Manhunts: A Philosophical History
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Touching on issues of power, authority, and domination, Manhunts takes an in-depth look at the hunting of humans in the West, from ancient Sparta, through the Middle Ages, to the modern practices of chasing undocumented migrants. Incorporating historical events and philosophical reflection, Grégoire Chamayou examines the systematic and organized search for individuals and small groups on the run because they have defied authority, committed crimes, seemed dangerous simply for existing, or been categorized as subhuman or dispensable.
Chamayou begins in ancient Greece, where young Spartans hunted and killed Helots (Sparta's serfs) as an initiation rite, and where Aristotle and other philosophers helped to justify raids to capture and enslave foreigners by creating the concept of natural slaves. He discusses the hunt for heretics in the Middle Ages; New World natives in the early modern period; vagrants, Jews, criminals, and runaway slaves in other eras; and illegal immigrants today. Exploring evolving ideas about the human and the subhuman, what we owe to enemies and people on the margins of society, and the supposed legitimacy of domination, Chamayou shows that the hunting of humans should not be treated ahistorically, and that manhunting has varied as widely in its justifications and aims as in its practices. He investigates the psychology of manhunting, noting that many people, from bounty hunters to Balzac, have written about the thrill of hunting when the prey is equally intelligent and cunning.
An unconventional history on an unconventional subject, Manhunts is an in-depth consideration of the dynamics of an age-old form of violence.
level. The fact that they are constantly designated by oxymoronic formulas—“bipedal cattle,” “living tools”—that simultaneously deny and concede their humanity—seems to make them appear more as humanoids:7 beings in human form whose humanity is reduced to that of their bodies. The gap between the slave’s nature and the master’s is conceived as analogous—and not as identical—to the gap that distinguishes humans from animals. According to Aristotle’s formula, the distance between slaves and other
force.4 That is why he is called a hunter of men: in order to become a king, he acquired his subjects by violence. He captured his people. FIGURE 1. Nimrod. Nimbrod Filius Chus, in Athanasius Kircher, Turris Babel (Amsterdam: Janssonius van Waesberg, 1679), p. 112. Nimrod’s authority—that of the first sovereign—thus has no foundation other than force. He practiced the abduction of humans, robbed the patriarchs of their authority, and contravened the divine commandment. In the biblical
same empathy: everything depends on who their father is. The “manhunt” to which the minister of immigration and national identity was referring was the outcry aroused by the appointment of President Sarkozy’s son to head the development council (EPAD) of the department of Hauts-de-Seine. Morality and the capacity for indignation, just like “principles,” have variable geometries. This kind of dissymmetry is characteristic of the double moral standard of the dominant: deploring the very
victim, in which the subjects find themselves confronted by a false choice between the recognition of their status as victims at the price of negating their power to act and the recognition of their power to act at the price of negating the guilt of their tormentors. This antinomy, which constitutes a powerful political trap, is based on the false idea that the historical responsibility for their enslavement has to be attributed to the oppressed in order for the task of their emancipation to
Leon, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (N.p.: Pioneras, 1950), p. 201. 14. Édouard Drumont, La France juive (Paris: C. Marpon & F. Flammarion, 1887), p. 60. 15. Ibid., pp. 83–85. 16. Ibid., p. 85. 17. Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Bagatelles pour un massacre: Texte intégral (Paris: Denoël, 1937), p. 156. 18. Ibid. To this kind of national mythology, based on the absurdity of the historical continuity of an original race, Bernard Lazare replied: “Let’s grant the Gauls. So we will cry: