Peter Jones

Plutarch and Aristotle vs Lynton Crosby

The Tory campaign chief has two big ideas. The ancients wouldn’t have liked either

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Attack Ed Miliband and sing up the long-term economic plan: that is the now obviously useless scheme devised by the Tory party’s strategy adviser Lynton Crosby, against the best advice of Plutarch and Aristotle.

The Greek biographer Plutarch (c. ad 100) could have advised him against the attack-dog tactic. In an essay entitled ‘Turning enemies to one’s advantage’, he pointed out that the presence of enemies kept one sharp; to distress the enemy who hated you, ‘be a man, show self-control, tell the truth, treat those who come into contact with you with generosity and fairness’. Likewise, by understanding what it was about you that gave enemies the chance to attack, it was possible to adjust your behaviour and blunt their assaults. Miliband is learning fast on both counts.

As for the ‘long-term economic plan’, Crosby is ignoring basic rules that Aristotle (384–322 bc) expounded in his ground-breaking Art of Rhetoric. One was that, as well as presenting oneself as a credible and fair-minded speaker, one also had to be alert to the disposition of one’s audience in order to generate in them the necessary emotional response. Crosby had clearly not assessed how open to persuasion any audience would be to promises of yet more ‘austerity’ demanded by the ‘long-term’ plan.

A further rule was that rhetoric was a matter of ‘detecting the possible means of persuasion’ in any particular case. For example, Aristotle spends some time explaining what it was about the young, the old, etc. that a speaker could turn to his advantage, e.g. the young are sex-crazed, ambitious, keen to win, credulous, optimistic, full of hope for the future, easily deceived, prone to pity people, think they know everything and love laughter. So what are the ‘possible means of persuasion’ in banging on about austerity? Anyone have the foggiest? No wonder the Tories are now throwing out bribes left, right and centre.

Crosby is an Australian and the Labour party’s no less useless guru is an American. Doubtless Nigel Farage has views on the matter.