The Rise of the Right and the Triumph of Rhetoric…

My new article for Quillette…

Naïve liberals speak of the “marketplace of ideas,” suggesting that free and open public discourse allows people to judge theories before arriving at the truth. Yet are customers good judges of products? Often no. Salespeoples’ patter has convinced a lot of us to buy t-shirts that wear-out in days, fake watches and disgusting food. We are swayed, often foolishly, by presentation and appearances, and that is as true of ideas as it is of products.

If one is to enter the “marketplace of ideas”, then, one cannot be naive enough to think arguments sell themselves. One must make them appealing. One must use rhetoric: humour, irony, satire, flattery, bombast, eloquence, emotion and, yes, in the 21st Century, even memes.

Read the rest here.

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3 Responses to The Rise of the Right and the Triumph of Rhetoric…

  1. Simon says:

    A Swedish acquaintance of mine has greeted the calls for increased populism on the political left we’re now hearing from e. g. the podcast “Chapo Trap House” with some ambivalence, arguing that even if successful in its goals it’ll only contribute to lowering the standards of public political discourse even further… which is the last thing anyone needs, regardless of ideological loyalties.

    I guess what you describe is what he fears will happen, just from the other side of the aisle?

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    • bsixsmith says:

      Yes. In fairness, it makes a lot of tactical sense, because Chapo Trap House, and its black comedy, is a breath of fresh, sharp, clean air after the gassy liberalism of, say, the Centre for American Progress. Like the neocons on the right, a lot of liberals have earned a reputation for being “serious” less because of their argumentative gifts than their social graces and rhetorical gentility. That is worth undermining, if one is a progressive, but it could make for more bile, aggression and conflict.

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      • Simon says:

        This reminds me that in my own personal experience I actually find that people on the very far left not only have better thought out worldviews and are more skilled debaters than the progressive establishment which usually distrusts those types for their extreme standpoints, but they also tend to have a greater degree of familiarity with right-wing arguments as well as spend more effort into figuring out why they find the underlying philosophies wrongheaded.

        I guess that’s because they don’t have as large echo chambers to retreat to, and are more used to having most people dismiss their ideologies out of hand hence being less likely to do that to others.

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