Evaluating Conspiracy: Narrative, Argument, and Ideology in Lincoln's “House Divided” Speech

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10 Scopus citations


Despite the prevalence of conspiracy theories in contemporary political discourse, scholars of rhetoric and argumentation remain confounded as to how best to evaluate these theories. Many scholars dismiss conspiracy theories as paranoid fantasy, others believe that standards like narrative fidelity and coherence are sufficient, while others long for the clear-cut evaluative standards of formal argument. In response to this evaluative impasse this essay adopts an evaluative stance that is at once comparative, contextual and ideological. Specifically, the essay's package of evaluative strategies emerges through critical engagement with the “slave power” conspiracy theory of Abraham Lincoln's “House Divided” speech. Evaluation of this conspiracy theory reveals the value of a more relativistic approach to evaluation, as well as the importance of an ideological lens capable of adjudicating ambiguous cases, and interrogating the political agenda underlying any evaluative method.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-73
Number of pages17
JournalArgumentation and Advocacy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2005 Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.


  • Lincoln
  • conduction
  • conspiracy
  • ideology
  • narrative
  • “House Divided”


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