Classical rhetoric is defined as “the art of speaking or writing effectively: as a: the study of    principles and rules of composition formulated by critics of ancient times b: the study of writing    or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion.” (Merriam-Webster Online) However, people often think first of a definition more like this: “empty words, meaningless speech: The prime minister's speech was pure political rhetoric.” (The Newbury House Online Dictionary) These definitions seem at odds with each other: effective and persuasive speech compared to empty, meaningless speech. But whether one considers rhetoric in a positive or negative way, the common factor is that it is speech aiming to persuade. 

Diplomats can benefit from studying both the positive and negative aspects of rhetoric. World events are triggered by the words and actions of national leaders and politicians. Diplomats need to pay careful attention to political speech in order to gain clues about the concerns, intentions, and agendas of national leaders and political figures. At the same time, the work of diplomats is based largely on their ability to use language well - to convince and persuade. Diplomats need to be aware and in control of the power and effect of their words. As Drazen Pehar, researcher on language and diplomacy, writes: “…when it comes to the use of language and its many styles, diplomats must bear in mind that they have a choice. They may choose one or more among many styles of language. This freedom of choice of an instrument of expression is particularly important because plurality of such instruments makes diplomats aware of their own responsibility in verbally expressing their attitudes towards international developments.” ("Historical Rhetoric and Diplomacy," Language and Diplomacy, Malta: DiploProjects, 2001)


To end on a comic note, visit “An English primer (a glossary translating political rhetoric into plain English),” created by Thomas Sowell. The glossary offers definitions such as:

Demonstration: A riot by people you agree with. 
Mob violence: A riot by people you disagree with.

While the intent is comic, the glossary makes the point that most of us believe politicians to be hiding behind their rhetoric as a way to avoid direct communication. And most of us have accepted this practice as simply the way politicians work.


Guest blog: President Mugabe’s rhetoric as African Union chairperson

On 30 January 2015, the Zimbabwean president Robert G. Mugabe was appointed chairperson of the African Union (AU) for the year. As chairperson, Mugabe divides the audience: some perceive him as a nationalistic hero and true pan-Africanist, while others see him as a dictator and gross human rights violator. To have such a divisive chairperson can be seen as a disadvantage for the AU, which often

Reflections on Persuasion in Diplomacy by Ambassador Joseph Cassar

In our families, in our jobs, in our political dynamic at a national level, we always try to persuade others, first and foremost. Since, diplomacy is part of the global human existence, it is natural that persuasion is an essential part and an essential tool of diplomacy … as much it is in your family life, in my family li

Theories of persuasion and psychology: the power of situations

Throughout its history, humankind has been motivated to war, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, genocide, racist hysteria, religious intolerance and extremism, mass suicide and many other forms of irrational and pathological behaviour. The problem arises as Milan Kundera defines it, when we ask that terri

The origins – where is the connection between persuasion and rhetoric?

As ancient rhetoricians believed that language was a potent force for persuasion, they insisted that their students develop copia in all spheres of their art. Copia denotes an abundant and ready supply of language in any situation that arises. Why did ancient teachers of rhetoric insist on this practice? Well,

Leaders' rhetoric and preventive diplomacy - issues we are ignorant about

In this paper, Drazen Pehar analyses the argumentation made by George Lakoff of the University of California at Berkeley in his seminal paper  on ‘Metaphor and War’, in which he tried to deconstruct the rhetoric U.S. president George Bush used to justify the war in the Gulf. He also analyses a reading by psycho-historian Lloyd deMause, whose theory differs from Lakoff’s. Throughout his analysis

Hypertext in diplomacy

The final paper in this volume, by Jovan Kurbalija, is based on the experience of ten years of research and development work in the field of information technology and diplomacy. Kurbalija explains the relevance and potential of hypertext software tools for the field of diplomacy. With a number of case studies drawn from the hypertext system developed by Diplo and illustrated with screen shots,

Language: setting the stage

Benoit Girardin takes a philosophical approach to rhetoric - along with the issues of interpretation and ethics. He examines each of these three fields and its relation to diplomatic practice and negotiations, showing with examples how diplomatic language exhibiting either a lack or an excess of any of these qualities may lead to problems. Girardin pays special attention to the Mediterranean re