Discourse Analysis: Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire Speech


Language can be a powerful tool to convince others and make them cooperative. Cialdini (2007) has worked out several principles along which it is possible to analyze discourses in terms of their persuasiveness. Others also have contributed with tools to analyzing discourses such as Fairclough (2003). These tools are used to analyze the “Evil Empire Speech” of the US President Ronald Reagan that he held at the National Association of Evangelicals, 1983, in Orlando Florida. His historical speech was aimed at convincing the nation about the righteousness of his nuclear policy. He partly rewrote the already prepared script and included the “evil empire” part. The analysis supports that his speech was an exceptionally effective one. Reagan made his speech an example of the following principles of persuasiveness such as reciprocity, authority, commitment, liking, scarcity and social proof. He wanted support for belligerent intentions from a faithful community, which was already problematic, but he got the audience on his side through emphasizing his similarities with them, his own faithfulness, the presentation of strong examples and balancing humor and seriousness. Additionally, he introduced the striking metaphor “evil empire”, which stuck to the peoples’ minds and had an impact on them. He also appealed to the people through implicitly distinguishing the evil from the ones who were not evil—the US citizens. Thus, he made the American people feel better, to ensure them that they do the right thing when following him. He ranked religious people above him when he was joking about clergy men and politicians. To reinforce his authority, he borrowed the authority of various respected men through citing them. He improved his position and the power of his arguments using the philosophical wisdom of others.

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Nobrega, J. (2014). Discourse Analysis: Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire Speech. Open Journal of Modern Linguistics, 4, 166-181. doi: 10.4236/ojml.2014.41014.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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