Crisis of Rhetoric: renewing political speech and speechwriting

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Left to right: Dr Henriette van der Blom, Professor Mary Beard, Philip Collins and Professor Alan Finlayson

Robust public debate and the freedom to make arguments and counterarguments are essential for democracy. But debates need to be productive and arguments need to be good ones. Political discussion must be more than sectarian assertions and insults traded like blows in a wrestling match. Yet, political debate and discussion cannot be reduced to the technocratic recitation of facts and inevitabilities. Political speeches and arguments must be interesting enough for people to engage with, should give them reasons they can respond to and be motivated by, and must affirm our capacity to create the collective future we choose together.

Executive summary

  • The Crisis of Rhetoric project brought scholars of Ancient History, Classics, History, Linguistics, Media Studies, Philosophy and Politics together with politicians, speechwriters and political journalists. At six workshops, involving 120 people, discussions were held on the challenges facing politicians and speechwriters today, and how ancient and modern ideas about rhetoric could contribute to the quality of political speech and argument today. 

  • This report presents the project findings and includes recommendations on how to make rhetoric compelling while working in the service of our democracy.

Dr Henriette van der Blom, Senior Lecturer in Ancient History in the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology

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