Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Pat Gehrke

Second Advisor

Gina Ercolini


The general public often views the practice of politics to be incompatible with truth telling. Despite this perspective, I argue these two concepts coexisted in the 1912 campaign of Eugene V. Debs. Using Michel Foucault‟s unfinished work on parrhesia, or frank speaking, I argue that Debs functioned as a parrhesiast. To make this argument, I analyze Debs‟s discourse against what Foucault‟s work suggests are the three essential elements of parrhesia: compulsion, risk, and authenticity. Because Debs‟s parrhesiastic sensibilities become more obvious when compared with his opponents in the 1912 election, I analyze Debs‟s discourse in relation to William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Theodore Roosevelt. Although a small minority in rhetorical studies have explored Debs‟s ethos as a rhetorical strength, none have situated Debs in relation to parrhesia, but to do so is appropriate and beneficial. Because of Debs‟s success in garnering six percent of the popular vote as a third-party candidate in 1912, his evocation of parrhesia in politics reveals advantages and possibilities for reconciling the practices of truth telling and politics.