Ancient and modern

Plutarch and Aristotle vs Lynton Crosby

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

25 April 2015

9:00 AM

25 April 2015

9:00 AM

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.

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Show comments
  • Vladimir_Svareff

    Who is Lynton Crosby?

  • little islander

    Britain Got Talent. Not.

  • Henryhomer

    Bloody hopeless, another epic failure of Cameron’s judgement of character. Crosby obviously not going to part of Osborne’s “jobs miracle” for long, but hopefully he’ll stay in charge long enough to see through his failure.

  • Kennie

    The Ancients would have put Crosby on a boat and banished him to Australia.

  • Chamber Pot

    It is not about Britain not having talent it’s about our betters having run out of credible, domestic, spin doctors. I do agree that the appointment of an Australian and an American by the ConLab party seemed ill-advised and desperate and clearly hasn’t changed public perception of Dave as a liar, or ‘ Mr. U-turn ‘, and of Ed as a complete weirdo inhabiting a different universe.

  • mikewaller

    Given the decline in Australian prestige amongst thinking Poms (Murdoch plus the disgusting practice of sledging in cricket have not helped) I am amazed they were so daft as to bring an Aussie over. In the UK the notion “fair play” still has some currency.

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