Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Persuasive rhetoric and great timing

Great oratory, it seems, relies on great timing as well as the right words. In his book “Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama,” Sam Leith observes, for instance:

On Winston Churchill: 

“Of course, there are times when powerful fixed artillery is just what you need. The thing about Churchill was that, like the stopped clock that’s right twice a day, he occupied one position and waited for the world to come to him. He spent much of his political career predicting the imminent end of Western civilization—and it was only by the damnedest good luck that it happened to be on his watch that it suddenly appeared to be coming about. If not, he might have been remembered as a self-aggrandizing windbag with an old-fashioned speaking style and a love of the sound of his own voice.”

On Adolf Hitler:

“He preferred to speak in the evening, believing that ‘in the morning and during the day it seems that the power of the human will rebels with its strongest energy against any attempt to impose upon it the will or opinion of another. On the other hand, in the evening it easily succumbs to the domination of a stronger will.’ Thus speaks a man who got his start launching his Putsches from beer halls.”

—In Sam Leith’s “Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric From Aristotle to Obama”, Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, Philadelphia, PA, 2012.

So, for the ambitious orator, remember: historic circumstance, not a crisis in your own career, will decide when you can make that historic speech.

For those of us just sitting in the audience, it appears to be a good thing that the men or women up there on the big stage are also able to mix it up on the morning shows.

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