Essays from a master of the genre

All Art Is Propaganda: Critical EssaysAll Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essays by George Orwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the great themes of this collection of 1940s essays is that writers must really fight to think through what they write about, rather than simply produce propaganda for their political “side.” It will not surprise those who have read Animal Farm and 1984 that Orwell saw totalitarian politics as a great threat to honest writing. It was really a joy to see him think through the various topics in this collection and link them to broader trends in literature and politics. My favorites were “Inside the Whale,” “Wells, Hitler and the World State,” “Can Socialists Be Happy?” and “Politics and the English Language.”

View all my reviews

An outstanding biography

Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He MadeJustice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made by Jim Newton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I learned a great deal not only about Warren himself but about the Supreme Court and the history of California. Newton gives a thorough background of Warren before he was on the court and shows how his political principles developed over time and how his biography shaped his jurisprudence. While Newton is sometimes critical of his subject, especially regarding Warren’s important role in the removal of Japanese Americans from their homes during World War II, he convincingly portrays Warren as a very decent man with an abiding concern for justice and good government. Over time, a growing concern for the government’s responsibility to bring about a fairer society brought him more to the center politically and to leading the Supreme Court in requiring states to treat their citizens by the justices’ understanding of the rights that all Americans ought to enjoy.

Newton’s summary of the comments of one of Warren’s clerks gives a good glimpse of the picture that Newton paints. The clerk said “that the Supreme Court could not function with nine Earl Warrens. It would be too conscious of delivering individual justice and perhaps too heedless of the need to construct an architecture of law. But nor, Gaither added, can the Court survive without one Warren. Someone needs to look after the law, as Warren did, to see not only that it is faithful to its principles but also that it is effective in action, that it serves society and does not merely bind it, that is delivers not just abstract justice but actual fairness” (519).

That’s not the style of constitutional law that I prefer. But this book helped me to understand the case for it much better. While I thought that Newton sometimes slipped into hyperbole about Warren’s accomplishments and I thought his uncritical admiration for JFK was unwarranted, those were only tiny flaws in a truly informative and insightful work.

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Refusing to choose between King Kong and Godzilla

I sometimes think about an odd coalition of traditional conservatives, socialists, and libertarians emerging in the US that, while they can’t agree on much, can agree that the current political culture is seriously deficient and perhaps that there are certain things that can be stopped. The mainstream political debates seem to me to ask citizens to choose to sign up for either big government or rent-seeking big business, which is like asking people to choose between King Kong and Godzilla when they are fighting over your hometown. Or there are those, I suppose, who say that their policies can get KK and G to get along, and then the economy will really grow!

Traditional conservatives, socialists, and libertarians who stand outside the mainstream probably can’t agree solutions, but they do see problems with what the mainstream takes for granted.

Peter Hitchens, writing about Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, reminded me of why I think about that impractical coalition:

Odder still, the man who won, Jeremy Corbyn, was astonishingly old-fashioned, a country-bred grammar school boy brought up by parents who had taken part in the great political struggles of the 1930s.

He is out of his time, which is no bad thing. To see him address a rally in modern Britain (as I have done) is a bit like going to the station to catch your regular commuter service, and finding a steam train waiting at the platform – surprising, nostalgic, wheezy and ancient, more or less certain to break down, but wonderfully picturesque.

It struck me as I watched him that he was far more dangerous than the Tories thought he was. His absolute courtesy and refusal to make personal attacks appealed to many in my generation who remember a different and in some ways better Britain.

His realisation that George Osborne’s supposed economic miracle was a sham, and that many have lost hope of getting steady, well-paid jobs or secure homes, appealed to the young. He may not have any actual answers to these questions, but he at least knew they were being asked. His absolute opposition to the repeated stupid wars of recent years also has a wide appeal, in many cases to conservative-minded people and Service families sick of the waste of good lives.

A genuinely patriotic, socially conservative party might have had a proper response to these things. But the Tory Party is not that. It is just a cold machine which runs on gallons of expensive snake oil. So it decided to attack Mr Corbyn personally.

The costs of gender reassignment treatments

I have been trying to read a variety of articles to gain an understanding of the transgender issue. This one from First Things had a helpful summary of the scientific case against the celebration of gender-changing treatments:

Until recently, gender dysphoria in young people was treated by “watchful waiting” or by counseling. In 2007, however, Dr. Norman Spack of Boston Children’s Hospital introduced a new treatment protocol—originating in the Netherlands—which is fast becoming the norm. Today, young people who pursue “gender reassignment” begin a process that will consign them to lifelong dependence on the medical system. Generally, they receive puberty blockers at around age thirteen and begin opposite-sex hormones—estrogen for boys and testosterone for girls—at around age sixteen. Some eventually opt for “sex-reassignment” surgery. This can involve double mastectomies, in girls as young as sixteen, and removing or “creating” penises and vaginas.

Cross-sex hormones stimulate the development of secondary sex characteristics such as facial hair in females and the swelling of breast tissue in males. Most such changes cease when a patient stops using these hormones. The artificial “penises” and “vaginas” constructed through surgery do not function like their authentic biological counterparts. No treatment can cause a biological man to menstruate or give birth to an infant, or make it possible for a woman to produce sperm and father a child.

Gender transition treatments involve significant risks. Puberty blockers stunt growth and decrease bone density during use. Girls who take testosterone may develop serious acne or feel irritable, aggressive, or unbalanced. Individuals taking these hormones require lifelong monitoring for a number of dangerous side effects, including cancer and deep vein thrombosis.

Lifelong infertility may be the greatest risk of cross-sex hormone use by young people. Sterility is inevitable when puberty blockers are followed by cross-sex hormones at an early stage of adolescent sexual development, or if prepubertal children are placed directly on these hormones, according to Dr. Michelle Cretella of the American College of Pediatricians. Postpubertal adolescents are advised to consider freezing their eggs or sperm before beginning hormone use. “If your teen may want to have a biological child, it’s important to look into sperm banking before treatment is started,” Seattle Children’s Hospital advises parents. Hormone-induced changes “may be irreversible” for girls who receive testosterone, the hospital adds. “It’s very important that a patient starting [female-to-male] therapy be sure this is the course they [sic] want to follow,” its web site warns. Despite these concerns, Seattle Children’s Hospital enthusiastically supports pediatric gender-transition treatment and opened a clinic to provide it in October 2016.

In short, the use of sex-reassignment treatments in children amounts to a massive uncontrolled experiment. Such an unscientific approach to irreversible, life-altering treatments is indefensible in the age of “evidence-based” medicine, when lengthy clinical trials are generally required for federal approval of a new medication.

There is little evidence that cross-sex treatments actually benefit gender-dysphoric youngsters. In 2014, Hayes, Inc.—a widely respected research firm that evaluates the safety and value of medical technologies—performed a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on treatment of gender dysphoria. Hayes gave its lowest rating to the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones in children, finding that the literature is “too sparse and the studies [that exist are] too limited to suggest conclusions.”

McHugh compares treating the psychological confusion of gender dysphoria with hormones or sex-change surgery to treating anorexia with liposuction. He notes that the most thorough follow-up of individuals who have had sex-reassignment surgery, a 2011 Swedish study, found that sex-reassigned individuals were almost five times more likely to attempt suicide and nineteen times more likely to die by suicide compared to controls. Such treatment is irresponsible. It leaves a patient’s underlying psychological problems undiagnosed and unaddressed. In McHugh’s words,

Transgendered men do not become women, nor do transgendered women become men. All . . . become feminized men or masculinized women, counterfeits or impersonators of the sex with which they “identify.” In that lies their problematic future.

Because the author’s arguments agree with my position, I am inclined to find it helpful. But if others know of scientific arguments in favor of gender-changing treatments, I would be grateful to see them as well.

A different account of the beginnings of the pro-life movement

Justin Taylor recently posted some excerpts from Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Roe v. Wade by Daniel K. Williams, who is trying to challenge the usual interpretations of the pro-life movement as a reaction to Roe:

Because historians have misunderstood the pro-life movement’s origins, they have been unable to explain why it remains a potent political force today, long after other socially conservative, religiously inspired causes, from Prohibition to school prayer, have faded from the scene.

If the opponents of abortion had based their opposition merely on religious teaching or the seemingly arcane principles of natural law–as Catholics had when campaigning against contraception–it is unlikely that the pro-life cause could have withstood the force of the sexual revolution, the feminist movement, and the social changes of the 1960s.

But because the pro-life movement grounded its arguments in the language of human value and constitutional rights, it was able to attract a politically and religiously diverse coalition that actually gained strength over time. The pro-life movement succeeded because it drew on the same language of the human rights, civil rights, and the value of human life that inspired the struggle for African American freedom, the feminist movement, antiwar protests, and the campaign for the rights of gays and lesbians.

Williams also writes about the political origins and evolution of the movement:

This book also challenges conventional presuppositions about the pro-life movement by showing that it originated not among political conservatives, but rather among people who supported New Deal liberalism and government aid to the poor, and who viewed their campaign as an effort to extend state protection to the rights of a defenseless minority (in this case, the unborn).

Only after Roe v. Wade, when the pro-life movement’s interpretation of liberalism came into conflict with another rights-based movement–feminism–and it became clear that pro-lifers would not be able to win the support of the Democratic Party, did the movement take a conservative turn.

Just a buncha rhetoric

These are the materials that I prepared to help my students this summer as they analyze the rhetoric of historical documents. I am happy for any feedback that readers want to give. (Edited on 6/3/17 to include my footnotes, which did not come through originally. Now they are clumsily in parentheses and or referenced with an asterisk.

Principles of Rhetorical Analysis

What Is Rhetoric? What are the Rhetorical Appeals?

Aristotle, the renowned ancient Greek philosopher, wrote that “rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” (The Rhetoric, Book I, Ch. 2).

Aristotle went on to describe introduce three means of persuasion:

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself. (The Rhetoric, Book I, Ch. 2)

After describing each in greater detail, he concludes:

There are, then, these three means of effecting persuasion. The man who is to be in command of them must, it is clear, be able (1) to reason logically, (2) to understand human character and goodness in their various forms, and (3) to understand the emotions — that is, to name them and describe them, to know their causes and the way in which they are excited. (The Rhetoric, Book I, Ch. 2)

These three appeals are called by their Greek names: ethos (appeal to the character of the speaker), pathos (appeal to the emotions of the audience), and logos (appeal to logic).

A rhetorical analysis looks at the way a speaker or writer uses these appeals and then makes a judgment about how effective the author has been in persuading the audience.

The Kairos Component

Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab defines kairos as “a term that refers to the elements of a speech that acknowledge and draw support from the particular setting, time, and place that a speech occurs.” Effective writers and speakers will take these things into account when presenting their arguments. Not every audience will respect the same appeals to ethos, pathos, or logos.

Kairos was an important concept in ancient Greek thinking about rhetoric and even life in general, and some ancient teachers like Pythagoras and Isocrates spoke about it a great deal.* Aristotle does not dedicate a specific section of The Rhetoric to kairos, but according to rhetoric scholar James Kinneavy, Aristotle’s ideas throughout The Rhetoric are closely tied to the idea of kairos. Kinneavy points out that we can even see kairos in his definition of rhetoric given at the very beginning of this handout: “rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” (emphasis added).

Kairos is a complex concept with different dimensions*:

  • On the one hand, there is a stabilizing aspect, encouraging the author addresses the audience in ways that are considered appropriate for that particular audience. This means appealing to an audience referring to traditions, authorities, and values that meet the audience’s expectations.
  • On the other hand, there is a destabilizing aspect, in which the author seeks to speak or write in such a way that encourages the audience to think and therefore act differently.
    • The author might encourage the members of an audience to change its mind portraying an idea or situation in a way that is very different from usual (sometimes even reversing the usual ideas of, say, good and evil).
    • The author might use the opportunity provided by the events that the audience is experiencing to show the need to act differently now.

While these might seem contradictory, perhaps you can see how they can fit together. Challenging an audience to change while ignoring or insulting everything that its members hold dear would probably fall flat. Telling an audience to believe and do everything that its members already believe and want to do would certainly please the audience, but then there is no real persuasion.

Therefore, an author must consider both the cultural expectations of the audience and the circumstances that the audience is experiencing. Because different audiences have different values and the members of an audience do not always share the same values, an author who intends to persuade has to think about the risks involved. Do the circumstances and values of the audience make the author’s argument easier or harder? Does the author have to push against the audience’s values and experiences to convince its members of a different way of looking at things, or might the author need to persuade the audience to place one value above another? Or perhaps the audience is an easier one, which already agrees with the author on the values relevant to the issue at hand or whose circumstances provide fuel to propel the author’s arguments.

*See the articles by Harker, Sheard, and Rostagni, which are listed in the “Sources” section at the end

Let’s look at the three appeals (ethos, pathos, and logos) in more depth and see how they can be used in ways that fit a given audience.

Ethos: appealing to an audience based on the character of the author

“Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided. This kind of persuasion, like the others, should be achieved by what the speaker says, not by what people think of his character before he begins to speak. It is not true, as some writers assume in their treatises on rhetoric, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes nothing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary, his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses.” (Aristotle, The Rhetoric, Book I, Ch. 2)

Explicit (Written or Spoken) Ethos

Why should the author work to prove his or her character in the text of the presentation? In Book II, Chapter 1 of The Rhetoric, Aristotle makes his case:

But since rhetoric exists to affect the giving of decisions — the hearers decide between one political speaker and another, and a legal verdict is a decision — the orator must not only try to make the argument of his speech demonstrative and worthy of belief; he must also make his own character look right and put his hearers, who are to decide, into the right frame of mind. Particularly in political oratory, but also in lawsuits, it adds much to an orator’s influence that his own character should look right and that he should be thought to entertain the right feelings towards his hearers; and also that his hearers themselves should be in just the right frame of mind. That the orator’s own character should look right is particularly important in political speaking: that the audience should be in the right frame of mind [is particularly important] in lawsuits. When people are feeling friendly and placable, they think one sort of thing; when they are feeling angry or hostile, they think either something totally different or the same thing with a different intensity: when they feel friendly to the man who comes before them for judgement, they regard him as having done little wrong, if any; when they feel hostile, they take the opposite view. Again, if they are eager for, and have good hopes of, a thing that will be pleasant if it happens, they think that it certainly will happen and be good for them: whereas if they are indifferent or annoyed, they do not think so.

There are three things which inspire confidence in the orator’s own character — the three, namely, that induce us to believe a thing apart from any proof of it: good sense, good moral character, and goodwill. False statements and bad advice are due to one or more of the following three causes. Men either form a false opinion through want of good sense; or they form a true opinion, but because of their moral badness do not say what they really think; or finally, they are both sensible and upright, but not well disposed to their hearers, and may fail in consequence to recommend what they know to be the best course. These are the only possible cases. It follows that any one who is thought to have all three of these good qualities will inspire trust in his audience. The way to make ourselves thought to be sensible and morally good must be gathered from the analysis of goodness already given: the way to establish your own goodness is the same as the way to establish that of others.

Further help comes from the authors of Everything’s an Argument. They note that authors can improve their standing the eyes of an audience when they portray themselves as

  • Worthy of being believed because of their knowledge and/or qualifications or their agreement with the values of the audience
  • Respectful of the audience
  • Humble rather than arrogant
  • Fair-minded and interested in the truth rather selfish or one-sided**

Implicit (Unwritten, Unspoken) Ethos

You may have noticed Aristotle’s statement that “this kind of persuasion, like the others, should be achieved by what the speaker says, not by what people think of his character before he begins to speak.” While it’s risky to differ with one of the greatest philosophers of all time, I would like you to consider the author’s position, background, or reputation even when it goes unmentioned in the document. What would the audience know about the author even before encountering the speech or written text? Does this make the author’s goal or persuasion easier or harder?

One example of this is the conduct of a teacher in a classroom or an online course. The teacher rarely needs to say to the students, “I’m a teacher with a degree in this stuff. You can trust me.” But the position of the teacher usually makes an unspoken appeal to the students that encourages them to give an instructor the benefit of the doubt.

The Kairos Component

To convince the audience of his or her personal character, an author must connect meaningfully with the values of the audience. Values are the standards that people use to judge what things are right and wrong, important and unimportant. Here are some important questions relating to values:

  • How should individuals, groups, and countries treat each other? What is fair and right?
  • What are the most important things in life, and how can they be protected and encouraged?
  • How should power and relationships work in families, workplaces, and governments?
  • When, if ever, is violence justified?

Aristotle notes the importance of connecting with the audience’s values in The Rhetoric:

We must also take into account the nature of our particular audience when making a speech of praise; for, as Socrates used to say, ‘it is not difficult to praise the Athenians to an Athenian audience.’ If the audience esteems a given quality, we must say that our hero has that quality, no matter whether we are addressing Scythians or Spartans or philosophers. Everything, in fact, that is esteemed we are to represent as noble. After all, people regard the two things as much the same. (Book I, Ch. 9)

What makes persuasion based on ethos easier?

  • Agreement between the author and audience on important values
  • Events that encourage the kinds of values that the author appeals to (for example, a military threat may encourage the audience to value security more than freedom or peace)
  • Respect for the author as an individual, as a member of a respected group, or holder of a respected position (in other words, strong implicit ethos)

These favorable conditions can provide a solid foundation for persuading an audience. On the other hand, weaknesses in these areas are obstacles that the author must overcome to convince the audience.

An Illustration

We can illustrate this by thinking about how a speaker might persuade different audiences on issues of war and peace. The ancient Romans seemed to require only a believable threat to approve of a war. If a threat was on the horizon, defeating the enemy before the threat was serious was a high priority, and the Romans tended to portray themselves as acting defensively even when they were the attackers. A speaker addressing a Roman assembly would need to take this into account when he called for war or peace. Speakers advising a peaceful approach to foreign powers would probably have a more difficult task in convincing their audience because of Roman cultural values that glorified war, while a speaker advising war would have an easier time.

On the other hand, modern-day Europeans seem (in general) much less likely to want to go to war than ancient Romans. This is fascinating when we compare it to the excitement about war that many Europeans felt before World War I. Many Europeans in 1914 valued national strength proved on the battlefield. Yet the events of the 20th century have had a dramatic impact on European values. Two terrible world wars and a more unified Europe (for now) have made war much less attractive, and so an author arguing for war has an uphill battle against current European values.

Whether in ancient Rome or modern Europe, a speaker on the issue of war would benefit from a strong appeal to ethos. In either case, a military background (implicit ethos) and a demonstration that the speaker thinks about these things in ways that the audience considers moral (explicit ethos) would be helpful in persuading the audience.

Summing It Up

To effectively appeal to ethos, an author needs to convince the audience that he or she can be trusted on the issue at hand as a believable, decent person and overcome any obstacles caused by the author’s background or argument.

** I would add that different audiences can define fair-mindedness in different ways. Some will want an author to treat those who disagree with respect, while others will respond positively to dismissiveness or hostility toward some groups because it’s what they or their ideas deserve. This is fairly common in our divided political culture, but it can also be illustrated by observing that people don’t generally demand that authors present the positive and negative points about Adolf Hitler before criticizing him.

Pathos: appealing to an audience’s emotions

“Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile.” (Aristotle, The Rhetoric, Book I, Ch. 2)

Aristotle argues that a speaker must understand the role of emotions in the persuasion of the audience:

The Emotions are all those feelings that so change men as to affect their judgements, and that are also attended by pain or pleasure. Such are anger, pity, fear and the like, with their opposites. We must arrange what we have to say about each of them under three heads. Take, for instance, the emotion of anger: here we must discover (1) what the state of mind of angry people is, (2) who the people are with whom they usually get angry, and (3) on what grounds they get angry with them. It is not enough to know one or even two of these points; unless we know all three, we shall be unable to arouse anger in any one. The same is true of the other emotions. So just as earlier in this work we drew up a list of useful propositions for the orator, let us now proceed in the same way to analyse the subject before us. (Book II, Chapter 1)

Aristotle looks at several pairs of opposite emotions in Book II: anger and calmness, friendship and enmity, fear and confidence, shame and shamelessness, kindness and unkindness, pity and indignation (along with envy, somewhat similar but not identical to indignation), and emulation and contempt. (I checked and improved my list with the aid of “Aristotle’s List of Emotions,”

The authors of Everything’s an Argument note that appeals to emotions can be used

  • “to connect with readers [or hearers] to assure them that you understand their experiences or, to use President Bill Clinton’s famous line, “feel their pain” (33).
  • to make an argument more emotionally intense, using emotionally charged words, phrases, or descriptions
  • to put the members of the audience in a better mood or distract them by employing humor

The Kairos Component

What makes persuasion based on pathos easier?

  • Cultural standards and practices that encourage the kind of emotions that the author intends to arouse in the audience (for example, urging a group of Marines to have confidence in battle would almost certainly be made easier by their training and the expectations of their officers and comrades)
  • Events that encourage the kinds of emotions that the author appeals to (for example, a military threat may encourage the audience to be fearful rather than confident)

These favorable conditions can provide a solid foundation for persuading an audience. On the other hand, unfavorable conditions present obstacles that the author must overcome to convince the audience.

An Illustration

Let’s think about how these principles might apply to a debate about war and peace:

  • A speaker arguing that his audience should support a war must convince the audience to fear a threatening enemy or see that victory could lead to real benefits that would outweigh the losses and moral challenges that war brings. This was an easier argument to make after the shocking Pearl Harbor or September 11 attacks, while it is harder to do so when audiences are more skeptical of the seriousness of threats or fear that the gains of a war will outweigh the losses.
  • On the other hand, a speaker arguing for peace must do the opposite, convincing the audience that possible threats are not as serious as some might say, or that the human, material, or moral costs of war are too high. Again, the circumstances make a big difference here. Peace may seem more appealing when an audience is exhausted by war or sees no benefit in risking peace for the uncertainties of war.

Summing It Up

To effectively appeal to pathos, an author must encourage the kind of emotions that will lead the audience to agree with the author. This includes considering whether the culture and circumstances of the audience are likely to make it more or less difficult for the members of the audience to feel these emotions.


Logos: appealing to the logic of the audience

“Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.” (Aristotle, The Rhetoric, Book I, Ch. 2)

Logical appeals are very important but are somewhat simpler to explain.

An author may support his or her argument in many different ways that appeal to the logic of the audience. Here are some examples (this list is a combination of my own thoughts with the work of Lunsford, Ruszkiewicz, and Walters in Everything’s an Argument and Aristotle in The Rhetoric):

  • Examples from history or current events to explain the current situation or show the kind of thing that might happen again
  • Citing respected authorities to support a point
  • Analogies or hypothetical situations to illustrate a point
  • Following a line of logic to show the consequences of a certain way of thinking
  • Numerical data
  • Personal stories from the author or another person to illustrate a point (which can also be a great way to appeal to pathos, as seen above)

You may know something about logical fallacies as well. Not all logical support is equally valid.

The Kairos Component and Some Illustrations

Different audiences are likely to respect different types of logical appeals, because different audiences respect (or dismiss) different sources of information for different reasons.

Here are some examples:

  • An audience of experts in a certain field will want at least some of the logical support to be respectable according to the standards of their field: sociological concepts and studies for sociologists, philosophically respectable reasoning for philosophers, and so on.
  • At the same time, an audience of non-experts may be more persuaded by logical support from what they believe to be common sense and examples from their everyday experience, especially if supposed experts seem distant from or hostile to their everyday experience.
  • A Christian audience will be likely to respect logical support from the Bible, Christian concepts and traditions, and respected Christian figures (and of course there are different types of Christians with different interpretations, traditions, and heroes). You can draw a parallel between what I have said here about a Christian audience and other religious or nonreligious audiences who have different ideas about the most important things in life: non-Christian groups also have important texts, concepts, traditions, and figures that they respect.
  • Similarly, a patriotic audience will be likely to respect logical support from the important texts, concepts, traditions, and figures from their country’s history as they have learned it.

Summing It Up

To effectively appeal to logos, an author must support the argument with clearly explained information and reasoning that the audience will understand and respect.



  • Rhetorical analysis materials from KCC Professors Trisha Dandurand and Linsey Cuti
  • Aristotle, The Rhetoric, translated by W. Rhys Roberts, available at
  • Harker, “The Ethics of Argument: Rereading Kairos and Making Sense in a Timely Fashion.” College Composition and Communication 59 (2007), 77-97
  • Kinneavy, “Kairos in Classical and Modern Rhetorical Theory,” in Rhetoric and Kairos: Essays in History, Theory, and Praxis. Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2002.
  • Lunsford, Andrea A., John J. Ruszkiewicz, and Keith Walters. Everything’s an Argument: With Readings. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013.
  • Online Writing Lab at Purdue University, “Aristotle’s Rhetorical Situation,”
  • Rostagni, Augusto, translated by Phillip Sipiora. “A New Chapter in the History of Rhetoric and Sophistry,” in Rhetoric and Kairos: Essays in History, Theory, and Praxis. Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2002.
  • Sheard, Cynthia Miecznikowski. “Kairos and Kenneth Burke’s Psychology of Political and Social Communication.” College English 55 (1993): 291-310.

Orwell on the restraining effect of cultural traditions in the modern age

This post is something of an addition to “How liberalism can destroy itself”. Two qualifications: 1) I realize that European cultural traditions could sometimes be quite violent and wrong, such as medieval anti-Semitism. 2) The intellectuals that Orwell describes are not all liberals, but liberal intellectuals certainly can participate (and have done so) in the efforts to undermine traditions in their own societies in the way that Orwell talks about here.

In his review of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, published in December 1940, George Orwell wrote

We live in a period in which democracy is almost everywhere in retreat, supermen in control of three-quarters of the world, liberty explained away by sleek professors, Jew-baiting defended by pacifists. And yet everywhere, under the surface, the common man sticks obstinately to the beliefs that he derives from the Christian culture. The common man is wiser than the intellectuals, just as animals are wiser than men. Any intellectual can make you out a splendid “case” for smashing the German Trade Unions and torturing the Jews. But the common man, who has no intellect, only instinct and tradition, knows that “it isn’t right.” Anyone who has not lost his moral sense — and an education in Marxism and similar creeds consists largely in destroying your moral sense — knows that “it isn’t right” to march into the houses of harmless little Jewish shopkeepers and set fire to their furniture. (All Art is Propaganda, p. 146)

In his essay, “Wells, Hitler and the World State” (August 1941), Orwell made a related point as he responded to H.G. Wells’ dismissal of German strength:

What has Wells to set against the “screaming little defective in Berlin”? The usual rigmarole about a World State, plus the Sankey Declaration, which is an attempted definition of fundamental human rights, of anti-totalitarian tendency. Except that he is now especially concerned with federal world control of air power, it is the same gospel as he has been preaching almost without interruption for the past forty years, always with an air of angry surprise at the human beings who can fail to grasp anything so obvious.

What is the use of saying that we need federal world control of the air? The whole question is how we are to get it. What is the use of pointing out that a World State is desirable? What matters is that not one of the five great military powers would think of submitting to such a thing. All sensible men for decades past have been substantially in agreement with what Mr Wells says; but the sensible men have no power and, in too many cases, no disposition to sacrifice themselves. Hitler is a criminal lunatic, and Hitler has an army of millions of men, aeroplanes in thousands, tanks in tens of thousands. For his sake a great nation has been willing to overwork itself for six years and then to fight for two years more, whereas for the commonsense, essentially hedonistic world-view which Mr Wells puts forward, hardly a human creature is willing to shed a pint of blood. Before you can even talk of world reconstruction, or even of peace, you have got to eliminate Hitler, which means bringing into being a dynamic not necessarily the same as that of the Nazis, but probably quite as unacceptable to “enlightened” and hedonistic people. What has kept England on its feet during the past year? In part, no doubt, some vague idea about a better future, but
chiefly the atavistic emotion of patriotism, the ingrained feeling of the English-speaking peoples that they are superior to foreigners. For the last twenty years the main object of English left-wing intellectuals
has been to break this feeling down, and if they had succeeded, we might be watching the SS men patrolling the London streets at this moment. Similarly, why are the Russians fighting like tigers against the German invasion? In part, perhaps, for some half-remembered ideal of Utopian Socialism, but chiefly in defence of Holy Russia (the “sacred soil of the Fatherland”, etc etc), which Stalin has revived in an only slightly altered form. The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions–racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war–which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action. (All Art is Propaganda, p. 149-150, copied from above link)