Why are there no great modern speakers?

Karl-Heinz Göttert on rhetoric from Cicero to Hitler

That can only happen in Cologne: To conduct an interview about speeches in a district called Sülz. The professor of German studies Karl-Heinz Göttert has written a book on rhetoric in which he compares famous speeches: Perikles and Richard von Weizsäcker, Johannes Chrysostomos and Barack Obama, Cicero and Joschka Fischer. The book “Mythos Redemacht” has been nominated for the Leipzig Book Fair Prize. Göttert also knows why too much word ringing is perceived as "boiling".

The world: When was the last time a speech really made a difference?

Karl-Heinz Göttert: You have to go back a long time in Germany. Such a speech was recently recalled. That was the Weizsäcker speech of 1985. A speech that was distributed two million times in print has not been given since then. We are a party state, and there are fewer occasions for big speeches than in America, for example, where the president has such opportunities. The Obama example shows that attention and effect are two different things.

The world: Is the belief in the “power of speech” as a form of oral expression that can completely overturn a situation, totally outdated?

Karl-Heinz Göttert: Maybe that's too harshly said. But in fact it is often assumed that the power of speech is something natural and compelling. If one believes that, one feels their decline as painful. In this case, however, nothing natural perishes, but something made under certain conditions. In ancient times, a special rhetoric was devised for political and legal purposes that was supposed to guarantee power. This has proven itself under various changes.

The world: President Abraham Lincoln took just a few minutes to give his legendary Gettysburg speech in 1863, which American students still learn by heart today, while dictators like Fidel Castro often agitated their people for hours. Can one say: the shorter the speeches, the more liberal the country?

Karl-Heinz Göttert: There is a certain amount of speaking: Luther preached for about an hour, while in 17th century Protestant churches several hours were often the norm. This is certainly not a rise in the art of speaking, but a wear and tear. The big icons of speech that are remembered are often speeches of limited duration. Take perhaps the greatest icon of all, namely Churchill's blood, sweat and tears speech - two pages in print! Speeches by De Gaulle also barely exceeded the hour mark. After a while the audience is exhausted.

The world: