Andrew Billing | Animal Rhetoric and Natural Science in Eighteenth-Century Liberal Political Writing | Routledge | 2024 

Andrew Billing, Animal Rhetoric and Natural Science in Eighteenth-Century Liberal Political Writing: Political Zoologies of the French Enlightenment, Routledge, 2024

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.

Table of Contents:
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. In addition to Animal Rhetoric and Natural Science in Eighteenth-Century Liberal Political Writing: Political Zoologies of the French Enlightenment, Billing has articles published and forthcoming on Rousseau, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Quesnay, 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.

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Anne Simon (2024, 25 janvier). Andrew Billing | Animal Rhetoric and Natural Science in Eighteenth-Century Liberal Political Writing | Routledge | 2024 . Animots. Consulté le 21 avril 2024, à l’adresse

Anne Simon

Anne Simon est Directrice de recherche au CNRS et Professeure à l'Ecole normale supérieure (Paris). Responsable du Centre international d'étude de la philosophie française–PhilOfr, elle anime les carnets PhilOfr, Animots, Pôle Proust et Prix Recherche au présent.

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