1st Edition

Animal Rhetoric and Natural Science in Eighteenth-Century Liberal Political Writing Political Zoologies of the French Enlightenment

By Andrew Billing Copyright 2024
    274 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Our tendency to read French Enlightenment political writing from a narrow disciplinary perspective has obscured the hybrid character of political philosophy, rhetoric, and natural science in the period. As Michèle Duchet and others have shown, French Enlightenment thinkers developed a philosophical anthropology to support new political norms and models. This book explores how five important eighteenth-century French political authors—Rousseau, Diderot, La Mettrie, Quesnay, and Rétif de La Bretonne—also constructed a "political zoology" in their philosophical and literary writings informed by animal references drawn from Enlightenment natural history, science, and physiology. Drawing on theoretical work by Derrida, Latour, de Fontenay, and others, it shows how these five authors signed on to the old rhetorical tradition of animal comparisons in political philosophy, which they renewed via the findings and speculations of contemporary science. Engaging with recent scholarship on Enlightenment political thought, it also explores the links between their political zoologies and their family resemblance as "liberal" political thinkers.



    French Enlightenment Political Zoology: A Definition

    “Political Zoology” as a Hybrid Science

    Disenchanting the Animal in French Enlightenment Political Rhetoric

    Enlightenment Anthropology and New Theories of animalité

    Empiricist Natural Science and the Critique of Political Absolutism

    An Emergent Eighteenth-Century French Liberalism


    1 La Mettrie’s Hybrid Medical and Political Science

    This Bold Analogy: La Mettrie, Descartes, and the Vicissitudes of the Animal-Machine Figure

    Machine Rhetoric and the Animal Economy in L’Homme Machine

    The Animal in La Mettrie’s Anthropological Machine

    The Moral Sentiments, Natural Law, and the“Prerogatives of Animality”

    The Animal-Machine as Moral Image in the Discours sur le bonheur

    The Limits of La Mettrie’s Liberalism: The Philosopher, the Sovereign, and the People in the Discours préliminaire


    2 Political Economy as an Animal Economy in François Quesnay

    General and Particular Economics and the “great law of the natural order"

    Theorizing the Animal Economy in the Essai physique sur l’économie animale

    Animals, Representation, and Nature in Quesnay’s Political Economy

    Quesnay’s “Liberal Despotism”: The Animal and the économie morale


    3 The Animal in Question in Diderot’s Moral and Political Philosophy

    Thinking Politics in an Animal Laboratory

    Diderot’s Bee: Morality, Politics, and the Interpretation of Nature

    Animal and Human Morality in Diderot’s Encylopédie Essays

    Beyond the Human: Diderot’s Éléments de physiologie

    Animality, Anarchism, and The Nature of Happiness


    4 Political Anthropology and Its Animal Other in Rousseau

    Animal Origins and Human Foundations in the Discours sur l’inégalité

    Liberty, Equality, and Human Specificity

    Rousseau’s Moral Sentiments: Pity, “Love of Oneself,” and the “Ferocious Beast”

    The Disappearance of the Compassionate Animal in Emile and the Essai sur l’origine des langues

    Rousseau’s Primitivism: Ferocity as Amour de soi


    5 Animality, Race, and “Liberal Empire” in Rétif de La Bretonne

    Rétif’s Real and Perfect Republic: Liberalism Between Absolutism and Communism

    Rétif’s Imperial Zoology: The Animal as Predator and Racialized Other

    A Politics Beyond the Predator/Prey Distinction?

    Patagonia and Megapatagonia Rétif’s Imperial Desire: Promissory Liberalism and “Unequal Fraternity”

    “The inconceivable Animal-human”: Animality, Race, and métissage in the Lettre d’un singe aux êtres de son espèce




    Andrew Billing is an Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minnesota, who specializes in French Enlightenment literature, philosophy, and political thought. He completed his doctorate on Rousseau's political writings at the University of California, Irvine. He has articles published and forthcoming on Rousseau, Quesnay, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Diderot, and other early modern French political authors, and co-edited a special volume of L'Esprit Créateur on Paris, capitalism and modernity with Juliette Cherbuliez.

    “The timely intervention of Animal Rhetoric and Natural Science in Eighteenth-Century Liberal Political Writing leaves an indelible mark in the conversation around liberalism, animality, and human nature in eighteenth-century European thought [...] By tracking the animal through the mutually constitutive, hybrid frames of natural science and political philosophy, Billing, with nuanced theoretical discernment, successfully and provocatively realigns the parameters of current discussions about the French Enlightenment and its legacy.”

    - Scott Venters, Drama and Humanities, Dallas College