The Rhetoric of Brexit

The rhetoric behind Brexit (or Bremain) got heated–right up to the wire. Nazis and Hates Facts. As a thoughtful Greek, Aristotle may not have been proud–but he would have understood what was happening, as Sam Leith points out in FT:

The main problem both sides have is that they are arguing about what will happen in the future — economically, with regard to trade deals, security and migration. Nobody knows the answer: there are no hard data. The future, as the great man’s compatriot Nana Mouskouri once sang, is not ours to see.

The most respectable member of Aristotle’s triad of rhetorical tools — logos, or formal argument — is a little stymied as a result. So we have fallen back on ethos and pathos: appeals to personality and authority, and to emotion.

But to simplify the persuasive brief for each side, we might conclude the following:

Taken together with the economic warnings, the whole approach of the Conservative Party Remainers to the referendum can be summed up in the concluding lines of G.K. Chesterton’s sorry tale of Jim, the boy who ran away and got eaten by a lion:

Always keep ahold of Nurse

For fear of finding something worse.

For the Labour Party, the problem is a little different. Their job is to convince their core voters, many of whom are inclined to support Leave, that the EU provides essential protection for workers’ rights and welfare state institutions that would otherwise come under threat from a Conservative government. But it is difficult to make this argument without sounding defeatist. Does Britain’s labor movement no longer have the strength and self-confidence to mount the defense on its own, without help from European bureaucrats? Is the Labour Party conceding that it is never going to govern Britain again? When Yvette Cooper, a leading figure in the party, argued the Remain case on television, she was gently reminded by her Conservative opponent, the son of Ghanaian immigrants, that the National Health Service and the other parts of the welfare state had been brought into existence single-handedly by Clement Attlee’s postwar Labour government, unaided by any European institutions. This is a painful reminder of the power that parliamentary sovereignty once gave to parties of the left as well as of the right.

Source: Win or Lose, the Brexit Vote Shows How Hard It Is to Defend the EU | Foreign Policy

 

Worth Reading

The “romantic” and “distorted” language of campaigners who want Britain to leave the EU | QZ.com

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