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Cover of The War of Words by Kenneth Burke co-edited by Kyle Jensen
November 2018
University of California Press

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The War of Words

Kenneth Burke
Edited by: 
Anthony Burke
Kyle Jensen
Jack Selzer

When Kenneth Burke conceived his celebrated “Motivorum” project in the 1940s and 1950s, he envisioned it in three parts. Whereas the third part, "A Symbolic of Motives," was never finished, "A Grammar of Motives" (1945) and "A Rhetoric of Motives" (1950) have become canonical theoretical documents.

"A Rhetoric of Motives" was originally intended to be a two-part book. Here, at last, is the second volume, the until-now unpublished "War of Words," where Burke brilliantly exposes the rhetorical devices that sponsor war in the name of peace. Discouraging militarism during the Cold War even as it catalogues belligerent persuasive strategies and tactics that remain in use today, "The War of Words" reveals how popular news media outlets can, wittingly or not, foment international tensions and armaments during tumultuous political periods. This authoritative edition includes an introduction from the editors explaining the compositional history and cultural contexts of both "The War of Words" and "A Rhetoric of Motives." "The War of Words" illuminates the study of modern rhetoric even as it deepens our understanding of post–World War II politics.


Editor Kyle Jensen is professor of English in writing, rhetorics and literacies at ASU, where he directs Writing Programs.

Praise for this book

“A timely new work by the most important rhetorician of the twentieth century.”

Steven Mailloux, President’s Professor of Rhetoric, Loyola Marymount University

“An absolutely indispensable addition to the Burkean corpus, with an admirable contextualization by the editors. The material they have prepared is exquisite.”

Barry Brummett, Charles Sapp Centennial Professor in Communication, University of Texas at Austin