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Polemics (from the Greek πολεμικός polemikós 'hostile' or πόλεμος pólemos 'war, dispute') denotes a mostly sharp dispute in the context of political, literary or scientific discussions. The aim is to assert one's own opinion even if it does not or only partially coincides with reality. The term has changed historically; the original meaning of polemics was armed forces, a literary or scientific dispute, a scholarly feud .


Polemizing means to argue against a (certain other) view. The polemicist does not necessarily seek consensus , but tries to help his arguments to break through in rhetorical competition (see also Eristik ). In contrast to this, apologetics is also mentioned , although of course such a justification or defense speech (relating to literature) can also be polemical. The word Irenik, which is seldom used today, can be seen as a further contrast to polemics.

Polemics are often characterized by sharp and direct statements, and sometimes personal attacks. Often the means of exaggeration , irony and sarcasm are used or the straw man argument is used. The occasional goal is to unmask an opponent in a conflict of beliefs and opinions. If necessary, this also means the - more or less - subtle accusation of the opponent, but in no way renouncing factual arguments. In classical rhetoric, such a case is referred to as argumentatio ad hominem (arguing directed towards the person). This means that exposure points, the transfer of an opponent, using, for example, its credibility, its reputation and possibly his integrity doubting total by any inconsistencies of his remarks or his acts or omissions shows directly to his publicly expressed attitudes and intentions .

Although polemics are typically motivated by strong emotions such as hatred, in order for the attack to succeed, they must be stylized in a manner comparable to the literary techniques of drama and embedded in a coolly deliberate strategy.

Polemics as a theological discipline

In the German-speaking systematic theology , especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, different systematizations of theological areas of responsibility were often used in addition to Christian apologetics as well as an area of ​​activity or a discipline of "polemics", both in textbooks and other publications as well as in chair titles, at the University of Bonn since 1783 . Usually this means the presentation of theological doctrinal differences, sometimes including objections, against alternatives and the use of the word synonymous with today's talk of " controversial theology ", but also overlaps with topics and areas of responsibility that otherwise also fell to apologetics or today - but then usually integrative rather than confrontational - falling to fundamental theology . The scientific definition given by Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher in his proposal on the structure of theological science is deliberately different : apologetics are directed “outside”, the polemics “inside” in order to purify one's own teaching structure.


  • Kevin Liggieri, Christoph Manfred Müller (editor): Denker und Polemik, Würzburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-8260-5047-3
  • Wilhelm Emrich : Polemics. Polemics, press feuds and critical essays. Athenaeum, Frankfurt am Main 1968
  • Donald Kagan , Charles D. Hamilton, Peter Krentz (Editors): Polis and Polemos: Essays on Politics, War, & History in Ancient Greece. In Honor of Donald Kagan. Regina Books, 1997, ISBN 0-941690-75-X
  • Hermann Stauffer: Polemics . In: Historical dictionary of rhetoric. Volume 6: Must - Pop. Tübingen 2003
  • Stefan Straub: The polemicist Karl Kraus. Three case studies. Tectum, 2004, ISBN 3-8288-8678-7
  • Jean-Francois Lyotard : The Controversy. - 2nd, corr. Edition - Verlag Wilhelm Fink, 1989. - ISBN 3-7705-2599-X

Web links

Wiktionary: Polemics  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: polemical  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wilhelm Gemoll : Greek-German school and hand dictionary . G. Freytag Verlag / Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky, Munich / Vienna 1965.
  2. Julius Caesar - “The famous funeral speech, a masterpiece of demagogic rhetoric, was worked out independently by Shakespeare: Plutarch only takes note of the fact and its effect. [..] The idealist Brutus believes that if he presents the citizens openly and truthfully, intellectually, without any rhetorical trappings, they will approve of his actions. And then he must see how his sober speech is followed by that of Antonius, full of the strongest rhetorical effects, like that of the lawyer on that of the scholar, and how Antonius carries the crowd away with him. "
  3. ^ Andreas Dorschel : Passions of the Intellect: A Study of Polemics. In: Philosophy , Volume 90, No. 4, 2015, pp. 679–684 ( PDF online ).
  4. Karl Werner gives an overview : History of the apologetic and polemical literature of Christian theology , 5 volumes, Zeller, Osnabrück 1861–1867 ( digital copies ).
  5. Schleiermacher speaks of the "far more common so-called outward-facing special polemics of the Protestants, for example against the Catholics" and the "general [n] of the Christians against the Jews or also the Deists and atheists ", Which" has nothing in common with our discipline, on the other hand it is hardly likely to be recognized as salutary by a well-worked practical theology ". Brief description of the theological studies, 2. A. 1830, § 41.