Faced with political discourse, “it is absolutely crucial to learn rhetoric,” says Clément Viktorovitch

With his round glasses, he has become the “rhetorical gentleman” of television. It must be said that this is his hobby. After saying goodbye to his former colleagues on the program “Clique” on Canal +, Clément Viktorovitch has been presenting a daily column on France Info since the start of the school year. At 37, he signed his very first book, published this week.

For 20 Minutes, he shares his passion for rhetoric and explains why, according to him, it is essential that everyone seize it, especially in view of the presidential election of 2022.

You publish The Rhetorical Power. How is rhetoric synonymous with power?

Rhetoric is a double power, over others and over society. It is exerted on us because we live in a political regime that we have pompously called “democracy”. As citizens, if we want to take power – that is to say to be able to appoint our leaders and vote in the most enlightened way possible – we need to be decryptors of discourse. We need to be able to read between the lines of political interventions.

Democracy, in theory, is also the government of the people by the people, a regime in which citizens have the right to speak in public space, to assert their point of view, to make their proposal. For that, you have to be able to impose yourself. You have to be able to shape the most effective public speaking. If we want to be all free, independent, we must acquire the mastery of rhetoric.

Is speech a political weapon in its own right, and why?

It is the political weapon par excellence, since it is the word that makes it possible to convince citizens to give their voice. It is the one that makes it possible to convince that the proposal that we bring is the best. Once we have said that, it means that those who are the prey of this weapon, well it is us, citizens.

We get to the heart of the problem: speech is also terribly asymmetric. Because on the one hand, we are citizens who only have our brains to form our opinion. And in front of us, we have over-trained politicians, who have teams of over-educated communicators behind them. And that’s why it’s absolutely crucial to learn rhetoric, to defend oneself from weapons that are aimed at us in a totally asymmetric and disproportionate way.

For 2022, will the candidates have to make more efforts to convince us? Should we expect any novelties or surprises in this area?

It is always difficult to answer these kinds of questions. What we can observe is that in 2022, we are having a political debate which, for a very long time, has never been so polarized. Which seems to me to be a good thing: it means that citizens must be aware that their vote will be of immense importance. We have in front of us three competing ideologies, which are found on not much. On the one hand, we have a liberal center which is standing for re-election, and for which the main problem is the economy, and in particular the debt. We have, on his right, a wing that I would describe as “sovereignist-nationalist”, for which the main problem is identity and immigration. And then, on the left, we have an ecological-socialist or ecological-anti-capitalist wing, centered on global warming and the distribution of wealth.

You write that “the art of convincing is too important not to be shared”. Why is it important to make rhetoric accessible and make it something that everyone can learn and make their own?

The ability to convince is something that we inherit. This means that this capital power is held by a small minority of individuals, who have had the chance to receive from their parents or, possibly, to acquire it subsequently, by doing a good education or by working a lot by them. themselves. And so, once we have said that rhetoric is a power unequally shared, how to be free in the face of this power? There is only one solution, to share it as widely as possible.

There is this sentence that I write in the book, which for me sums it all up. “It is by sharing rhetoric with everyone that it will become the instrument of healthy democratic competition and no longer the tool of relentless political domination. The conclusion I drew from it was this book, which aims to put everything on the table. I did not hide anything, I wanted to give all the knowledge, all the tools at my disposal. Even the most questionable, because it is by transmitting them that we learn to defend themselves against them. And there’s this idea that you can’t do one without the other. Learning to defend yourself from a questionable tool also means learning to use it.

You are sur France info avec la chronicle “Between the lines”. You intend to “decipher political speeches and analyze the words that make the news”. During a presidential campaign, is it important to give more room to the analysis of political speeches?

I am very happy to have been able to help put this type of analysis in the spotlight, because I believe that the political discourse is not transparent. I think it can be deceptive and manipulative. The object of this column is precisely to try to draw the attention of listeners to the unfair techniques that can be exercised on them and of which they might not be aware.

What role do you hope to play? Do you ultimately have a mission other than that of being a “simple” columnist of the presidential campaign?

What I would like to be is quite simply a broker of knowledge and skills. It is not simply chronicling the news of the campaign. It is giving tools, column after column, so that the listeners can criticize the speeches. And if I can contribute by imparting knowledge and rhetorical power to doing my part in the fight against abstention, well I will be very happy.

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