The Political Animal: Introduction


There is an anecdote, or perhaps a fable, about the philosophers of the Platonic Academy attempting to define the human. After much debate, the members of the Academy arrived at a seemingly succinct and accurate definition: man is a wingless biped (dipous apteron). At that moment, Diogenes the cynic, who had been eavesdropping on their deliberations, suddenly threw in the philosophers’ midst a chicken whose feathers he had plucked and proclaimed: “Here is your man!” Although the horrified Academicians recoiled from this scene of animal cruelty, philosophers have not since shied away from defining the human in opposition to other animals. In a fable that is no longer fabulous, human being constitutes itself through a definite violence against the animal. Diogenes’s denuded chicken becomes a primal scene of the human-animal relation—and thus a scene that is repressed, a scene from which philosophers have consistently turned their gaze every time man is the issue.

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