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Institute of Advanced Study

Political Bestiary: On the Uses of Violence


A bestiary is a manual, a treatise that catalogues wild, fantastic, demonic, uncompromising and undomesticable beasts. While such bestiaries generally served pedagogical and moralizing ends, today they have become powerful political apparatuses that instigate a violence that is simultaneously sanctified while also unhinged from political legitimacy and accountability.  The modern political bestiary, which includes terrorists, Islamo-fascists, narco-traffickers, pederasts, etc. mobilizes an animal imaginary that results into logic that: the bestialized other has to be exterminated, and in order to do so, we ourselves must become like beasts. Through a consideration of the role of certain animal or beastly creatures in some key works, such as Homer's Odyssey, Plato's Republic, Plutarch's Moralia, Schmitt's Land und Meer, we elucidate the ways in which the contemporary political bestiary takes up and transforms the question: what does it mean to be human? into the question: can only humans be beastly, or is the human the only animal capable of becoming beastly?

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