Law and its rhetoric of violence

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This article explores the manner in which politico-legal language makes use of metaphors of violence and destruction in order to describe state/legal functions and actions. It argues that although such use of a militaristic hyperbole is generally regarded as normal and appropriate, it is in fact harmful in the way that it presents complex and specific problems as being simple and abstract. From a semiotic point of view, and using the work of Roland Barthes, law is regarded as a system of signs and ‘combative’ legal language can be seen as ideological manipulation through the technique of so-called second-level signification (myth). Although it is conceded that law, similar to all other interpretive systems, cannot avoid the use of metaphoric language, it is argued that we should resist regarding legal language as neutral and ‘natural’ and that we should rather retain the memory of legal concepts and categories as historical, man-made, and therefore always open to revision.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)425-437
JournalInternational Journal for the Semiotics of Law
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2012


  • law
  • violence
  • language
  • semiotics
  • ethics


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