How do political leaders use populist rhetoric to legitimate war ? (article)

« War is not, after all, a malign act of fate – an unexpected volcano eruption or a tornado that spirals up from nowhere » (Carruthers, 2000:16). Indeed the conduct of violence today in a modern society ruled by law relies heavily on psychological mobilisation for its success. Thus, in order to produce clear approval of one’s military ambitions, one can no longer take a unilateral decision without popular support. As the charter of the United Nations reminds: war begins in the minds of men, thus great process must be used in order to collectively accept and legitimate the waging of warfare in modern societies. It is interesting to see how this legitimacy is established because of a smart use of populist rhetoric. A modern definition of populism is an ideology that “pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity, and voice” (Albertazzi & McDonnell, 2008:3). The link between populist rethoric and war is studied in this article through the method of speech analysis. 

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Le Président Turc Recep Tayyip Erdogan s’exprime devant son peuple (© AFP 2018 ADEM ALTAN)

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Alexia Carratala


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