Published on: April 21st, 2021

The Art of Rhetoric Taught at Van Andel Graduate School of Government

Class taught by Director of Academic Programs Dr. Matthew Mehan

Dr. Matthew Mehan, Director of Academic Programs for Hillsdale in D.C. and Assistant Professor of Government at the Van Andel Graduate School of Government is teaching a one-credit course this semester called The Art of Rhetoric.

Rhetoric is a crucial art of liberty for anyone interested in citizenship and government.  It is one of the required studies of Hillsdale College’s new graduate program.  As Cicero said, “[W]isdom without eloquence does too little for the good of republics….”

This graduate-level course combines teachings on the classical understanding of rhetoric as well as the philosophical roots of oratory.  Students study Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero’s writings on the philosophical, political importance, and practical art of rhetoric.  Of Cicero’s foundational text, De Oratore, Dr. Mehan said,

“It is one of the greatest deposits of political wisdom in the tradition, while at the same time being extremely practical: if government in a republic requires persuading people to true and just common action—and it does—then the art of rhetoric, namely seeing the available means of persuasion to the truth in speech, must be practiced at a high level by a republic’s governors, whom we are educating in our program.”

One class assignment requires students to submit a recording of an epideictic or laudatory speech.  According to Dr. Mehan, this is important because “an art makes something, and the art of rhetoric makes both a speech and a persuaded audience.  You have to learn both the theory and the practice.”

Graduate student Brianna Howard added,

"Dr. Mehan's class on the "Art of Rhetoric" not only enlightens on the arts of oration, but through his deep and intimate knowledge of the great philosophers, Dr. Mehan brings figures like Cicero and Plato to life.  The canons of rhetoric were on full display over the course of the two weekends we spent together, diving into both the practical and philosophical elements of the classical art of rhetoric." 

A stack of books.

About Hillsdale in D.C.

Hillsdale in D.C. is an extension of the teaching mission of Hillsdale College to Washington, D.C. Its purpose is to teach the Constitution and the principles that give it meaning. Through the study of original source documents from American history—and of older books that formed the education of America’s founders—it seeks to inspire students, teachers, citizens, and policymakers to return the America’s principles to their central place in the political life of the nation.

About Hillsdale College

Hillsdale College is an independent liberal arts college located in southern Michigan. Founded in 1844, the College has built a national reputation through its classical liberal arts core curriculum and its principled refusal to accept federal or state taxpayer subsidies, even indirectly in the form of student grants or loans. It also conducts an outreach effort promoting civil and religious liberty, including a free monthly speech digest, Imprimis, with a circulation of more than 4.5 million. For more information, visit hillsdale.edu.