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Parliamentary Affairs (2014) 67, 745749. PRE-PRESS VERSION.

Politicians and Rhetoric: The Persuasive Power of Metaphor (second edition)

Jonathan Charteris-Black
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 370pp.
ISBN: 978-0-230-25165-6, 22.99
Parliamentary government, wrote Macaulay in 1857, is government by speaking. Despite periodic
laments about the decline of parliamentary oratory, language and thus rhetoric as the art of verbal
persuasion is clearly as crucial as ever to the business of politics, especially where relations with the
media (and through them the public) are concerned. British politicians may invariably use the word
rhetoric for the purpose of attacking their opponents, accusing them of indulging in empty rhetoric
and contrasting it with reality or the need for action. By their very nature, however, such attacks are
themselves rhetorical, intended to persuade an audience. From an analytical perspective, on the other
hand, rhetoric has been studied since the days of Aristotle and remains a recognized academic
discipline in American universities. Along with popular studies such as Leith (2011), this book
suggests that there has been a revival of interest in rhetoric on this side of the Atlantic too.
The first edition of Politicians and Rhetoric was published in 2005 and was well received; it has also
been widely cited. In addition to three new or reworked general chapters, this fully updated second
edition includes revised versions of studies of the rhetoric of Churchill, Martin Luther King, Margaret
Thatcher, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, and adds extra chapters on Enoch Powell,
Ronald Reagan and (inevitably) Obama. These are welcome additions, but a number of questions
remain about the authors general approach and some specific points of detail.
As its title implies, the books analyses are based on a combination of (classical) rhetoric and critical
metaphor analysis, which Charteris-Black describes as an approach to the analysis of metaphors that
aims to identify the intentions and ideologies underlying language use (45). He rightly acknowledges
a huge debt in this latter respect to the work of others, notably the /746/ conceptual metaphor theory
of Lakoff and Johnson (1980). (A conceptual metaphor is defined as one that identifies a pattern of
thought from a number of actual instances of metaphor (2): thus Thatchers use of the term battle in
various contexts implies the underlying conceptual metaphor POLITICS IS CONFLICT.) It would
have been nice, however, to see Fauconnier and Turner (2004) credited when conceptual blending
theory is introduced, and some mention of the edited collection by Carver and Pikalo (2008) on
political language and metaphor. There is also a surprising lack of reference to the considerable body
of US rhetorical scholarship, whether on the discourse of individual US politicians or studies such as
Osborns (1967) seminal article on archetypal metaphor, which includes an examination of
Churchills use of light/dark metaphors (also discussed here).
Charteris-Blacks overview of classical rhetoric is sketchy and somewhat over-simplified. In
extending the three Aristotelian artistic proofs (i.e. skilful means of persuasion), for example, he
cuts a few corners to make them fit an easy-to-remember formula (14). Thus ethos, which Aristotle
saw as consisting of virtue, practical wisdom and good will towards the audience, is reduced to
having the right intentions; logos which may include apparently as well as actually rational
argument to thinking right; and pathos (the use of emotional appeals) to sounding right. To
these, drawing on cognitive linguistics, the author adds mental representations (frames and schemata),
characterized as telling the right story; the importance of looking right is also briefly mentioned.

The combination of these elements, according to Charteris-Black, produces persuasion, or being

right although of course the fact that persuasion occurs is no guarantee of this, while being right is
no guarantee of persuasiveness. A section on Rhetoric and dialect [sc. dialectic] (15-17) a slip
unfortunately repeated half-a-dozen times in quick succession is misleading. Thus Charteris-Black
claims that Ancient Greek dialectic gave equal weight to both sides of an argument as they emerged
in debate and that there were two active participants who engaged on equal terms and in a balanced
way (16, emphasis in original). As he himself goes on to note, however, [d]ialect[ic] required a
question and answer procedure a procedure which inevitably tended to favour the questioner/crossexaminer (e.g. Socrates in Platos dialogues).
A further element in the books approach is the use of corpora (cf. Charteris-Black, 2004), albeit not
in conjunction with a computer program which can detect metaphors (see e.g. Hardie et al., 2007).
Focusing on prepared speeches rather than on other forms of political communication debates
(whether parliamentary or televised), interviews and so on Charteris-Black examines metaphors
across a range of speeches by each politician, rather than analysing individual texts. The use of
selected speeches, however, raises questions about the representativeness of the various corpora and
the selection criteria employed. /747/ A comparison of the metaphors used by George H. and George
W. Bush, for instance, is based on just four speeches by Bush senior and fifteen by Bush junior. And
whereas the latter cover a three-year period from 2001 to 2003, but excluding the fateful month of
September 2001 the twenty-four speeches by Enoch Powell cover a thirty-five year period, from
1953 to 1988. This in turn raises the question of decontextualisation (an occupational hazard in
corpus-linguistic approaches). Although Charteris-Black does supply a certain amount of general
background information about each politician, he does not do the same for individual speeches: thus
passages are extracted from A More Perfect Union (285), Obamas crucial speech on race following
the Jeremiah Wright controversy, but without reference to the specific context in which it was made.
Charteris-Black also makes occasional reference to the intertextual context of the passages he
discusses. His analyses of the rhetoric of US politicians, however, could have gone further in
identifying allusions that many Americans would recognise. To stay with Obama, E pluribus unum is
not just a Latin saying (283), but also one of the original mottoes of the US, and is still used on
official seals, passports and most coins. The ring metaphor in three words that will ring [] from
sea to shining sea might conceivably be an allusion to Martin Luther Kings let freedom ring (290),
but the latter and from sea to shining sea indubitably quote from the patriotic songs America the
Beautiful and My Country Tis of Thee respectively. Obama borrowed the phrase [bend] the arc of
history (299) from King, who himself borrowed it from the white abolitionist Theodore Parker, while
dreams deferred (302) alludes to Langston Hughess 1951 poem A Dream Deferred and a new
birth of freedom (304) quotes from Lincolns Gettysburg Address. Quotations and allusions such as
these demonstrate the importance, not just of intertextuality, but also of cultural-contextual
knowledge in analysing US political speeches in particular (see Foxlee 2009).
The book makes a number of questionable assertions, both specific and general. As regards specific
claims, is it really the case that Churchills use of journey metaphors rather than Pearl Harbor
probably encouraged the government of the USA to enter the war and to commit itself to the rescue
of its travelling companion (69)? And that Margaret Thatcher was the first British politician to
appreciate the need for the manufacture and projection of a political image (166)? More generally, is
it really true that the effect of a speech given in Parliament can be measured by the number of people
voting in favour of a proposition (17)? And that a politicians role in a democracy is to express the
beliefs of the people (119)? Another questionable generalization is made in the books second

paragraph: Voters make decisions based on their judgements of the honesty, morality and integrity of
politicians. [] However, they are also influenced by impressions arising from a politicians style
and self-presentation (1). These may be some of the factors which influence voters /748/ judgements
of individual politicians, especially leaders, but this notably ignores the role of parties, policies and
ideologies, for example.
According to Charteris-Black, critical metaphor analysis is not restricted to metaphors, but also takes
in metonyms (48). He also says that the major linguistic characteristics of Martin Luther Kings
speeches are repetition, matching clauses, contrast, analogy, rhetorical questions and other rhetorical
characteristics of religious discourse (84). Such features, however, can surely be found in rhetorical
discourse in general, political or otherwise. Although Charteris-Black argues that political speeches
persuade through a combination of effective metaphors and other rhetorical strategies, this poses the
question of why he did not adopt a full-blown rhetorical approach, especially since he also
emphasises the importance of narrative and myth (seven of the twelve chapters contain the word
myth in their title; the rhetorical use of myth and narrative, of course, is at least as old as Plato).
Charteris-Black also argues that the primary purpose as opposed to effect of metaphors in
political rhetoric is to frame how we view or understand political issues by eliminating alternative
points of view (32). This, however, ignores the possibility that the use of particular metaphors by
politicians may sometimes simply reflect their own and/or their partys worldview or indeed a
speechwriters stylistic choices rather than a conscious attempt to manipulate public opinion.
Another crucial issue is to what extent politicians metaphors gain wider circulation through the
media and go on to reach and influence different audiences: the books title refers to the persuasive
power of metaphors, but this is difficult to demonstrate without studying their reception. These are
some of the many important questions raised by rather than in Politicians and Rhetoric. That said,
Charteris-Blacks book will be of considerable interest to anyone concerned with the relationship
between language and politics.
Carver, T. and Pikalo, J. (eds) (2008) Political Language and Metaphor: Interpreting and Changing
the World. Abingdon: Routledge. /749/
Fauconnier, G. and Turner, M. (2002) The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Minds
Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic Books.
Foxlee, N. (2009) Intertextuality, Interdiscursivity and Identification in the 2008 Obama Campaign. In Mohor-Ivan, I.
and Colipc, G.J. Identity, Alterity, Hybridity (IDAH), Proceedings of the International Conference, Galai, 14-16 May
2009, Galai, Galai University Press, 26-42. Available at (last accessed 29
November 2012).
Hardie, A., Koller, V., Rayson, P. and Semino, E. (2007) Exploiting a Semantic Annotation
Tool for Metaphor Analysis, paper presented at the 4th Corpus Linguistics conference,
University of Birmingham, 27-30 July. Available at (last accessed 29 November 2012).
Lakoff, G. and M. Johnson (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.
Leith, S. (2011) You Talkin to Me? Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama. London: Profile Books.
Osborn, M. (1967) Archetypal Metaphor in Rhetoric: The Light-Dark Family, Quarterly Journal of
Speech 53, 11526.