Aristotle Beyond the Academy

Liz Truss

A Spectator article by Kate Andrews in 2021 alleged that Liz Truss failed in her attempts to supercharge the economy because she paid no attention to Aristotle’s Rhetoric. The Chancellor of the Exchequer during Truss's Premiership, Dr Kwasi Kwarteng, could (and should) have come to his line manager's aid, suggests Andrews, since he studied Ancient History at Cambridge. Aristotle identified three areas which all public speakers must consider if they want to be persuasive: first, the character of the speaker and the contribution their credibility could make (êthos, which he calls 'the most authoritative form of persuasion'); second, the favourable emotional reactions (pathos) that the speaker could legitimately arouse in their audience; and third, the 'true or apparently true' arguments (logos) for the case that the speaker could invent. 'On all these counts – self-presentation, understanding of the mindset of her audience and the solid reasons for believing that she could deliver what she promised – Ms Truss clearly failed. She seemed to think her personal determination to succeed was enough to win the argument', says Kate Andrews.
Andrews suggested that Ms Truss exemplified the fourth Aristotelian aid to persuasion: that a speech is delivered at the right moment (kairos) to ensure its favourable reception. Truss and Kwarteng did not consult key stakeholders nor seek any independent advice on their plan which meant that its implementation was doomed from the start.

Durham UniversityDurham University Centre for Classical ReceptionLeverhulme Trust