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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 19, May 11, 2024

Challenges of Language in Political Games | Sunita Samal

Saturday 11 May 2024, by Sunita Samal


Abstract: Does limit of our world set by language? Is language only valued as a secular activity in political inter-course? Action becomes meaningful so far as it is given meaning by going through universalism. Universalism and order are the brainchild of modern Enlightenment which is very often challenged by constitutive outside. Post-modernism attacks universalism and argues that every text can be interpreted in various ways.


‘I think according to words and not according to ideas’
-----Albert Camus (1995)

Anything that is bounded by time and space is politics. Here, the interest in rhetoric arose as part of ‘turn to Language’--- a movement that involved rejection of cognition. Language cannot be private, it is public. Possibility is the first step of de-construction which can be manipulated by common sense. In this sense, for something to be meaningful, it has to stand in relation to something else. When a rational sphere is constitutive, it becomes reasonable.

Intellectual Slavery or Freedom: Language as a strategic resource by which politicians hold power. Aristotle asserts that the function of rhetoric is not to persuade but to discover. Does rhetoric create intellectual slavery? Can it be resolved by common sense? Does the rejection of God imply rejection of common sense? When rational man encounters irrational nature, it creates the confrontation between common sense and nonsense.

Politics is all about identity creation. Identities becomes powerful when it denies its constitutive character. It is true that man is made by history but at the same time he is making that the very history. For Sartre, freedom is the dislocation of consciousness from its object is the fundamental negation by means of which consciousness can grasp its object without losing itself in it. Does commitment to ‘nothingness’ mean commit oneself to language of freedom? The universe is fundamentally devoid of absolute and that makes us free [1].

To say the world is non-sense, consciousness must be alive. Individual struggle to find meaning in a meaningless world through language. The word ‘nonsense’ is traditionally identified as confrontation of rational man with irrational world. The important aspect of non-sense is that whether higher end or purpose we choose to pursue can also put into doubt since in the last step it always lacks a higher order of justification. From the perspective, the tendency to posit the existence of benevolent God may be seen as a form of ‘defense mechanism’

Does the limit of our world set by language? The tragedy of the dialectic of Marxism was inherent in language that had dual characters of politics. We can emancipate ourselves from a particular ideology through language. Despite all these philosophical conundrums involving in the question of linguistic abstraction, the Marxists focus was on the practical aspect of language or more precisely how people used language in community.

If we take capitalism into consideration it was inscribed in rhetoric by disturbing the balance between words and money. Language could challenge the structure of capitalist economic law. Through understanding of forms of language could take us being constant flux like history on fire--- those writings for change are united around the claim that every language passes through revolution and its dynamics of destruction. Here, the bourgeois understanding of determinism in Marxism is something that thinkers fell victim to.

What we see in Marxism is its fundamental de-historicisation of theoretical concepts. Post-Marxism’s turn resulted in a linguistic operation that decisively detached full autonomy to discourse as a principal historical determinant. Yet, another outcome of the linguistic model was the ‘randomisation of history [2]’ which ultimately reduces class to merely one of the many contested identities. The proletariat did speak their own language. Similarly, English is the language of imperialism which is connected with globalization and the fact that it is the language of ‘empire’ whose practices are ever more explicitly imperialist [3].

Language, Ideology and Common-sense: Imperialism is associated with dominant ideology in the domain of language. Althusser said that man is an ideological animal. Ideology establishes the power relationships. If we replace the term ‘point of view’ with ideology, it further goes on to explain that all cultural texts are important when they are analyzed from the perspective of critical theory. The voice of culture industry in power relations provides significant entertainment and distraction that people feel alienated from politics as well as from society.

In Modern world political oratory is typically mediated to distance audience by textual or electronic means of communication often blurring the distinction between public and private. It focuses on how technology is becoming central to raise political voice [4]. It resulted in a rise of self-expressive politics and personalisation of formal political rhetoric whereas classical work on political rhetoric focused on oratory but more recent work has come to focus on what Barthes called ‘rhetoric of image [5]’.

To call a statement or belief ideological is to condemn it as a distortion or nonsensical. The novelty is that in the post-modern world, linguistic and material production have been merged. The question is how common sense is related to power and that must have some role in critical theory of ideology. Today, commonsense is linked with a special focus often directed at the philosophy of modern social sciences. There is also difficulty in trying to determine whether common sense is truly separable from the individual sense perception from imagination. Unlike Aristotle who has placed common sense in the heart, Descartes has placed it in the brain. The Cartesian project to replace common sense with clearly defined mathematical reasoning that was aimed at certainty and not mere on probability.

Saturated by common sense, the study of rhetoric may be presented as an alternative to establish perspective on political belief and decision-making. In politics, interest in rhetoric arose as part of ‘the turn to language’ as a movement that involves rejection of cognitivism [6].

Do political leaders now often adopt an informal conversational style as evidenced in particular in the genre of televised political interview. Here, the distinction between public and private aspects of political discourse is collapsing. Do political leaders now often adopt an informal conventional style as evidenced in particular in the genre of televised political interview.
This resulted in the personalisation of formal political rhetoric focused on oratory [7].

Some authors have emphasized the democratizing potential of new technologies which afford cosmopolitan communication between citizens. Facebook and Twitter certainly facilitated the informal political communication of protesters in Arab Revolution (2011). Since the invention of Internet, academia and authors have been paying increasing attention to the impact of new media technology on political rhetoric [8].

Rhetorical analysis figure of speech is typically treated as important argumentative devices. Contemporary research has focused on question related to the strategic use of metaphor, slogan, humor appeals to value and common sense [9]. Communication do not always attend the dilemmatic aspects of discourse overtly. On the occasions discourse which seems to be argue for the counter point. Although the rhetorical turn in social sciences often involved a specific focus on political oratory and argument, until recently, this work has been relatively neglected by political theorists [10].

Rhetorical Dilemma and Politics: Identification of the issue of Iraq War (2003) were in various names--- such as ‘operation of Iraq’, ‘war in Iraq’ ‘illegal invasion’, ‘military intervention in Iraq’, ‘defense of national interest’, response to human rights violation’ ‘war on terror’ etc. as the essential nature of act. Here, we have to see how particular policy recommendation are rhetorically linked to general ideological or political commitment.

What we consider is how speaker may present their rhetorical projects as exercises in political consensus. One of the strategies is that a politician may employ to avoid being seen to side with a particular section of the audience or community that involves presenting an argument in such a way as to appear to incorporate a range of divergent point of view. His or her rhetorical project goes beyond current divisive argument by issue controlling the answer. An example if we quoted from an address by Tony Blair to the European Union 2005 as follow-----

‘The issue is not between free market Europe and social Europe, between those who want to retreat to common market and those who believe in Europe as a political project.’

Significantly, Blairs’ account of his own position was evasive. At no stage did he explicitly state what the issue actual was’ In Us a, this kind of rhetoric strategy may be used in conjunction with an appeal to what V. Beasley (2004) termed as shared belief hypotheses.

American national identity is essentially grounded in an adherence to a shared set of political principles. As an example, we may consider Barack Obama’s famous ‘Yes We Can’ speech, presented after his success as the Democratic President primarily in South Carolina in 2006. So, to understand this in South Carolina, the choice in the election is not about rich Vs poor, young Vs old or Black Vs white. It is about the ‘past Vs the future’. It is about whether we settle for same divisions and distraction and drama that passes for politics today on whether we reach for a politics of common sense—a politics of shared sacrifice and shared prosperity [11].

Does application of common sense give rhetoric its legitimacy? Of course, it may also entail framing a political issue in a particular way and establishing the legitimacy of a particular course of action. The term such as ‘we’ and ‘us’ can on occasion excludes either speaker or audience and also challenge ‘universality’. Quoted the following extract from an address made by Tony Blair to European Parliament 2005 was following.

‘We talk of crisis, let us first talk of achievement’.

However, we can not interpret his words in this way. By mobilizing a non-specific ‘we’, political orator can present the interests of party or government which is coinciding with those of their entire world so long as ‘we’ do not specify its universal anatomy. As we know from the following quotation of George W. Bush (2001) speech--- ‘we cannot know the duration of this war, yet we know its outcome we will prevail….. the Iraqi people will be free and our world will be more secure and peaceful.’

Rhetoric is nothing but common sense in another form. For Cicero, the concept of eloquence which considers not only civic art of public discourse but also the concrete manifestation of best form of life [12].

However, with the existence of such a trend, it is difficult to understand how exactly we could recognise a ‘rhetorical revival’. It is true that ancient rhetorician used to associate rhetoric with a particular set of discourse that seeks interests of the community as a whole [13]. In fact, that most theorist of rhetoric revival have recovered this art essentially for the insights it can provide on public-deliberation explaining why they have focused on Aristotle. But the meaning of rhetoric used is broader than the art of deliberation. It is considered the highest spiritual activity of the well-educated political man [14].

However, the target an idea of why rhetoric is so important in language games. We have to turn to Cicero rather than Aristotle since it is in former, we find the universal and broadest acknowledgement of rhetoric. He expanded the meaning of this art for beyond that of a technique of persuasion and unifies rhetoric with philosophy. For Cicero the scope of rhetoric is very broad and its meaning goes far beyond the question of deliberation.

Rhetoric is not only a civic art but also a sign of an individual’s spiritual eminence where universalism has no role to play. It goes beyond the limits of rationalism and makes constitutive personality as prime order. The collapse of Marxist regime and the rise of nationalism have drawn attention to the way citizens identify themselves with processes which suggest an important mediating role for culture. Wittgenstein shows that language is not all cases a social phenomenon instead the criterion for a language is grounded in a set of interested normative activities. In short, it is essential that language is sharable but this does not imply that it is in fact already shared. Rhetorical theorists have often treated deliberative democracy for being too prescriptive and too narrow in their understanding.

Conclusion: Martin Luther King Jr. ‘I have a dream’ which plays a special role in performing community. In this way, they have a latent influence on common sense. The key term for the ‘old’ rhetoric was persuasion and the key term of ‘new’ rhetoric was identification. The fundamental contribution of existential thought lies in the idea that one’s identity is constituted neither by nature nor by culture but by ‘existence’. Persuasion is not considered isolated from other potential functions such as common sense. This is the place where the question controls the answer.

(Author: Dr. Sunita Samal, lecturer and political commentator)

[1Janion, M. (1976) ‘Romanticism, Revolution, Marxism’, Nolit, Belgrade

[2Wood, Ellen Meiksins (1986) ‘The Retreat from Class: A New True Socialism’, Verso, London.

[3Goux, Jean-Joseph (1998) ‘Marx and Inscription of Labor’. The Quel Reader, Routledge, London.

[4Davidson, D. (2001)‘Action, Reasons and causes in ‘Essays on Action and Events’, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

[5Bevir, Mark (1996) ‘Ideology as Distorted Belief’, Journal of Political Ideology’ US Berkeley.

[6Burman E. and Parker, I (1993) ‘Discourse Analytic Research’, London: Routledge

[7Barthes, R. (1977) ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ in Image, Music, Text’s. Heath ed. New York—Hill and Wang.

[8Bennet and Iyengar S. (2008) ‘A New Era of Minimal Effects? Journal of Communication, 58

[9Potter, J. (1997) ‘Representing Reality’, London: Sage.

[10Garsten, B. (2011) ‘The Rhetoric Revival in Political Theory’, Annual Review of Political Science.

[11Reicher S. and Hopkins N. (2001) ‘Self and Nation’, London, Sage.

[12Gasten, Bryan (2011) ‘Rhetoric Revival’, Annual Review of Political Science, 14: 159-180

[13Aristotle (1991) ‘On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourses’, trans. George A. Kennedy: Oxford University Press.

[14Nietzsche, F. (1983) ‘Nietzsche’s Lecturer Notes on Rhetoric: A Translation’, trans. C. Blair, ‘Rhetoric and Philosophy’ 16 (2) : 94-129

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