Tag Archives: Persuasion

Two Takes on Rhetoric

How the Mighty Hath Fallen: Rhetoric: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Toyes & Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama

Rhetoric, the art and practice of persuasion through language, was once the cornerstone Words Like Loaded Pistols coverof Western political, legal, and educational systems. The Greeks invented it, the Romans refined it, the Middle Ages put it at the pinnacle of the educational system, and the Moderns updated into the world of print and democracy. But today, few people use the term “rhetoric” without adding the prefix “mere”. President Obama, starting back when he was only candidate Obama, received frequent derision (by opponents) for his outstanding oratory. “Just words”“, all talk, no action”, and so on. What is rhetoric that it once was the crowning jewel of an educated person, but now is more often the subject of derision?

Rhetoric Very Short Intro coverEach book provides numerous examples of rhetoric in action, and each provides a great deal of ammunition to those like me who believe rhetoric a useful art and discipline of the highest order. As someone whose profession involves “pleading” on behalf of others and “arguing” cases, I only wish that I’d had a deeper and more practiced introduction and study of rhetoric much earlier in my education. So to me, both books are preaching to the choir. However, even now, after having made up some ground of early deficiencies in my learning, I gained a good deal from these two works. Toyes, for instance, really focuses on rhetoric in the broader context of the contemporary world, touching on how, for instance, Kenneth Burke’s work changes the focus of rhetoric from “persuasion” to “identification”. He also brings in the work of J.L. Austin, whose How to Do Things WithWords brings a new classification scheme into use that enhances our understanding of rhetoric and language. Leith, on the other hand, focuses more on the nuts and bolts of rhetoric, things like invention, figures of speech, the occasions of rhetoric, and the means of persuasion set forth in Aristotle’s foundational work (ethos, logos, andpathos). Both of these books address the nature, substance, and history of rhetoric. The Toyes book examines rhetoric from a more academic perspective (it’s part of the Oxford University Press “Very Short Introduction” series), and Lieth’s book approaches the topic in a more relaxed style. In fact, both books cover much the same territory, especially in their narrative about the history of rhetoric. Toyes spends more time on contemporary thinkers and permutations of rhetorical practice while Leith devotes more time to breaking down the sub-topics of the discipline and discussing prominent examples. Leith’s examples include Satan (channeled by John Milton), Lincoln, Churchill (does anyone writing about rhetoric not discuss Churchill?), Hitler (not all popular speakers are good guys), Martin Luther King, Jr. (like Churchill, a must), Obama, and the anonymous (to the public) speechwriters of politicians in the modern era.

I enjoyed both books and learned a good deal from each. For beginners, I’d definitely recommend the Leith book with its numerous examples and consideration of the fundamental tenants of rhetoric. For those more acquainted with the topic, Toyes book puts rhetoric into a larger context, especially in the contemporary world.

Brain Pickings, Arthur Quiller-Couch, & Writing

First, if you don’t subscribe to Brain Pickings, you really should. Along with Farnum Street, it’s one of the best sources of informed thinking, art, and inspiration on the web. (In fact, its much better about the arts than Farnum Street.) Among other regular topics, writing is a frequent concern. In particular, this post recounts and quotes the work of early 20th century writing guru Arthur Quiller-Couch, author of the book On the Art of Writing. Read Brain Pickings blogger Maria Popova’s full account of this book, but allow me to quote just a bit from it now. This goes to the issue of persuasion and its role in life. Read these words carefully. Quiller-Couch writes:

Persuasiveness … embraces the whole — not only the qualities of propriety, perspicuity, accuracy … but many another, such as harmony, order, sublimity, beauty of diction; all in short that — writing being an art, not a science, and therefore so personal a thing — may be summed up under the word Charm. Who, at any rate, does not seek after Persuasion? It is the aim of all the arts and, I suppose, of all exposition of the sciences; nay, of all useful exchange of converse in our daily life. It is what Velasquez attempts in a picture, Euclid in a proposition, the Prime Minister at the Treasury box, the journalist in a leading article, our Vicar in his sermon. Persuasion, as Matthew Arnold once said, is the only true intellectual process. The mere cult of it occupied many of the best intellects of the ancients, such as Longinus and Quintilian, whose writings have been preserved to us just because they were prized. Nor can I imagine an earthly gift more covetable by you … than that of persuading your fellows to listen to your views and attend to what you have at heart.

If you’re a lawyer, or just an everyday advocate, you should head these words–no, you should drink  them into your very being. Whether in written or spoken form, what we do is a matter of persuasion, of seeking to guide change, and the more we come to master and expand the art of language, the better off we shall become in shaping the world around us. Take heed and govern yourselves accordingly.

People Skills Potpourri #1

1. “Is Listening Different for Civil vs. Criminal Lawyers?“.  This title from Listening Like a Lawyer blog is intriguing, and the post makes a point. However, I don’t think that there will prove to be a substantive difference. Clues as to what’s going on with the witness, such as nervousness or avoidance, could appeal in either area. Agree?

2. Listen Like A Lawyer (again–are you not already subscribed?). This time on “Embracing Interruptions“.  I commented on the site, but suffice to say that you can’t totally escape them, so make the most of them. Check out her underlying cite as well.

3. Legal Skills Prof blog provides a nice executive summary of this longer post from Theda C. Snyder at AttorneyatWork.com about “Why a TED Talk Is Like a Chicago Hot Dog“.  The title pulls you in, right? The executive-excutive summary: get to the point! (BTW, keeping people engaged is a people skill, whether as an individual or as a group.)

4. The always insightful Presentation Zen blog offers this pass-on from a TED talk by Julian Treasure (embedded) about seven things not to do when trying to get someone to listen to you (i.e., your attempting to teach, influence, or persuade). Whether with a single person or to a group, the advise is sound. Reynolds add an eighth “thou shalt not”, and then four good habit are added. BTW, love the Eleanor Roosevelt quote.

5. In this post, Katy Torgovnick May passes on a summary of an Eric Liu TED Talk. Liu is a favorite political writer of mine, but whatever your political persuasion, I think the summary and TED Talk worthwhile. Those of us who are lawyers are often called upon professionally and by friends and neighbors to lead civil causes, so it behooves us to think these things through. It should be a refresher to most readers, but refreshers can be useful.

The Persuasive Life & Rule in the Renaissance

After a hiatus because of travel and having moved from Trivandrum, India to Suzhou, China, it’s time to do some more blogging here. And the first order of business will be to borrow a post from one of my favorite bloggers–me! (I say that tongue-in-cheek, please.). When I do borrow from my general reading and commenting blog, I attempt to justify my self-reference, so here goes.

First, let me say that reading anything by Garry Wills provides an outstanding measure of liberal arts education. I’ve been reading Wills since 1976 (yes, I can remember the year) when I read both Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man and Bare Ruined Choirs: Doubt, Prophecy and Radical Religion. Since that time I’ve been a devoted reader and I’ve missed little of what he’s published. So when he published his most recent work on Elizabethan politics and theater, I bought it and  read it as a matter of course. However, after completing it and writing a review of it for my general blog, I realized that it belongs here, too.

Political rule requires constant persuasion. When a small group of elites serves as the “seletorate” (as political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita labels those who choose political leaders), they require tangible rewards, like favors and bribes. But no ruler-politician has unlimited resources. Buying people off is expensive. And even in a aristocratic society led by a monarchy,  the monarch must maintain support among the populace. (Just ask Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI if you doubt me.) In order to keep support of the general populace, and to reinforce the beliefs and attitudes of elites, one needs legitimacy. (Max Weber for details.) In other words, a ruler needs to convince those ruled that he–or especially a “she” in the 1500s–has a claim to rule that ought to be recognized and supported. It is against this backdrop–which Wills addresses early in the book with special reference to three schools of scholarship and theory that he draws upon–that Wills gives his account of the times. Thus, this book is about the persuasion that Elizabeth and her supporters constantly deployed in order to give credence and legitimacy to her long rule.

Does this apply to us? Political pomp and circumstance still abound, albeit in different forms and via electronic media. And in the courtroom? I believe that the courtroom remains a singular arena for the display of a drama. Every lawyer conducting a jury trial plays many roles: producer, director, lead actor, script-writer (you have to ask the right questions and you’re encumbered by some measure of truth), and so on. It’s all very dramatic. Thus, someone like David Ball can make a living speaking to trial lawyers. So, yes, every time you conduct a trial, or even a mediation or negotiation, you’re participating in–and helping to shape–a drama. Hence, this book about the far past gives us some perspective on the topic of persuasion (and it also eludes the relative weakness of the legal system of the time viz. protection of individual rights). Read and enjoy.


All the World’s a Stage: A Review of Making Make-Believe Real: Politics as Theater in Shakespeare’s Time by Garry Wills

  • by Stephen N. Greenleaf
  • Aug. 20, 2014
  • 11 min read
  • original

Anyone acquainted with contemporary politics recognizes the immense amount of pageantry, pomp, and theater displayed in political life, from stage-managed political conventions, to inaugurals full of solemn oaths and speeches, to the blare of trumpets announcing the arrival of the president, followed by “Hail to the Chief”. Lesser and innumerable examples abound, even in a day and age when theater is a lesser art (at least measured by the numbers of patrons and artists). But in the time of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth, the play was the thing to capture anyone’s attention, including the English populace that Elizabeth ruled (and that ruled her).

I expected this book (2014) to focus on the works of Shakespeare since Wills has twice before published books on Shakespeare topics: Witches and Jesuits: Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1995) and Verdi’s Shakespeare: Men of the Theater (2011). However, while Wills does spend some time on Shakespeare—including an especially enlightening discussions of Taming of the Shrew and Henry V—this book addresses the wider cultural milieu. Wills explores how the need to hold and wield political power in Elizabethan England uses theater, poetry, and public spectacle to influence popular perceptions. Indeed, entire lives seem dedicated to gaining and maintaining the audience, whether it’s the courtiers seeking the approval of Elizabeth, such as Essex, or Elizabeth herself courting her subjects. Wills writes:

A self-dramatizing trait is so common in plays of the time [referencing various rulers portrayed in Shakespeare’s plays] that we must suspect it is more than mere personal foible, in the character or the playwright —more even than the convention of theatrical characters being theatrical. The best indicator of this is that the most grandiose self-presenters are men and women who seek or hold power. And power, after all, must always find a way to project its claims onto the people it would control.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 94-97). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills notes that “performance theory” now addresses not only the particulars of production, but also the why and wherefore of the efforts. He states:

Performance has become an ever widening and ever -deepening concept. It can indicate all the ways a society enacts meaning. It can apply to speech acts as primarily enacting rather than signifying— the “performative speech” of J. L. Austin. It can mean the achievement of identity by adopting a role— the “performativity” of Judith Butler. There is such a sprawl of performance theory that it is necessary to narrow the focus to see what is distinctive about Elizabethans’ way of dramatizing their culture’s meaning. I will try out three approaches, to see if they help concentrate on Elizabethan self-dramatizations. The three are the theater -state of Clifford Geertz, the emblem systems of the Warburg School, and the process rites of Victor Turner.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 115-122). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Based on these theoretical foundations, Wills considers Elizabeth’s predicament: “Elizabeth was an anomaly— as a female ruler, unnatural; illegitimate by birth; disowned by her royal father; not sure of marriage or issue; not allied by family with other rulers; caught precariously between entrenched religious factions at home and abroad”. Kindle Locations 259-260. Not an easy situation. And one that required her to jealously guard her prerogatives and to cultivate popular support in every way. Wills notes:

The expenditure of so much effort, thought, and money on these great theatrical enterprises [plays, masques, and festivals] must have seemed justified in the reign of a queen known for parsimony. These were not frivolous games or ornaments. They were the expression of a transition period trying to articulate its own meaning to itself. The communal effort had to mobilize all the resources that are suggested by Geertzian sacred rites, Warburgian iconology, and Turnerian liminality. It was a society’s way of fighting for its life. There are many meanings discoverable in Christopher Haigh’s oracular statement about Elizabeth: “Her power was an illusion— and an illusion was her power.”

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 231-236). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

From these premises, Wills dives into the Elizabethan world that seems quite alien to us, although it continues to intrigue us. From me as a school boy reading about Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake as swash-buckling adventurers to movie-goers intrigued by films depicting Elizabeth, who has been portrayed by actresses from Sarah Bernhardt to a Cate Blanchet, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, and Vanessa Redgrave (of late!), the public has an appetite for this foreign time. But for all its foreignness—like the plays of Shakespeare that we still devour—it all has a feel of familiarity as well.

Wills is just the person to perform this reconnaissance. His depth of learning from things ancient Greek and Latin to contemporary America, including his ability (and patience) to cull the relevant texts, makes him an expert guide. And for all his worldly knowledge of the intrigues of our lives, he doesn’t play the cynic. Remarking on what seems to us to be the overweening flattering and fawning aimed at Elizabeth, he finds non-trivial ends:

One may think the endless tributes to Elizabeth nothing but an elephantiasis of flattery. But Spenser [author of The Faerie Queene] was using his poem to shape an ideal of the England he wanted to see as the final product of Reformation. England, tested against the template of Faerie Land, should become Faerie Land. Which means the queen should become the Faerie Queene. As A. Bartlett Giamatti put it, “He wishes to influence her as he deifies her, to shape the state as much as to construe the state’s ruler as a model for the individual.”

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 409-413). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills even defends the courtiers, with their literary guides Castiglione and Machiavelli, from charges of simple flattery:

Courtly praise was, admittedly, a pose. Even Castiglione’s courtliest of virtues, sprezzatura, is the ability to conceal effort under a pose of effortlessness. And restraint (Niccolò Machiavelli’s rispetto) is a way to get things by reining in one’s urgency (Machiavelli’s impeto) after them. Thus some New Historicists see “subversion” (their favorite word) under the professed love of Elizabeth’s courtiers. It is certainly true that there was endless jostling of her courtiers for favor, position, property, family advancement, or one’s religious preference, all under the “colour” of ardently professed love. But even in seeking these favors, men strengthened her power to grant them. One does not keep coming back for reward to an enfeebled source.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 413-419). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills continues:

Those who see nothing but selfish interest in all human action cannot explain why, for some causes, good and bad— nationalism, racism, religion, patriotism— people sacrifice themselves. Of course, selfish aims can be masked as all these “higher” goals. But dissimulation of selfishness, faction, or zealotry is a social lubricator, and in some cases an essential one. It must, admittedly be a plausible pretense. To work, make-believe must be believable , and an array of talents, political and poetic, labored the illusion into place for Elizabeth.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 423-427). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Following these introductory observations that set the perspective for Wills’s project, he delves into details, and in particular, into Shakespeare. He writes authoritatively and convincingly about gender, dealing with the problematic Taming of the Shrew in a way that makes sense of it and that is quite contrary to many popular conceptions. He takes umbrage at the treatment given the play in such productions as the film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (directed by Zeferelli). Wills notes:

There is nothing more boring than the brute-on-brute wrestling match of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor— as if they were still playing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—in Franco Zeffirelli’s production. Ann Thompson rightly prefers John Cleese’s insouciant approach, all the while blowing Kate verbal kisses in Peter Hall’s version.The anger Cleese puts on is all directed at others, whom he takes to be insulting his goddess, offering her inferior food or clothes. By doing so, of course , he satirizes her own beating of her sister and her servants— a sign of her changing character comes when she pleads that he stop beating the servant.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 861-866). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills quotes Germaine Greer at length on the character and relative merits of Bianca, Kate, and Petruchio:

Kate is a woman striving for her own existence in a world where she is a stale, a decoy to be bid for against her sister’s higher market value, so she opts out by becoming unmanageable, a scold. Bianca has found the women’s way of guile and feigned gentleness to pay better dividends; she woos for herself under false colors, manipulating her father and her suitors in a perilous game which could end in her ruin . Kate courts ruin in a different way, but she has the uncommon good fortune to find Petruchio, who is man enough to know what he wants and how to get it. He wants her spirit and her energy because he wants a wife worth keeping . He tames her as he might a hawk or a high-mettled horse, and she rewards him with strong sexual love and fierce loyalty. Lucentio finds himself saddled with a cold, disloyal woman, who has no objection to humiliating him in public. The submission of a woman like Kate is genuine and exciting because she has something to lay down, her virgin pride and individuality: Bianca is the soul of duplicity, married without earnestness or good will. Kate’s speech is the greatest defense of Christian monogamy ever written. It rests upon the role of a husband as protector and friend , and it is valid because Kate has a man who is capable of being both, for Petruchio is both gentle and strong (it is a vile distortion of the play to have him strike her ever). The message is probably twofold: only Kates make good wives, and then only to Petruchios; for the rest, their cake is dough.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 923-934). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition, quoting Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (Bantam, 1972), 220– 21.

To my mind, Wills’s consideration of Henry V provides the most intriguing insight. Wills counters interpretations of this play running back to Harold Goddard (The Meaning of Shakespeare, in which I’ve found great merit), Harold Bloom, Stephen Greenblatt, and the New Historicists in general. In short, the later critics see Henry V as a war-monger. Wills sets out the problem:

Most of Shakespeare’s kings are terrible people. They often attain the crown by murder, then keep on murdering to retain it. When a king like Henry VI is not evil, he is a simpleton . To get sympathy , the arrogant King Lear has to go crazy. Once, Shakespeare did try to create a wise and good king, but critics will not allow him to do it. Audiences in the past used to believe the play’s Chorus when he called Henry V “this star of England,” but now we know better. We see Henry V for what he really is—a cruel and lying war criminal, believing none, deceiving all, cut off from decent human feeling. The king may have fooled his own play’s Chorus, but he can’t get away with it at the Modern Language Association, where convened scholars have spent years peeling away this king’s lies to reveal the cold deceiver under them.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 1683-1689). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills notes that those who deprecate Henry (Hal) tend to glorify Falstaff. But to my naïve mind, Falstaff has always, in the end, seemed a lout. Intriguing, but in the way that cynics and manipulators can be—for a while—as comic relief. I’d never really felt that Harold Bloom’s glorification of Falstaff made sense. Now I know I have an ally (and one that I trust). After performing his takedown of the glorification of Falstaff and denigration of Henry/Hal for rejecting his wayward days, others go after Henry as a warmonger, starting with Goddard and moving into the much more recent New Historicists. Wills reminds us that he (Wills) is a pacifist, rather disarming potential critics from labeling him a warmonger, but Wills appreciates that we’re talking about a different world. He writes:

Much of modern criticism is justifiably antimilitaristic. Militarism is an evil in our time, and it should be opposed at any time. But this causes problems in studying a culture that was not only militaristic but monarchical and imperialist . This gives the sixteenth century a number of problems it could not be expected to solve (such as getting rid of monarchs or living with the dream of a United Nations). And it is anachronistic to compare too simply our militarism and that of Elizabethan England, which had no standing army.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 1917-1920). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills explicates the place of honor in this society:

Keeping mutual obligation alive was a matter of honoring honor. This involved dangerous self-importance and boasting in the contenders for honor, which are deplorable . But to empty out the concept of honor would have unstrung every nerve of Elizabethan society. Today’s intellectual class cultivates self-doubt as a virtue. It has difficulty understanding a culture in which that trait was not esteemed. Some cultures, we forget, cultivate self-confidence, and did it productively. Even now we suspect that successful men and women are usually self-confident. A man can be humble like Bach, or bitter like Swift, or pessimistic like Johnson, but retain enough self-regard to fuel creative energies. And whole civilizations— Periclean Athens, Renaissance Venice, and Elizabethan England— were hypertrophically confident. That does not mean they were incapable of self-criticism. It means they were not crippled by it. T. S. Eliot, whatever his other shortcomings, was a great reader of Tudor and Stuart drama, and he said that its basic social commitment was one of affirmation.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 1926-1939). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Wills concludes this section with a quote from Henry’s heart-felt musings on the eve of Agincourt (well presented by Kenneth Branagh in his film, in my opinion). Wills compares Henry’s imperfections with those of Lincoln:

Though all that I can do is nothing worth,

Since that my penitence comes after all,

Imploring pardon. [H5 4.1.303– 5]

But no earthly power is immaculately conceived. America’s birth was flawed by its induration of slavery. Lincoln’s rise was through many compromises with the slave power, including his promise in the First Inaugural not to tamper with its bases in the South. The instinct of most patriots is to deny the flawed beginnings, or to think that a gesture of penitence is sufficient to make the stain disappear. It is a mark of the realism of Shakespeare’s patriotism in this play that Henry does neither. He does not simply throw up his hands and resign the tainted power. But he does not pretend the stain is not there. He will, instead, do all he can to blunt its effects by doing better than his father had the chance to do. It is all that a Washington or a Lincoln could pledge. Shakespeare has not written a defense of brutal imperialism in Henry V. He has made his protagonist a searching king, a self-questioning one, acting in an imperfect world without any illusions about that fact. Yet nothing Hal/ Henry does can find acceptance among his dogged denigrators.

Wills, Garry (2014-06-10). Making Make-Believe Real (Kindle Locations 2486-2495). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Only when we better understand this context can we appreciate the subtleties and nuances of Henry. The critics, in professing their dislike of war and authority must denigrate the whole enterprise of the play, which, as Wills shows in detail, makes no convincing sense. Reading and appreciating this part along (along with his consideration of Taming) makes that book worthwhile. But there’s more.

As Shakespeare wrote, around him great changes in religion occurred. Astrology was a prominent endeavor (reference to the stars can be found in most of Shakespeare’s plays), while some Jesuits and other Catholics were drawn and quartered for their faith. It was not an easy time. All of these changes presented challenges to Elizabeth. As she dealt with these changes in the world concerning religion, war, and profit, she had to deal with the dramatic and capable men who orbited around her. Wills spends time and attention on these men who played a significant role in the era. His consideration of the several of the great figures, Phillip Sidney, Lord Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Prince Henry (son of King James) makes for entertaining reading, as we get mini-biographies of these dashing figures. (I would like to have learned more about Francis Bacon, who remains on the periphery of the stories.) Men like Sidney, Essex, and Raleigh were adept with pens as well as swords and ships.

I’ve discussed only some of what I found to be the highlights of the book. Truly, this was an amazing and intriguing period; a pivot point that allowed England to emerge as a great world power and that profoundly affected Western culture. Wills has provided us with a thorough guide about how the appearances of the day helped create and mold the realities of the day, and his effort proves not only entertaining, but also enlightening.

The Master & His Emissary: The Divided Brain & the Making of the Modern World by Iain McGilchrist

This is another cross-post from my personal reading blog, but one that I nonetheless believe pertinent to the topics discussed here. This book addresses how our brains are structured and function and how all of this is reflected in our culture. It’s brilliant and really thought-provoking. It’s all about how we perceive the world around us, which (needless to say?) holds huge implications about how we attempt to persuade others (and ourselves). So, without further preface:



The Master & His Emissary: The Divided Brain & the Making of the Modern World by Iain McGilchrist

  • by Stephen N. Greenleaf
  • April 17, 2014
  • 6 min read
  • original

Growing up in America as a member of the Baby Boom generation, I know that I’ve lived in the best place and the best time in the history of the world—or at least very close to it. Canada, some European countries, Australia, and later Japan can lay some claims to being the best places ever, but suffice it to say that I’ve been lucky. Yet, despite all the material comfort and security that my country and culture have allowed me, there’s still a sense that things aren’t as they should be. The twentieth century is full of contradictions: untold wealth and material prosperity with horrific wars, deep economic depressions, the threat of nuclear annihilation , and a culture that sometimes seems alien to human concerns and that degrades the natural environment. Thus, despite my good fortune, I’ve been sympathetic to critiques of our culture. My introduction to such a critique came from Theodore Roszak’s The Making of a Counter-Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition (1969), which I was assigned to read in my freshman year in college for my course “Introduction to Political Theory”. From that introduction, I went on to read the likes of Hannah Arendt, Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, Phillip Rieff, the Frankfurt School, Jürgen Habermas, William Irwin Thompson, Wendell Berry, and others. I’ve found resonance with critiques of contemporary Western culture (which has been adopted in many essentials by a large part of Asia as well). I hasten to add that I’m well acquainted and sympathetic to the champions of our contemporary world, too, and as this is also “the best of times”. I appreciate the positive perspective as well.

I mention all this because now I have now encountered a new diagnosis and critique of many of the problems of Western culture that strikes me as uniquely insightful and truly ingenious.

College literature professor turned psychiatrist, Iain McGilchrist, has written a two-part book about the anatomical split in our brains and how that split in functions affects how we perceive the world and creates our culture. According to McGilchrist, we can consider our culture from the perspective of the different functions of the two different hemispheres of the brain.(For some further background, see my earlier post about McGilchrist’s RSA Animate presentation and the book he wrote as a follow-up to this masterwork under review here.) In the first part of the book, McGilchrist focuses on anatomical and functional details of the brain, with the well-known but often misunderstood division of the left and right hemispheres. The split is not, as first thought, a neat division of language and logic on the left versus vision, music, and feeling on the right. Functions for each of these skills draw on both sides of the brain. However, the brain is divided and is different on each side. In fact, it doesn’t even sit symmetrically within the cranium: it’s torqued (Yanklovian torque) as if twisted it slightly from the bottom so that the right front is slightly larger than its left counterpart, and the left posterior just a bit larger than its right counterpart. This anatomical anomaly, in addition to the fact that the two sides are joined by a bridge, the corpus collosum, that serves as the gatekeeper of the traffic between the two halves, gives some clue to the division of functions within the brain. The gatekeeper often performs its most important work when it inhibits traffic between the two halves. Why? Because each half has its own outlook or way of perceiving the world.

McGilchrist spends much of the book examining the two different ways each side of the brain perceives the world: the right deals with living, dynamic, unique, and context-dependent portions of the environment. The left side deals with (and creates) the static, still, and minutely focused parts of our attention. Each side has evolved to deal with two different needs. The two sides of the brain cooperate, but they their perspectives are largely separate. Thus, language involves both sides of the brain, but the left side, with its emphasis on static and detailed information dominates in vocabulary and syntax issues. Thus, while an impulse toward speech may originate in the right brain, those impulses must pass to the left side to obtain full expression. Here is where stroke victims and the subjects of split-brain surgeries (severing the corpus collosum to alleviate epileptic seizures) provide amazing clues about the differing functions of the two hemispheres. McGilchrist wades through this research to deepen our understanding and appreciation of these issues.

But if the book was only a catalog of “our amazing divided brain!” it would prove interesting but not profound. The profundity and deep value of the book comes from McGilchrist’s ability to trace the effects of this division of the brain into daily life, especially into a portrait of its effect on the formal culture of the West. (He doesn’t address Eastern culture, begging off for a lack of acquaintance.) McGilchrist’s knowledge of Western culture, especially literary and philosophical culture, is impressive. McGilchrist argues that Western culture since the Enlightenment, and especially after the Romantic reaction to the Enlightenment, has been dominated by a left-brain perspective. It has focused on the static, the manufactured (i.e., not living, not organic), that which we can manipulate and control, and that which pays easily identifiable dividends. The left-side also prefers the literal to the metaphoric and the artificial to the natural. McGilchrist finds this especially true in the 2oth century when examining contemporary literature and philosophy as well as the broader cultural milieu.

McGilchrist finds times in Western cultural history when attitudes, beliefs, and practices, reflecting the two differing perspectives and functions of the brain, were balanced, such as Periclean Athens and the Renaissance. Problems arose early, on the other hand, when the pre-Socratics, such as Heraclitus, with his emphasis on flux and change, were shunted aside by Plato and Aristotle, who preferred the static and “reason” as the ideal. Indeed, from Plato through Kant Western philosophy emphasized the left-hemisphere perspective (with some exception for Spinoza: “Spinoza was one of the few philosophers, apart from Pascal, between Plato and Hegel to have a strong sense of the right-hemisphere world.” McGilchrist, Iain (2010-08-16). The Master and His Emissary (Kindle Locations 3804-3805). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.). In the wider culture, religion offered a good deal of counter-balance to the left-sidedness of philosophy. McGilchrist argues that with Hegel, philosophy begins to take a corrective turn. He writes:

Hegel, along with Heraclitus and Heidegger, has a particular place in the unfolding story of the relationship between the cerebral hemispheres, in that, it seems to me, his philosophy actually tries to express the mind’s intuition of its own structure – if you like, the mind cognising itself. His spirit is like an unseen presence in this book, and it is necessary to devote a few pages to his heroic attempts to articulate, in relation to the structure of the mind or spirit (Geist), what lies almost beyond articulation, even now that we have knowledge of the structure of the brain.

McGilchrist, Iain (2010-08-16). The Master and His Emissary (Kindle Locations 5477-5481). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Along with Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, among German-language philosophers, receive extended and sympathetic treatment (demonstrating that McGilchrist willingly suffers through some dense and challenging prose to retrieve nuggets of insight). Also receiving favorable treatment and consideration are lesser known figures like Husserl, Scheler, and Merleau-Ponty: each gives voice and insight into to the function of the right brain. Finally, McGilchrist considers the American pragmatists John Dewey and William James for their useful perspectives on philosophy and the organic nature of reality.

McGilchrist, following Leon Sass, agrees that modern culture displays many of the traits of schizophrenia. Publisher’s Weekly writes of Sass’s book Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature, and Thought: “Does the schizophrenic’s chaotic inner world resemble modern art and literature? Sass, a clinical psychologist and Rutgers professor, argues that schizophrenia and modernism display striking affinities: fragmentation, defiance of authority, multiple viewpoints, self-referentiality and rejection of the external world in favor of an omnipotent self or, alternately, a total loss of self. While the parallels he draws often seem superficial, there is much to ponder in Sass’s notion that schizophrenia’s core traits are exaggerations of tendencies fostered by our culture.” As this quote suggests, McGilchrist, following Sass, finds striking resemblances that McGilchrist identifies as a manifestation of a left-brain perspective run awry. Identifying and counter-acting this trend is a defining part of McGilchrist’s project. He writes:

 Is all of this worth the effort? I think so. It’s a very valid and live issue, I believe. How we view our world, what perspectives we take, will change the course of our actions. If we do in fact give predominance to the left-brain perspective, we will reap consequences that will likely back-fire upon us. Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, we have loosed its magic on the world, but there are grounds to believe that we have lost control. We need the Master, the living world of the right-brain, to come to the rescue.


Thymos: The Lost Ingredient of the Soul

End of Hx & the Last Man by FukuyamaBelow is my review of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man. Why am I posting it here? Well, it’s my blog and I’ll post what I want. No, it’s more than mere whim. I think that Fukuyama has written one of the most important works of political theory (philosophy, if you prefer) in this book. I read about 15 years ago for the first time, and as I explain below, a recent event spurred me to re-read it. But what has this (controversial) work of political theory have to do with persuasion, law, or lawyers? A lot.

Among the projects undertaken by Fukuyama in this work is a rehabilitation of the concept of thymos in political thought. If you’ve read Plato’s Republic, you will recall the tripartite division of soul established in the dialogue. Two parts, reason and desire, have endured well over the centuries, and they passed   in to the Anglo-Saxon tradition of liberalism founded by Hobbes and Locke. However, thymos, understood as “spiritedness”, “dignity”, perhaps “pride”, was shunted aside in English-speaking tradition. But not so in the German tradition, especially with the work of Hegel and Nietzsche. Hegel makes thymos, displayed in the dialectic of lordship and bondage (or master and slave), the key dynamic in history.

So how is this ancient and philosophical idea relevant? To persuade anyone, we must know what motivates them. Their desires, of course. To the extent that they are open to reason, the use of reason. But in my 30-plus years of practicing law and dealing with disputes, it’s almost always about more than money (material desire). And reason will not go very far. No matter how well we evaluate the economics of a claim, understand the Prisoner’s Dilemma, or weigh probabilities, something more is usually involved, even with businesses. That missing element was usually some variation of “I’ve been wronged and someone ought to acknowledge that a wrong done to me”. This was true of divorces, employment law cases, and personal injuries–almost all cases involving a litigated dispute.

This is not always easy for us to understand, and it’s difficult of the lawyers to deal with. For instance, we have the stereotype of the person who’s suffered a personal injury greedily seeking to pin blame on someone to get money, something akin to a shakedown racket. This can happen, but in most of my cases, I represented persons (or survivors in a family where someone has died) who believed that that have suffered a real wrong. They felt cheated and abused in addition to the loss of income and companionship they experienced. Doctors and hospitals that apologize for mistakes suffer fewer suits, resolve suits more quickly, and pay less in claims than those who stonewall. They do so by addressing the need for recognition–recognition of loss. Families and individuals came to me because insurance companies wouldn’t pay or bills went beyond insurance coverage and because doctors wouldn’t level with patients and families about what went wrong. Lawsuits become a matter of money as a medium (or currency) for matters well beyond economics.

Employment law involved similar issues. A woman fired after taking time off work to deal with depression is fired, but the employer claims that she resigned. That lie, in addition to the disregard for her well-being, drives the case much more than the economic loss. Attorneys and mediators must translate these issues into dollar and cents terms, but wise attorneys and mediators acknowledge the hurt and insult suffered by a claimant. And divorces? I got out of the divorce business because the issues of emotional harm and insult were so complex and vexing. Trying to deal with these issues, and not just the money, became too demanding. (Only later did I realize that one never escapes these issues in life.)

In persuasion, we have to understand the motivations of those who we seek to persuade. Sometimes money will do the trick with nothing more needed. Sometimes we can reason with a truly neutral decision-maker (but even a neutral judge wants recognition and acclaim for her wise decision). But often the overweening issue remains thymos, the demand for recognition of our fundamental dignity and the need to rectify any insult to its integrity.

Just as we still refer often to Aristotle’s trio of logos, pathos, and ethos as hallmarks of persuasion, we should appreciate Plato’s understanding of humans as motivated by desire, thymos, and reason (logos). (Desire is the dominant motivation, reason the least powerful.) Understanding and using these insights provides us with a better appreciation of those we seek to understand and persuade.

N.B. The post below, formatted by Readability, is mine own from one of my other blogs. I’m most happy if you want to visit there, but you don’t have to receive the full benefit of the comments above without any additional effort.

“Thank you, John Ralston Saul”: The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama

  • by Stephen N. Greenleaf
  • 4 min read
  • original

At the Jaipur Literature Festival, I looked forward to hearing a program on “History Strikes Back & the End of Globalism”. It was dialogue between John Ralston Saul & Hubert Vedrine (a former French foreign minister). I hadn’t read either author, although Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards is packed with my other books back in Iowa City). I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Glamorous Nomad and C joined me. We were in for a surprise.

Saul opened the session by singling out “some guy called Francis Fukuyama” for writing one of the “stupidest books in the last 25 years”. In this book, Saul claimed, Fukuyama declared the end of history. Saul continued that Fukuyama then wrote another “stupid” book (unnamed) and yet Fukuyama still makes money. I was flabbergasted, while C and the Glamorous Nomad (who’s read Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order) simply walked out. I was shocked and puzzled. Also angry, but this bit of intellectual character assassination intrigued me enough to stay. I’d read The End of History and the Last Man about 15 years ago or so, and I’d thought it brilliant. Had I missed something?

The good news from this is that it’s led me to re-read The End of History and the Last Man (1992; with a New Afterward, 2006). (I’d purchased a copy here in India last October because I thought it worth a re-read; perhaps a bit of intuition here). To start with the conclusion: the book is brilliant. It’s one of the best books about politics that I’ve read. It is also one of the most discussed and criticized books about politics since its publication. Saul’s low blows aren’t new or novel. Why so? I suspect because few people have read it carefully or have grasped its true significance.

What Fukuyama wrote, shortly after the fall of Communism in 1989, was that History (may have) come to an end. (I know: China, North Korea, Viet Nam, and Cuba—these regimes survived, but Communism as a living ideology was dead, a few zombies notwithstanding.) Fukuyama, building on the work of Hegel and Hegel’s 20th century interpreter, Alexandre Kojeve, argues that liberal democracy may have answered as fully as possible the “struggle for recognition” that has driven History. By the way, there is history and then there is History. “History” with the capital “H” is not a Teutonic affectation on my part, but it’s the term for the Hegelian understanding of the fundamental pattern of change in human history. (With a small “h”, history is the story of the stuff that happens.) Hegel believed that History came to an end in 1805 at the Battle of Jena, when the ideas of the French Revolution, imposed by the military might of Napoleon, defeated the forces of reaction.

Fukuyama’s intellectual project and linage are not familiar to most readers. Few have any direct knowledge of Hegel. Most, like me, only learned about Hegel as the precursor to Marx. I expect only a handful of persons know of Kojeve. (I didn’t.) Thus, History is a new concept to most readers, and many seemed to have confused the End of History with end of stuff happening, which isn’t what Fukuyama argued.

But History isn’t the most important subject of the book for me. The most intriguing part comes from Fukuyama’s project of reinstating thymos into our understanding of human motivation. If you’re read Plato’s Republic (or about it), you know of Plato’s tripartite division of the soul into Reason (logos) on top (for the Philosopher-Kings) and desire (appetite) at the bottom for the masses. In the middle, he places thymos, often translated as “spiritedness” for lack of a better English equivalent. This attribute manifests in the Guardians, the warriors who protect the polis. Fukuyama notes that thymos dominates in aristocratic warrior societies. Thymos receives a new and unique treatment in the Anglo-American liberal tradition starting with Hobbes and Locke. To deal with “vainglory” or “pride” (as manifestations of thymos), these authors and their successors—including Madison and Hamilton—work to subsume thymos under the devices of desire. Bourgeois man becomes interested only in fulfilling desires and living rationally. So Anglo-American tradition argues and hopes. But fortunately for the U.S., Madison, Hamilton, and their peers knew that strong men will still strive, and they put in place many checks on power. In the German tradition, Hegel puts thymos front and center as a part of the “struggle for recognition” that drives the dialectic of master and slave (or lordship and bondage, if you prefer). This struggle for recognition drives History. With the French Revolution, the Christian project of equality before God now translates into equality between individuals in the social and political realm. Work becomes dignified as a replacement for the thymotic urge to prove one’s worth on the field of battle, the warrior-aristocrat ideal.

Fukuyama also discusses whether contemporary liberal societies will see a true End of History by granting recognition to all and by channeling thymotic urges into more productive pursuits than war. Fukuyama points out that among all the factors leading to the outbreak of WWI, we shouldn’t ignore the popular expression of thymos that led millions to greet the coming of the war with glee. Many greeted the war as an outlet for pent up desires. This is an astute observation. Now, perhaps, war has become too terrible for its use as such a popular outlet for thymos. Fukuyama also explores whether the twin ideals of liberty (which fosters outlets for thymos in individuals) and equality (our urge to see each acknowledged as equals) can co-exist over a long period as often antagonistic goals.

Fukuyama levels a sharp critique of realism in international relations, especially in its academic guise typified by Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer. Fukuyama argues that academic realism posits that nothing has changed since Thucydides and that nations are motivated only by the desire for greater power viz. any potential rivals. Changes (history) in the motivations of actors or the system of international relations count for nothing in the purer forms of realist theory. Fukuyama is certainly correct in his critique. Legitimacy has become a major touchstone of action in the international realm as well as in the domestic realm.

I highly recommend this book. Fukuyama isn’t as naïve or brazen as his detractors would like to portray him. Like Thucydides and Machiavelli, Fukuyama examines the world today to gain deeper insight into the most significant issues in political thinking.

Postscript: If you want to see and hear John Ralston Saul’s attack on Fukuyama (and Hubert Vedrine’s more measured comments, go here, starting about 3:40 minutes. My question in defense of Fukuyama and challenging Saul comes at 49:45. I didn’t speak as artfully as I would have liked, but I think that I get my point across. The answer is vague. In fact, I believe I have a good deal of sympathy for Saul’s perspective, but his modis operandi in attacking Fukuyama and Huntington was disgraceful. He should—as should we all—at least accurately and honestly state our adversaries’ positions if we are to attack them in abstentia.

Appellate Oral Argument: Ideas to Improve the Process

This blog post courtesy of Appellate Advocacy Blog & the article that it cites give occasion to think about oral argument. Oral argument before an appellate court is the epitome of lawyering, or should be. I love it. You hone your argument, anticipate questions, and get (appropriately) psyched. This is why you (or I, at least) went to law school. The courtroom is usually big-league (my one trip to the top of the Eagleton Building in St. Louis for an argument to the 8th Circuit was especially impressive). You begin your argument and find the judges lost, indifferent, or hostile.

What happened? The fact is, they may not have been well prepared, or they may have thought along v different lines than what you had expected. Either way, the argument becomes a letdown and perhaps your case goes down the drain.

The  blog (and article) suggest ways that judges might improve the process by providing advocates with tentative decisions upon which to base their arguments. A trial court decision may have already done this, but in my experience, trial courts don’t get much play except to the extent that their findings of facet receive deference.

Even if you jurisdiction doesn’t adapt these suggestions, they provide a useful thought experiment for advocates preparing an argument.



Above All, Clarity in Writing Briefs (and Almost Everything Else)

This post, the conclusion of a Top Ten countdown from the Lady Legal Writer, culminates with the correct #1: be clear in your briefs. Write clear sentences; write clear paragraphs, write clear headings, and be very clear about what you want. If someone takes just one thought from this blog, I recommend that you concentrate on the fact that judges are human, just like you and me. Judges suffer from too many cases to decide, too many briefs to read, and too little energy to complete their tasks as they would like to. So what should you as an advocate do? Make your judge’s life–or at least your little speck of it–as easy as possible. When arguing to a judge, either orally or in writing, make your argument as clear and succinct as possible. Do the contrary only if you prefer that your judge not understand you argument.

This whole series–Commandments 10  through to 1–are worthwhile. Earthshaking, no; but unless you never need reference to the fundamentals, the series bears reading in full. (Also, in this last post, she provides an example of some really purple prose. I’m favor more vivid legal writing, but this stuff could merit a Bulwer-Lytton prize! )


How to Lose an Appeal from Judge Kozinski

Below is a link to a law review article. Normally, I’m not out to punish readers, so you may ask why I have included a law review article. Fair enough. I have done so because it’s a tongue-in-cheek article written by 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski. Its topic is straight forward: how to lose an appeal. Kozinski focuses on the two tools available in an appeal: the brief and (if you get it) oral argument. Kozinski even points out that the ability to lose an appeal allowed LBJ to win an election and for Abe Fortas, the author of the losing brief, to gain a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Any guesses about who appointed Fortas? Anyway, the article is a bit dated (1992), but only because it’s from before the era of word count limitations made possible by word processing software. Otherwise, I think that the advice is timeless. Enjoy.

Kozinski The Wrong Stuff


Rome & Rhetoric & Us

We lawyers are a wordy lot. As our culture changes, under the influence of movies, television, the internet, we shift more and more to a culture of images rather than of words. We lawyers may have to trim our enthusiasm for words. Yet, for now, they remain our stock-in-trade. To this extent, we have few betters guides to the persuasive use of words than Shakespeare and Classical rhetoric, especially via the mind of a master writer like Garry Wills.

In a sense, the Funeral Orations from Julius Caesar are like a trial, although not couched in that format. The jury is the crowd, and both Brutus and Antony must woo them to their judgments. Are we so different? The fiction notwithstanding, I suggest that we have some important lessons to learn here.

Rome & Rhetoric coverGarry Wills has struck again, this time with his book Rome and Rhetoric: Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In this slender volume Wills explores how Shakespeare, via Plutarch, grasped the essence of Rome at the time of the transition from republic to empire. Specifically, Wills explores the rhetoric of the leading characters. Of course, Antony’s funeral oration is the best known of the set pieces in this play. (My continued apologies to Mrs. Vaughn for having complained about having to memorize this in sophomore English class). However, Antony’s funeral oration is not the only example of rhetoric in the play. Before Antony speaks, Brutus addressed the crowd. Wills contrasts the rhetoric of Brutus, which centers upon “mine honor”, against the more nuanced speech given by Antony. Antony responds to his audience, whereas Brutus expects his audience to respond to him.

Wills’ love of Shakespeare is not new. His previous book on Macbeth demonstrates the care with which has explicates these texts. In addition, he has recently published a book on Shakespeare and Verdi, the great Italian opera composer who composed operas on some of Shakespeare’s plays. I haven’t read that book yet, but I have a hard time imagining that it could be better than this book. Wills is trained as a classicist, and the opportunity to merge his love of theater (and Shakespeare in particular), along with his classical learning, provides us a real treat in humanistic learning.

I always enjoyed Julius Caesar (my complaints and sophomore English notwithstanding), and I think that it is an easily accessible play. In addition, there are a couple of good film productions of it that are well worth seeing, including one with Marlon Brando as Anthony. If you have an opportunity to see these productions or to read this play, Wills’ book would be an excellent introduction and perspective on the play.