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In many of the standard narratives that political theory tells about its history and origins, Plato’s Republic stands out as a kind of foundation text of the discipline itself. As Plato’s most celebrated work of political theory, it is usually the first text taught in introductory surveys of the history of political thought. It is safe to say almost all political theorists – if not most political scientists – have had to study it over the course of their education and training. Yet despite its canonical status and familiarity, the Republic is not always a straightforward text. Plato was, on top of being a philosopher, a master prose stylist who paid great attention to the literary construction of his dialogues. Nowhere in the Republic is this …

This week, Mark Thompson, former Director General of the BBC, gave a series of three lectures as part of his Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Rhetoric and the Art of Public Persuasion, in honour of Philip Gould. These lectures were all centred around the theme of how the language and tone of public debate has changed in recent years in ways that have been detrimental to the cause of public understanding and has created a ‘cloud of unknowing’ within the wider public regarding matters of civic policy.