17 JUNE 1972, Page 27

Rhetorical trick

Sir: May I use the letter columns of The Spectator to denounce a fiendish rhetorical trick which I find unbelievably irritating and which, I hope, all reasoning human beings will castigate once they are conscious of it? Undoubtedly The Spectator has been afflicted with it. in the form both of letters and of articles, and even politicians have been known to stoop to its foul practice. It is the vile habit of prefacing one's remarks on any subject under the sun with the phrase "it is 'all very fashionable today to believe in such and such " or "1 might be rather old-fashioned" (or "an old fogey ") but . . . " or "the trendy practice of so-and-so" and other such phrases as these. The basic theme of all these intellectually-dishonest techniques is not so much to say "I am traditionalist, support me" but rather the despicably anti-democratic sentiment "most people support this idea, therefore don't agree with them but have opinions of your own and follow me." The whole concept appeals to the basest of human vanities — the impulse to 'be different' on principle. Positively state that because one is in the minority, one is right, is more than paradoxical, it is perverse. It is absurd, although, unfortunately, very often effective, to begin one's appeal to an audience with the implication that unpopularity ought to be deliberately sought, Equally, of course, the impulse to be fashionable, although less conversationally expressed because of

most people's secret shame of it, must be condemned.

It is essential that we all learn that things that are 'trendy' or ' fashionable' on the one hand, or ' fuddy-duddy ' or 'original' on the other, have no inherent or common worth or invalidity; they should be weighed upon their merits and upon particular circumstances — that is the basis of reasoned discussion. We must learn to transcend the petty inclination to react against things or ideas. It is extremely difficult but at least a start can be made by eliminating the most blatant examples of this from serious discussion and supposedly objective argument.

Robert Silver 30 Melbury Court, London W8