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43. Arousing empathy: what political discourse can learn from literary fiction (Balzac, Zola, Hugo)

Victor Ferry


Empathy and politics do not go very well together. The empathy that public opinion might have for a given category of people is often at the expense of another group of people. True, it is possible to have empathy for the workers asking for a pay rise and for their employer who refuses it. It is more difficult to vote for a political program that would satisfy both sides. In the realm of politics, empathy is a zero-sum game, and, as such, subject to a struggle. This chapter investigates the rhetorical means to trigger empathy, based on the relevant works of Balzac, Zola and Hugo. It explains why, and illustrates how, political discourse can learn from literary fiction in this regard.

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