The question of political rhetoric is generally addressed to the specific sphere of how rhetorical techniques are applied (stylistic features of the speech of a particular politician or common linguistic traits characteristic of representatives of a certain party or social movement). However, the relationship between the political and the rhetorical lies at a more fundamental level, a common basis allowing us to consider them as two ways of managing the difference or distance between the ruler and the ruled, the state and society, language and reality, and direct and figurative meanings.

We are talking here about representation, which can mean both political representation and symbolic one. The rhetoric of representation consists of denoting one thing through a name or concept that belongs to another thing (for example, saying “Tsar Boris,” as was common in the 1990s, instead of “Boris Yeltsin”). The politics of representation is to give one thing the voice, will, and sovereignty that belongs to another thing on whose behalf it governs (for example, saying “the president of the Russian Federation from 1991 to 1999,” instead of “Boris Yeltsin”).

In the context of the language of Russian politics – more precisely the discursive conceptualization of the figure of the Russian president – I mean not so much the rhetorical specificity of the political discourse of power, but rather the functional, instrumental specificity of political action itself (the form of establishing a link between the one who represents and those who are represented ) within the framework of the current political system in Russia. Thus, we shall analyze not so much political rhetoric,but rather the rhetoric of politics – the real existing rules for building relations between the state and society, as well as the imaginary forms of these relations that modulate ideas about what these rules should look like.

The mesmerizing magic of metaphor/the humble charm of metonymy

In his book Aesthetic Politics, Frank Ankersmit gave a quite vivid metaphorical definition of the relationship that can be found between rhetorical figure and political theory: “metaphor is the heart that pumps the blood of political philosophy.”

The logical basis for this figurative formula is the fact that political philosophers, responding to the challenges of political reality, acquire the ability to reflect its social novelty thanks to the “semantic novelty” characteristic of metaphor.

Thus, Plato compares the ruler with a doctor, a weaver, a potter, a shepherd and a helmsman; Machiavelli, describing an exemplary ruler, resorts to a hybrid image of man and beast, which in turn should combine the features of a lion and a fox; Hobbes, writing about the state and the abuses of government leading to civil discord, uses the biblical images of Leviathan and Behemoth; Rousseau, discussing the conditions for the emergence of the state, turns to the metaphors of the “natural man” and the “social contract,” etc.

However, the role of metaphor in the articulation of political concepts is not limited to linguistic novelty that allows one to conceptually grasp previously unfamiliar social realities. Spawning a new language of description, the formal structure of a political metaphor not only reflects, but also creates a meaningful, value-based, conceptual framework for understanding what it means to rule and represent or how things are naturally supposed to be.

Is the head of state the embodiment of the inner essence of the social body or a temporary and formal conductor of popular sovereignty? Is the natural state of things realized in a war of all against all or in the pre-social harmony between the individual and nature?

Moreover, the rhetorical texture of metaphor, which frames our perception, can be found not only at the level of political philosophy, which terminologically conceptualizes political reality at the level of the language of its description; it can also be found at the level of political reality itself, since metaphor, by mediating forms of perception and recognition of the world, determines the horizon of obligation and therefore the horizon of possible action.

Thus, Ankersmit’s metaphorical formula should be adjusted and improved: metaphor is the blood of political practice. Indeed, political practice in recent years has proven capable of literalizing this biological metaphor.

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