Parrēsia, Foucault, and the Classical Rhetorical Tradition

Arthur E. Walzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


In his last seminars, Michel Foucault analyzed parrēsia (frank speech) in classical Greece and Rome, a subject also addressed by classical rhetoricians. Foucault regards parrēsia as an idealized modality of truth telling-unartful, sincere, courageous speech that tells an unwelcome truth to power. Aligning rhetoric with flattery, Foucault excludes rhetorical parrēsia from his history of thought. This essay offers an alternative analysis of parrēsia from the perspective of classical rhetoric. Drawing especially on the comprehensive description in the Rhetorica Ad Herennium, this essay identifies within the classical tradition a feigned parrēsia as well as a sincere one and a rhetorically artful parrēsia as well as the unartful, bold one that Foucault favors. Furthermore, the essay traces a genealogy that highlights changes in the practice of parrēsia as the term is conceptualized in the context of friendship, at which point parrēsia takes on an unmistakably rhetorical character.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalRhetoric Society Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013


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