Melanie Phillips

2 September 2010

The left wins...rhetorically

Published in: Jewish Chronicle

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Someone I met recently posed what I thought was an interesting question.

Like me, he had read and admired the moving interview in last Sunday's Observer with the Israeli novelist David Grossman, whose son Uri was killed when his IDF tank was hit by a rocket in the final hours of the aborted war with Hizbollah in 2006.

Grossman, whose new novel apparently owes much to that terrible experience, talked simply and poignantly about its effect on him. One does not have to agree with his politics to be touched by his refusal to give in to despair and even to find ways to grow from such a tragedy.

My acquaintance, however, asked why it was that the most articulate voices tended to be found on the left. Why was there no equivalent to the soaring voice of David Grossman on the right?

One possible reason is that the left and the intelligentsia are more or less synonymous: or as the left so offensively puts it, that the 'right' -- ie everyone who is not the left -- is stupid.

On that basis, the left seems to have a monopoly of eloquence simply because of its dominance of the chattering classes.

But there may be another reason. I think it boils down to a matter of perception; and perception, as so often, is influenced by ideology.

What, after all, does eloquence do? It moves us. It provokes an emotional identification and sympathy with the speaker or author.

Today's left privileges emotion over reason, in direct contrast to the non- or anti-left which champions objectivity over subjectivity. And emotion and eloquence go together.

Prose that gives expression to personal grief or yearning for peace is thus almost inevitably bound to soar far more eloquently than stolid attempts to present objective factual evidence and arguments for law and morality against their antithesis.

Yet there are those, not on the left, whose rhetoric nevertheless does soar. It can also be very emotional. But because it rests upon reason and truth, it is regarded by those who subscribe to a subjective approach to the world not as eloquence but extremism.

This is graphically illustrated in The Prime Ministers, the surprisingly un-putdownable book by Yehuda Avner, former Israeli ambassador to the UK and English speechwriter to four Israeli premiers -- Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin.

In a wonderfully vivid book replete with riveting and entertaining insider descriptions of politics and diplomacy in Jerusalem, Washington and London, the most affectionate and admiring portrait Avner paints is of Begin.

What leaps from these pages is the intelligence, erudition and astonishing eloquence of the man who was widely reviled and thus dismissed as a fanatical terrorist.

In response to world leaders who only wanted to know when he would start dismantling the settlements, he treated them to dazzling lectures on history and religion to prove that the conflict was about far more existential and deadly issues.

In the atavistic, reason-defying bear-pit of the Knesset, meanwhile, Begin's eloquence was hurled at him as an insult -- proof to his opponents of his utter unworldliness and uselessness.

Yet this was the man who made peace with the Egyptian Prime Minister Sadat, whose widow wrote with unbearable poignancy to Begin -- after the death of his beloved wife Aliza -- as the dear friend of her murdered husband and fellow-visionary of an end to the terrible conflict between Arab and Jew.

No, eloquence is not monopolised by the left -- and neither, most definitely, is peace.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography

Books

  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie