As societies polarize and parties fragment, political leaders struggle to connect to their publics. In search of ways to cut across the technocratic jargon of our complex times, they tend to reach for metaphors. There is nothing new here, of course. Aristotle went as far as saying that metaphors are ‘the only words everybody uses’: metaphors were able to communicate difficult things because of what he described as their ‘clarity, and sweetness and strangeness’. Indeed, his own metaphor of the political leader as the captain of a ship is one of the most enduring in western politics.
Metaphors do two things − they can simplify through analogy (think of the ‘world wide web’, as opposed to ‘an information space where documents and other resources are identified by Uniform Resource Locators, interlinked by hypertext links’), but more importantly they encourage a particular understanding of phenomena.