. If history is viewed as the empowering and disempowering of symbols of authority, and their corresponding social hierarchy (PC 282), the critic of discourse enters as an actor in the social drama. This is the Burke of Permanence and Change who argues for the superiority of a poetic motive for human discourse.

Traditionally, rhetorical criticism has favored accounts of narrower circumference constituted around the choices of individual rhetors. Hierarchy facilitates criticism of individual works in at least two ways. First, critics constituting the rhetorical act as a response to the rhetor's situation (Bitzer; PC 220; ATH 3-4) can work social hierarchy as the scene of the rhetorical act. This encourages a construction of the rhetor as a user and reviser of rhetorical hierarchy. The merger of rhetorical and social hierarchy is thus accomplished to provide the critic a vocabulary that entails social commentary in rhetorical commentary.

A second approach to individual rhetorical moments connects the rhetorical act to hierarchy through a familiar rhetorical concept -- appeal. Individuals interpret moments through rhetorical choice constrained by the rhetorical hierarchies of their social group. The rhetor's facility with the interpretive resources of familiar motives, identifies him with the group's hierarchical frame. Rhetorical messages acquire appeal as they mold their interpretation with the language of appropriate motives -- Burke calls it "'cashing in on' a given historical situation" (ATH 93). Strategies for selecting motives, contextualizing interpretation within the motives, and developing identity within the possibilities of the motive become inquiries for the critic.

Burke's treatment of hierarchy in Rhetoric of Motives suggests an intermediate approach to criticism between the story of the culture organizing human action hierarchically and the individual nestled within hierarchy. This construction views the rhetorical act as fundamentally about hierarchy. The interior of social hierarchy becomes the stage for the rhetorical drama. The hierarchy presents its players with possibilities which the players track down. There emerges for the critic a kind of dialectic of freedom and domination played out with rhetorical motive.

Burke urges the critic to understand the power of social hierarchy to limit human possibility. Hierarchies empower authorities to wield language to dominate others. A critic's account of such social domination can strengthen or weaken the social hierarchy. But the interior of a social hierarchy is more complicated than simple domination. Burke observes that humans caught on the bottom end of hierarchy do not always act as we would expect them to act -- to resist their low station. Burke develops the concept of "weigh[ing] objective resources . . . to decide how to oppose them" that he introduces in Attitudes Toward History (3-4), into what he calls "the mystification" of the hierarchy of the motive. In perhaps his closest brush with orthodox Marxism's condemnation of the power of rhetoric for disempowerment, Burke argues that those at the lower range of the social hierarchy develop valuings which lead to acceptance of their condition.

In Burke's hands this "opiate" becomes grist for criticism however. Burke writes:

Though hierarchy is exclusive, the principle of hierarchy is not; all ranks can "share in it alike." But: It includes also the entelechial tendency, the treatment of the "top" or "culminating" stage as the "image" that best represents the entire "idea." This leads to "mystifications" that cloak the state of division, since the "universal" principle of the hierarchy also happens to be the principle by which the most distinguished rank in the hierarchy enjoys, in the realm of worldly property, its special privileges. Hence, the turn from courtship to ill will, with ironic intermediate grades. (RM 141)
In Attitudes Toward History and in Rhetoric of Motives, Burke elaborates the dialectic stresses in any motive which make it at once the home of contentment and discontent. Indeed, frames of acceptance give way to rejection in what Burke labels the "Malthusian limits" of a motive (ATH 27-28): though humans are "rotten with perfection," moving toward perfecting a motive will stimulate counterforces diverting stresses toward opposition. The irony thus produced infuses rhetoric within motives.

Together, these concepts create a rich rhetorical environment within motives ripe for the insights of interpretive critics. Burke closes Rhetoric of Motives with a challenge to critics:

Since, for better or worse, the mystery of the hierarchic is forever with us, let us, as students of rhetoric, scrutinize its range of entrancements, both with dismay and in delight. And finally let us observe, all about us, forever goading us, though it be in fragments, the motive that attains its ultimate identification in the thought, not of the universal holocaust, but of the universal order. (333)

Motives are rich complexes of rhetorical resources that support ironic hierarchies and exploit their valuings to change acceptance to rejection in another moment. Note 12 Critics may study the ways in which the rhetoric of the motive conserves the motive and strengthens it, opens up the possibility of change by reversing hierarchies or altering focus, the ways in which single hierarchies contain both the seeds of their power and the seeds of their destruction. Burke provides the tools to operate within the motive toward these ends.

"I Have a Dream":

The Irony in Hierarchical Investment

The metaphor of space and the power of transformation present the Burkean critic with perspective that authorizes involvement in the tracking of hierarchic possibilities. Because the metaphor of space also locates the critic and the power of transformation also empowers the critic, they charge the critic to work within the changing hierarchical dynamics of our time. A rich texture of criticism results. Critics will be optimistic and pessimistic. They will egg on, and chide. Always conscious of Burkean irony, critics will track down the possibilities of discourse. To illustrate resources hierarchy brings to criticism, perhaps no American text could be more exemplary than the text that comes closest to being a culminating plea for equality -- Martin Luther King's speech to the National March on Washington for Civil Rights of August 28, 1963, commonly known as the "I Have a Dream" speech.

At the heart of the "I Have a Dream" speech is a fundamental irony: the speech is the centerpiece of the most successful assault on American social privilege since the Civil War, yet it is fundamentally what Burke would call a speech of acceptance -- embracing central symbols of the American social order. Note 13 We might in that sense call it "conservative," although the term will be more useful in setting up our irony than in locating the speech in American politics. The speech's appeal to dominant American social hierarchies to interpret African American aspirations predestines the Pandora's Box of King's movement: the speech aspires to racial equality by exploiting all the progressive resources of American hierarchy, and demarcates its aspirations in the limits of that hierarchy.

Burke's entailment of rhetorical and social hierarchy creates a theory of rhetoric that features irony. The irony at the heart of "I Have a Dream" is, from that perspective, a prototype of the essential rhetorical problem. Throughout his work, when characterizing how humans respond to symbols, Burke stresses the interrelationship between the rhetorical and social power of symbols. The most powerful symbols for rhetorical appeal are the most familiar, and they are most familiar because they are performed incessantly to order our mundane daily lived experience. The most powerful social forms are those that are performed with such a familiar rhetoric that those living within the form have ceased to sense the language of its performance as rhetorical. When the distinctions and gradients performed in the everyday language of rhetorical forms (Burke calls them "motives" of course) are sublimated into rituals of social status, rhetorical hierarchies and social hierarchies have merged. In particular, social movements which seek to alter everyday social status confront the irony most starkly: the most rhetorically potent motives they may invoke trade in the very power they would destroy.

Within the general intertwining of the rhetorical and the social, hierarchy is a dimension of both linguistic and social ordering. Rhetoric works through hierarchy -- this is more important than that; this is good, that is bad; do this instead of that. Rhetoric works by bringing schemes of ordering from, and back into, experience. When the "this" and "that" are people, social hierarchy is recognizable in the ongoing day-to-day elevating of some over others and the struggle to maintain, diminish, or rearrange social status. Burke's insight is to mutually implicate rhetorical and social hierarchy and then to trace the implications thus created. Rhetorical messages must create a space within the allure of the familiar for the novel, and doing so is the message's working of the dialectics of permanence and change, identity and identification.

My reading of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" argues that the speech taps powerful rhetorical hierarchies to motivate change, but ironically these motives trap King in languages and social structures which reinforce the hierarchy he seeks to supplant. To proceed, I will examine the use of rhetorical hierarchy which structures the King speech from simple contrast to more complex developmental metaphors, and finally into the fully implicated socio-rhetorical motives. The rhetorical appeals at each level present opportunities and dangers, but the most complex and powerful rhetorical forms -- the hierarchical motivational structures -- ironically trade most heavily in the social hierarchies King must change.

Antithesis and Metaphors of Difference

Speeches which we identify as exemplars for social change trade on the rhetorical creation of dramatic contrast. The contrast may be between despair and hope, or problem and solution, or simply today or tomorrow, but the rhetorical form which places moments of choice as the pivot for change depend on contrast opening the room for choice. Martin Luther King selects powerful experiential metaphors to establish the overwhelming sense of contrast between today and tomorrow in the speech. In their experiential power, these metaphors call upon both the liberating and oppressive in American social hierarchy. Their nearness to basic themes fills King's speech with moving dynamism; their implication in latent yet basic rhetoric of domination defines limits on their power to liberate.

Many stylistic metaphors contribute to the basic contrast of bad and good, old and new that values in this speech. These antitheses include several that are used sparingly, such as the contrast of quicksand with solid rock, or jangled discord with beautiful symphony. Two figures of contrast dominate the speech, however. The first is the light/dark metaphor. "Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice." This triple metaphor -- rise, dark to sunlit, and wandering desolation to guiding path -- combines the major rhetorical resources which establish the movement in the speech.

The light/dark metaphor is common in American discourse. Its dual source in our experience of day and night and in our Judeo-Christian myth of Genesis spreads its motivational quality through other metaphors such as heat and cold and the seasonal cycle. Michael Osborn identified the power of the light/dark family to "express intense value judgements and . . . elicit significant value responses from an audience" (117). He also noted the connection of the light/dark cycle with inevitability -- "day will follow night with the certainty of the laws of the universe" provides a kind of inevitability as a rhetorical entailment of the contrast. In short, the metaphor of contrast becomes a metaphor of development (117-18). The metaphor presages the inevitable victory of the social movement and faith in triumph releases a power toward change in the permanence/change dialectic.

Martin Luther King's problem in exploiting the fiery potential of the light/dark metaphor is that a metaphor used powerfully is empowered for uses King does not control: there is light and heat to be found from a fire intensified, but the fire brought to a blaze is the fire that can also consume all that you cherish. The light/dark metaphor has such a power to endanger the things that King cherishes because in our civilization it embodies a sinister power -- its place as rhetorical support in the historical development and perpetuation of Western racism. In this power we encounter the ironic danger of King's strategy even at the simplest rhetorical level. In a detailed history of language and oppression, Joel Kovel traces the linguistic resources of the light/dark contrast to maintain White racist power over Blacks. Kovel argues that the rhetorical forms that first developed the racist hierarchy of African slavery exploited the grading power of the light/dark metaphor in myth and social relationship -- the preference of light over dark in biology; God's creating lightness out of darkness and declaring it good; Africa as the dark continent; and many more (62). This myth was wedded with practical necessity when the difference of skin color conquered a major problem of the American institution of slavery, providing a badge which would mark the social distinction and make slave laws more easily enforceable. A Black was assumed a slave unless he could prove otherwise in the American South, and a White was assumed a freeman. Today, slavery is gone, but in our cities the light/dark metaphor constructs a matrix of rhetorical practice in which crime and security implicate racial hierarchy: Black youth are often assumed to wear the badge of physical threat -- the darker the more sinister; the darkness of the night is assumed to be the time of danger; and the electric companies champion the protection that comes from making our dark neighborhoods light. In short, within King's most potent antithesis -- the light/dark metaphor -- lurks a rhetorical resource -- Kovel calls it "aversive racism" -- in which American social hierarchy practices racist oppression. The light/dark metaphor merges immediate oratorical power with more subtle oppressive power to complicate the path from dominance to freedom.

The second major antithesis is King's use of the up/down metaphor. Up is good and down is bad in the metaphoric scheme of this speech. This is the most common metaphor used to value in the speech. Those things that King values are cloaked in the metaphor -- the "high plane of dignity" or "the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force." The upward movement is central -- "Now is the time to lift our nation" or "we must rise to the majestic heights." The topographic variation is the basis of the famous peroration where freedom is to ring from hills and mountaintops all through the nation.

The up/down metaphor is identified by Lakoff and Johnson as a fundamental metaphor employed across cultures, but with particular implications in each culture (14). Like the light/dark metaphor, the up/down metaphor soon entails other contrasts such as high/low, climb/fall, or top/bottom. We have to go no further than the expressions "on the bottom of the social hierarchy" and "to climb to a higher station" to find the central link between the metaphors and the everyday living of social status. The metaphor functions for King to locate his movement as a movement of social hierarchy -- he would move his people from a lower to a higher station. Thus, the antithetical contrast is converted into a developmental direction achieved by commitment and effort -- "pull oneself up" as a common expression of social improvement. The up/down metaphor also contains ironic resistance -- a fear of "uppity Blacks" for example.

But the fundamental irony of the metaphor is its power of appeal is focused into its limited vision. The up/down orientation performed in the language of the American hierarchy trades on the society's powerful motives for "improving one's self." Within this motive, this strategy provides socially authorized resources for a rhetoric of change. But the up/down metaphor can become a prison of limited vision -- perhaps "vision up the well shaft" communicates the irony. "Up" frames movement within an orientation from current position to the end which defines the hierarchy. It thus displaces strategies to transform the hierarchy (alter the scene to relocate the agent) in favor of strategies to modify place within the hierarchy (relocate the agent within a stable scene). A vision articulated in the strong motivational terminology of the American hierarchy, in fact, forfeits the power to define vision beyond the hierarchy.

These two metaphors -- light/dark and up/down -- take standard American rhetorical devices and create the values which guide the speech. They are powerful devices which achieve their purpose of creating an exalted emotion to energize the civil rights movement. Yet, the metaphors that accomplish this end are implicated in the origins of the racism King fights and the limitation of the vision he urges. Thus, the power of King's message turns on the ironic tension between the opening of the possibility of change and invoking the rhetoric of oppression in a hierarchy.

Developmental Metaphors

The term "social movement" is itself a metaphor which encompasses the dynamism that is a prerequisite for the rhetoric of social movements. Well selected developmental metaphors are an asset within social movements because they provide the dynamism by taking the contrast of antithesis (as we have seen, the light/dark and up/down metaphors have particular strengths in this task) and arrays the contrast into human time and space to create progress. They entail rhetorical hierarchy because their dynamism comes from casting the envisioned future as a completion of past and present. These more complex metaphors move the simpler orientational metaphors toward fully developed motives. The greater power of developmental metaphors presents the possibility of containing the ironic dangers through the greater strictures of form, or spreading them into social action through more complex metaphoric strategies. King's speech taps powerful developmental metaphors, but they are metaphors which divide his movement for change.

Two developmental metaphors contain the ironic tension within King's speech: the journey and the dream/fulfillment forms. The speech divides into two parts, each featuring one of these forms. The early portion of the speech is a history of the movement and a history of the unfulfilled commitment of America to integrate her African American citizens. This portion is structured in the form of the journey.

The journey is a well-rounded figure of the speech with deep roots in the American experience. The first notable public address in American experience -- John Winthrop's speech aboard the Arabella in Salem harbor in 1630 -- began the portrayal of American life as a journey with purpose. Historians from Bancroft to Turner to Boorstin have described the power of the journey west to motivate Americans. With King's choices, his movement joins the American journey. Burke observes that a key moment in the rhetorical construction of journey is the fixing of the destination. King uses the ideograph of <freedom> as the destination in the journey. That potent ideograph is overtly located in American sacred documents that identify King's movement within the flow of American political history.

When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men -- yes, black men as well as white men -- would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (emphasis added)

This grounding early in the speech -- elaborating freedom's definition in sacred American documents -- establishes King's journey within the history of the American experience. Later King overtly discusses the union of his movement with progressive America. He warns his Black followers against distrusting Whites and points explicitly to Whites attending the rally: "They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone."

The later portion of the speech moves from locating the movement in history to inspiring the movement to action. It draws on a different rhetorical form -- the dream and its fulfillment. King declares his dream in a series of moments which combine parallelism, antithesis, rhythm, and pace to build to crescendo. So powerful is this building rhetorical structure that it covers completely a mixing of metaphor (the up/down metaphor of the mountaintop in nexus with a figure of mountains being lowered and valleys raised to express equality) that would jar in ordinary speeches. Note 14 Furthermore, the movement from dream to fulfillment is not, on its face, a natural movement, yet it is powerful. This power resides in three sources: King's delivery, the strong vignettes of equality that portray the dream fulfilled, and the link of dream to fulfillment in secular American mythology. Little needs to be said about King's delivery. Each sentence or two, each two to four clauses, are delivered with crescendo in volume and pace, providing the sense of movement. The stating of the dreams in the form of vignettes -- descriptions of common equality seen in a future time -- suggests that the dream is of their fulfillment.

But the strongest power in establishing the developmental form in dream and fulfillment is their linkage in the American dream. King is overt: "[Mine] is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream." From the story of the building of the frontier to the gold fever of the 49ers to the motivation in the immigrant experience to Walt Disney's "When you wish upon a star," the theme of America as the place where achievement begins in a dream is a powerful cultural form. Its most obvious recent incantation is Ronald Reagan's use of it to build a political coalition, "Why shouldn't we dream? After all, we are Americans." Note 15 Identifying his dream, and the dreams of his African American followers with the American dream is King calling upon the American pattern of progressivism to provide the motivational frame for his movement.

King's choice of these two American symbols -- the developmental metaphors of the journey and fulfillment of the dream -- stresses the continuity of his movement with the American experience. Burke stresses that identification always brings a compensatory division, and King's identification with the dominant American symbols splits the movement for Black liberation. Note 16 The leaders of the Black Power movement sought Black identity, and the right of African Americans to define their own vision, and rejected integration into the White controlled social structure. King's embracing of White brothers in their progressive journey toward the American dream of equality sets King against other Black leaders of the time. Black Power's more violent metaphors of war and nationalism and distinctiveness and pride are forsaken in this speech for the metaphor of the American journey.

The hierarchic implications of King's speech carry beyond the dispute with the goals of the Black Power movement; the developmental metaphors of this speech elevate King to a position of leadership in the movement for African American aspirations. Journeys are led. Their linearity creates leaders and followers. With the journey as a context for the speech, the rhetorical act itself -- the natural social differentiation of public speaking in which speaker is elevated above listener -- is converted into the act of leading the journey. King's persona in the speech assumes that position. This is didactic style. The preacher's "Thou shalt not . . ." is the implicit rhetorical form, tempered only by the prophet's dreams of freedom as the journey's destination (cf. Patton). The persona turns the split in the African American community into the elevation of King's personal power. There is, of course, irony here as well. King -- the representative of the Black race, who consciously identifies with the poor classes, who builds a movement outside mainstream American political parties -- celebrates the songs of the American nation in the shadow of one of its central political memorials and climbs the hierarchy and transcends the Black movement to become a hero of American progressivism worthy of a national holiday.

King's embracing of American progressivism opened up many new opportunities for his movement, and a rich storehouse of rhetorical strategies for altering the status of his people in the dominant American hierarchy. But his choice to work with the rhetorical resources provided by the hierarchy also closed other African American leaders out. King became an accomplice in the strategy called "co-optation." His segment of the movement was differentiated as the "good Blacks" who accept the American hierarchy, and were admitted on the terms of the hierarchy. Those the hierarchy ostracized as the "bad Blacks" were denied admission to the hierarchy, now strengthened by its even wider appeal. Thus, the advances in civil rights are bought at the expense of new hierarchical divisions within Black America. The assertion of the power of the developmental metaphors performs rhetorical action which divides King's movement and brings him and his followers into hierarchy on circumscribed terms.

The Hierarchical Motives of Lived Experience

The developmental frames of this speech are not yet, however, a full motivational hierarchy. That full power is provided by the three motive structures of the speech -- business, religion, and the American political motive. Each of these are structures where action and rhetoric intertwine in ongoing social action performed within defined social status. Each is a hierarchy of power relationships interconnected in a wide range of actions performed with characteristic rhetorical forms. Each has a vocabulary and patterns of description, justification, and sanction which acquire power and grant legitimacy to acceptable action within a social structure. Ultimately, these motivational structures with powers to direct daily life far beyond the speech contextualize the speech. King's choices of hierarchies and his choices of where to open the hierarchies for greater access play against the background of the ongoing rhetorical-social motive.

The implications of choices of motivational hierarchy are evident in the weakest of these motivational structures in the speech, the economic motive. King invokes it but once in the early part of the speech:

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our Republic wrote the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. . . . It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. . . .
The economic motive is a full motive of behavior. Within its vocabulary, metaphors, and rhetorical forms are performed the billions of transactions which each day shape the American economy. The motive constructs a full social hierarchy with levels of social status (graded by dollar signs and stars in the symbols of the famous board game "The Game of Life"). The most important sign of its fullness is that it provides a rich rhetoric which allows those in lower status to rationalize their position, including the role of education, risk, hard work, and luck in authorizing wealth and economic control. In conjunction with this rhetoric is a full vocabulary and style of discourse which differentiates the status levels.

King carves out but a simple part of that motive -- the cashing of a check. This is not an act which requires high status in this hierarchy. On the contrary, the cashing of a check is but a part of the role known as "consumer." In fact, of course, King's movement was focused on opening up places for consumption to Black Americans. In the language of a later decade he opened up a vast market, previously closed, to the goods and services of capitalism. This limited vision underscores that none of King's dreams envision African Americans controlling the economy, operating in the upper reaches of the hierarchy with control of vast corporations or the junk bonds of Wall Street. Note 17 Late in his life King began to turn his attention to questions of economic power. Perhaps symbolically, he was killed as he turned to aid a union in its fight for economic power. But King could not command the rhetorical resources of the economic motive as he could other motives. "I Have a Dream" is not a speech which opens the business hierarchy to make rhetorical space for freedom.

Perhaps the space for freedom is in the second motivational hierarchy that shapes "I Have a Dream," the religious motive. The metaphors, allusions, and figures of Protestant Christianity are the most pervasive in the speech. In many ways the hierarchy of Protestant Christianity is the least differentiated of the hierarchies invoked by the speech. The discourse reaches into the supernatural to array social relations within the power of Logos, of God's word -- the Old Testament power to create and sanction, the New Testament power of grace and redemption. Humankind is theologically leveled under the "fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man," but that phrase does not define the total hierarchy of Christianity. In an Old Testament tradition, ministers of God are called and raised above the people to present God's word; in a New Testament tradition, the redeemed are generally given higher status than the unredeemed.

The myth that supports the hierarchy is the righteousness of God embodied in a doctrine of sanction (Old Testament) or of love (New Testament). But the sense of justice in the hierarchy rests in God's goodness and power. The spiritual hierarchy fosters an accompanying political hierarchy that organizes the institutional church and elevates bishops or synods, or some such officers over parishioners. In these more practical hierarchies, the church more rigidly restricts elevation through its hierarchy. The doctrines of redemption and the glorification, and in some denominations the calling of the preacher provide some sense of movement within the hierarchy, but the power of this hierarchy lies in its righteous justice rather than in its openness. Note 18

Martin Luther King calls upon the religious motive metaphorically at various moments when key relationships are in need of expression. "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood." "You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive." The religious motive is deeply meaningful to his people and its shadow casts throughout the address. The journey upon which he and his people are engaged is at least minimally the coming up of the Children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. King is to some extent the Black Moses so long sought. The use of the metaphor of fire to describe the oppression of African Americans and the promise of deliverance from these fires is allusion to the deliverance from the fires of hell. And all this is sealed in the climax of the speech: ". . . join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"

The elegance of this strategy is built on an ambiguous mixing of religion and politics in which the spiritual becomes political anthem and "free" transforms from its spiritual to political meaning. The Negro spiritual had more of a religious than a political meaning for its slave chorus. Death and resurrection were the final release from the bondage of the devil below and the slavemaster on earth (see Cox 202). When preaching by African Americans was outlawed in the 1830s, the message of "Free at last!" was delivered by the White clergy to slaves who were being told that their bondage on earth was insignificant in light of their rapture hereafter. The irony of the ambiguity in the phrase then has a paradoxical power. Political freedom motivates action and resistance, eternal freedom teaches patience and trust in God's mercy. This ambiguity places King's speech well politically. On the one hand, King's speech declares that "the day has arrived" for granting the demands of African Americans. The march to freedom and the journey from bondage provide King with a speech that calls upon progressive language to energize his movement and provide it legitimacy for access to civil and political rights. On the other hand, the statement of hope which places faith in the inevitability of reward also "postpones the day," creating a matrix of patience and faith that places the movement patiently within the dominant Judeo-Christian political system. The religious motive, therefore, becomes more powerful as a space for gradualism than as a space for dramatic social change.

The third motivational hierarchy called upon for rhetorical power in the speech is the secular American political motive. The invoking of this motive is also pervasive. There are not only references to the sacred documents of American political culture, but even recitations of the hymns of secular worship -- "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." The last clause becomes the chorus of King's brilliant peroration. Of course, the political hierarchy where King's fathers died was not the hierarchy of this song. As disenfranchised voters, and slaves before that, they had little access at even the lowest status of this hierarchy. The Pilgrim's pride did not extend to the African slave. In the recitations, King is, therefore, claiming an access to the hierarchy within discourse of the motive from which his people have been excluded. He makes that plea in the language of the motive to which he seeks access. A cant of the mantra to demonstrate worthiness.

But does this motive go beyond a progressive plea for access? By the early 1960s, the American political motive had split into two different languages and two different scales of social status. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal located the highest status level of the political hierarchy in the policy bureaucracy. Power in the policy system was wielded in a heavily scientized rhetoric of policy logics which guided legislation and marshaled resources for public purpose. Arguably, by the 1960s, the unelected bureaucracy servicing administrative, legislative, and judicial officers had taken control of the discourse in government, and elected officials were lowered in the hierarchy. The bureaucrat's position in the hierarchy was justified in a fully developed language which located policy science as a branch of knowledge and established status based on the expert's claim to positivistic knowledge in specialized domains.

The language of electoral politics was a different language addressed to different audiences. The electoral structure primarily oriented the officeholder and the voter. The voter assumed a role to pick from among a small sample of candidates culled by those higher on the status hierarchy. This limited access was reinforced by financial and structural barriers to the media of communication. The language featured votes, coalitions, and political opinion. The bureaucracy was only dimly related to this hierarchy. Leaders of bureaucratic agencies were generally chosen through political processes, but from among the bureaucratic elite. In short, the American political structure insulated electoral hierarchy from bureaucratic hierarchy, requiring different languages and different strategies for access to power.

Supporting the electoral hierarchy were two important rhetorical myths. One authorized the differentiated hierarchy through the election process. This myth located the maximum power in the elected officials and imbued the elections with authority as legitimating rituals. Since the bureaucracy was seen as serving the elected officials, not as controlling them, it remained in a subordinate status. The electoral myth also expressed a kind of quality -- the power of the ballot -- that ironically elevated the voter to a higher status than even the elected politician. This part of the myth did function as much as it could economically -- keeping salaries of elected officials low at state and local levels and creating embarrassment at the perks of status for elected officials -- and had a discourse which supported it -- Harry Truman left office declaring that he was being elevated to private citizen. Thus, a discourse existed to rationalize the status differential to give all participants a comfortable place in the hierarchy.

A second discourse provided a strong diachronic myth -- the Whig history of the progress of the American nation provided the sense of the openness of the status hierarchy to advancement. American history was a story of ever more people gaining access to electoral power. The President of the United States as King spoke was John F. Kennedy whose Irish immigrant family had been a part of this march toward inclusion. It is this second myth, much more than the first, that serves as a context for King's access to the hierarchy. King's speech is a claim that Black Americans should be the next group granted access to the political hierarchy. Indeed, the speech opens with King placing the day in that history: "I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation." The greatest achievement of the energy released by the 1963 Washington movement was passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Real progress was made based on this myth of access. King's drawing on the rhetoric of this motive succeeded in action which elevated the status of his people to voters.

King confronted the exclusion of African Americans from the political structure, but restricted the rhetoric of his journey to the electoral motive. His achievement to gain access to the discourse and praxis of the electoral structure was substantial, but ultimately he was less successful in working past the rhetorical traps that grant access to voting discourse to block access to the upper status levels in the American political motive. Three decades later, one African American holds a seat in the United States Senate, no African American can yet realistically aspire to the Presidency. More importantly, African Americans in positions of power in the bureaucracy are still significant for being African Americans rather than for wielding power authorized by more than tokenism.

Obviously, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech contains many more rhetorical resources than recited in this brief excursion into its hierarchical dimensions. But understanding the hierarchies within which the rhetoric works helps us see some of the ironies and paradoxes which provide the speech with its complexity. King's acceptance by the American power structure was difficult but successful. His cadences and images helped by demanding progressive change but affirming the motivational resources of their privilege.

In the title of this essay and of this section I used the term "investment" to characterize King's rhetoric. The complexity of the English verb, "to invest" captures much of the complexity of "I Have a Dream."

invest --tr. 1. To commit (money or capital) in order to gain a financial return: invested their savings in stocks and bonds. 2.a. To spend or devote for future advantage or benefit: invested much time and energy in getting a good education. b. To devote morally or psychologically, as to a purpose; commit: "Men of our generation are invested in what they do, women in what we are" (Shana Alexander). 3. To endow with authority or power. 4. To install in office with ceremony: invest a new emperor. 5. To endow with an enveloping or pervasive quality: "A charm invests a face/Imperfectly beheld" (Emily Dickinson). 6. To clothe; adorn. 7. To cover completely; envelop. 8. To surround with troops or ships; besiege. (American Heritage Dictionary for Windows, 3rd ed.)
There are three clusters of definition in these nine specific definitions. Definitions 1, 2a, and 2b assume an investor who acts, investing in some specific instrument with an anticipation of payoff. Definitions 3 through 5 stress a different act: the granting of authority or power to something or someone. The last three definitions move gradually toward the victim being besieged. In this movement is reflected the ironic investment of Martin Luther King. He invests in the American hierarchy seeking advantage for his people. But in doing so, he strengthens faith in the hierarchy itself. Between the first and the final meaning of "invest" lies the irony -- King acts to invest in the hierarchy that invests his people.

Treating Hierarchical Psychosis in the 21st Century

If I have come at all close to reaching my objective in this essay, questions about Burke's "belief" about "the inevitability of social hierarchy" have been so thoroughly contextualized that they have receded in favor of more critical questions about the power of discourse engaged with social hierarchy. When discussing hierarchy in Rhetoric of Motives, Burke comes as close to asserting inevitability as he ever does, and what is inevitable is a "hierarchic psychosis":

There is a "universal" lesson here. But it is in the fact that we confront a "hierarchic psychosis," prevailing in all nations, but particularly sinister in nations which are largely ruled by the "dead hand" of institutions developed from past situations and unsuited for the present. (281)
As the 21st century dawns, the sinister condition threatens the peace and welfare of the American culture. The challenge is to respond to the "dead hand" with creative discourse that transforms the power relationships entailed in American social hierarchy. Read in the context of his project, Burke seems clearly to believe more in the power of language to do such work than in a culture doomed to an inevitable social arrangement. But resolving that issue -- committing to address the hierarchical disease with Burke's medicine kit -- only brings a critic to the threshold of difficulty. For when the totality of Burkean concepts are brought to bear on the problem of hierarchy, the full complexity of language soon surfaces.

Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" represents one complexity: if rhetoric works by identification, don't strong forces in support of the hierarchy emerge fully celebrated from the performance of addressed discourse? Indeed, so; and thus the need to mine the resources of irony fully. How can we negotiate the ironic possibilities in such a way that we open the possibilities of alternative social form rather than perpetuating the oppression of the old? The foregrounding of hierarchy permits us to turn our critical energies in that direction. I have observed that Burke's notion of hierarchy is best considered as a contextualist notion. Contextualism turns notions that other traditions label "tools" into perspectives. The hierarchical perspective encourages the critic to consider issues of justice in the distribution of social power and the complicity of rhetorical forms in perpetuating or altering social power.

Burke worries in Rhetoric of Motives about hierarchies that are only appropriate for outdated situations. Is there a better characterization of the world that lies on our horizon? Having thus defined the rhetorical situation of our age, critics can destroy the power of social ritual to perpetuate the hierarchy by exposing the mystery that supports it. And they can explore efforts to transform the hierarchy with an eye toward strengthening them and bringing them to full fruition in alternative complexes of relationships that better promote justice. New pieties emerge slowly and not always as we wish, but emerge they do. Motives that perpetuate social inequality can be transformed into motives that perform social justice.

The last statement contains that combination of dream, prayer, and chart (PLF 5-6) that we call "optimism." In fact, it may seem that we have come full circle from a rather pessimistic reading of Martin Luther King to a rather prayerful assertion of hope for the power of rhetoric. But once again, Burke would remind us to turn our concepts back on each other. Many are the social orders that have visited horrible social oppression in the name of social justice. Seeing the common root of good and evil and the constrained power of human assertion as a risky proposition provides a construction of rhetorical discourse that merits guarded optimism. Burkean critics are always "using all that is there to use" to work their way out of inescapable complexity. The energy of Burkean criticism lies in that paradox. So the resources that Burkean criticism promises to the new century flow from the charge that closes Rhetoric of Motives: ". . . let us, as students of rhetoric, scrutinize its range of entrancements, both with dismay and in delight. And finally let us observe, all about us, forever goading us, though it be in fragments, the motive that contains its ultimate identification in the thought, not of the universal holocaust, but of the universal order" (333).

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Works Cited


1. Although I have never located Burke asserting this claim, it is characteristic of many who have worked with Burke's method and ideas, particularly in sociology. See Duncan 51 and Burks 225.

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2. The most explicit statement of Burke's contextualist viewpoint is in Philosophy of Literary Form (106), although the extended statement of Grammar of Motives is a better argument for his placement in this intellectual tradition. The best explanation of contextualism is in Pepper (232-79).

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3. This is not to deny that there might not be places where ambiguity might encourage misreading. Burke often fails to recognize that he and we live in a societal climate in which claims that do not explicitly warn otherwise are often taken as empirical claims. Nevertheless, there is no place that I can see where the empirical claim must support itself without one of the other lines of argument implied in the context of the claim.

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4. Other such arguments can be developed from Burke's methodological approach to language analysis. For example, William Rueckert generates his similar argument from abstraction and titling as linguistic processes (134-53).

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5. It must be noted that in later years Burke recognized some of the weaknesses of this definition of man and has in fact generally abandoned it for the more global "Bodies that learn language." This abandonment further indicates his belief that hierarchy -- along with other essential elements in the earlier definition -- are entailed in the symbolic character of humanness.

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6. The confusing use of two different definitions of "principle" should be noted in this passage. The one is the sense of the methodological principle that hierarchy is indigenous to language; the other that the principle that creates a hierarchy is different from the praxis of hierarchy in social action. Burke maintains both positions since the ambiguity expresses the entailment of one position in the other, but keeping them separate will facilitate understanding Burke's point.

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7. The naming of "inequality" as the alternative to "equality" illustrates the [linguistic] hierarchical principle at work here. The prefix indicates the imperfection and thus invokes the principle which elevates the entelechial condition of equality. Notice the reversal by using "authoritarian" as a synonym for "inequality" and the more neutral use of "[social] hierarchy."

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8. This position is most familiar in Bitzer's formula that language choices are a function of needs defined by social situation. But more broadly, any rhetorical account that begins with assessment of intentional purpose lies within this framework.

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9. Burke is a precursor of Foucault's move here. Burke explicitly punctuates an account of discourse as form-writ-large in Attitudes Toward History where he tracks the major frameworks of motivation through three millennia.

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10. In this, he differs from the project of Foss and Griffin. They actually reverse Burke's derivation of social from the linguistic. They posit a condition of social equality and describe the rhetorical theory which would support it. The result is a formist view of rhetoric, an ethic which governs judgement of discourse, rather than a contextualist view that characterizes Burke's work. Thus, the tendency to think of "hierarchy" and "equality" as the two options for a social hierarchy. This sort of "either/or" choice characteristic of formal idealism is contrasted with a both/and view that the two terms express a dimension of social hierarchy upon which a range of social arrangements may be arrayed, pursued, and resisted.

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11. For example, Janice Norton locates her critique of Burke in the centrality of the body in his late work and his failure to recognize the diffentiation of body inherent in sexual difference.

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12. Burke has posed this as the essential task of his method and the drama of human history (ATH 27).

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13. Previous studies have stressed King's success in the short-term political arena as a result of the speech and attributed this success to his identification with traditional American values. Martha Solomon's critique is especially noteworthy because she conducts a metaphoric analysis of the speech. She locates a central matrix in the concept of the American covenant which the various metaphors support and from which they branch. The approach provides an alternative reading of the positive impact the speech gathers by appealing to established symbols of the American hierarchy. Solomon does not explore the irony that I find in the speech's strategy. John Patton also locates the power of the speech to deliver political support in its appeal to standard American ideology, although his account of its artistic power is far wider than mere ideology.

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14. J. Robert Cox notes that this seeming mixing of metaphor is resoloved in its ancient origins. The terminology is drawn from the book of Isaiah and probably has reference to a practice in which an entourage would precede a king smoothing the hills and filling the ditches to ease the ride of his chariot. Thus, the up/down metaphor is converted to a journey metaphor (200). To what extent this arcane construction is known among King's religious audience is unknown, but the power of style would itself be sufficient to smooth the disruption.

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15. The reference is from the peroration of Reagan's inaugural address.

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16. Cox focuses on time as the central theme of the speech. He argues that King sought to counter the gradualism that was growing in liberal support for the movement with a strong rationale for immediacy. Cox effectively discusses the power of dream in American experience and King's effectiveness in invoking that power. Robert Hariman responds to Cox's position by arguing a thesis much like mine -- King was not only fighting gradualism but fighting for leadership of the Black movement.

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17. For an extended discussion of the limited assertion of economic power in the check metaphor compared to the full metaphoric complex of the economy, see Hariman (210-11).

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18. King does, however, gain a pragmatic advantage from the religious motive. King elevates himself in this motive. His status as a Minister of the Gospel aids his political control over the masses spread before him. His invoking of the gospel in the language of religion that fills the speech reinforces that status. In addition, the religious motive as context positioned King's movement -- the Southern Christian Leadership Conference -- into power over the secular proponents of more aggressive action in the Black Power movement. And finally, the ambiguity of King's movement as a political or a religious movement exploited the ambiguity of the American civil religion to disarm the kind of political repression planned by J. Edgar Hoover and others in the political hierarchy.

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