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Synecdochical and Metaphorical Political Representation

Synecdochical and Metaphorical Political Representation

Then and Now

(p.231) Chapter Ten Synecdochical and Metaphorical Political Representation
Creating Political Presence
Frank Ankersmit
University of Chicago Press

This chapter engages in an “archaeology” of political representation by opposing a medieval conception to its modern variant. The medieval conception has a “synecdochical” character, in the sense that it works in a way in which the part represents the whole (pars pro toto). Throughout modernity, instead, representation has taken a more “metaphorical” sense, where symbols tend to represent by referring to the essence of a phenomenon rather than to a part of it. The passage from “synecdochical” to “metaphorical” conceptions of political representation is mainly due to the emergence in modern times of the notion of sovereignty, which is also crucial for modern conception of democracy. The chapter argues that sovereignty weakens rather than strengthens political representation. Indeed, sovereignty is both the greatest threat to democracy and the decisive condition of its possibility. In representative democracy, political representation will be cut down to a size agreeable to sovereignty. Keeping a representative democracy in a relatively good shape is, therefore, much like walking a tightrope. This disappointing truth only becomes clear with the end of political ideology, something that sheds some new light on contemporary populism.

Keywords:   synecdochical representation, metaphorical representation, sovereignty

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