Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

President-elect Obama (as I write) is preparing his inaugural, and it will doubtless display the same persuasive charm and intelligence that has characterised all his speeches. 'Change', 'belief' 'opportunity', 'freedom', 'hope', 'equality', 'rights' and 'listening to the people' will be qualified by 'responsibility' and 'challenge'. 'Yes, we can' may become 'Yes, we can, but only if. . . '.

In his Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle lays down the six prime topics of political oratory: revenue, war and peace, defence of the realm, imports and exports, legislation and (most important of all) the end to which they were directed. Under 'revenue', he says, the speaker must have mastered the sources of income, and indicate how he will increase it and/or save on expenditure. Under 'war and peace', the speaker must be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of his own and others' forces, so that they can make peace with stronger, and war on weaker, neighbours. Under 'defence', he must especially be aware of vulnerabilities.

'Imports and exports' for Aristotle mean 'food', and good terms need to be kept with two groups: those stronger, and those commercially useful. By 'legislation', Aristotle means ways of preventing civil war, always a major issue in the ancient world and one that cannot be entirely discounted in the modern. …

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