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In ancient Greek philosophy, the world of animal is frequently used in a metaphorical way. Plato in the Statesman, a dialogue posterior to The Republic, draws a parallel between the shepherd minding his flock and the philosopher-king in charge of the destiny of the city. Aristotle, as a naturalist, doesn’t restrict his vision to agro-pastoral activities but describes and tries to interpret the behaviour of animals in general and social animals in particular. His research leads him to categorise the human being in a small niche which he names “political animals,” among these: bees, wasps, ants, cranes... In The Politics, he doesn’t hesitate to place “man” and “bee” on an equal footing. Both approaches may be seen in retrospect very close to various reflections in the field of political philosophy. The pastoral vision suggested by Plato in the Statesman is considered today by Peter Sloterdijk as a major component of the contemporary political unconscious. Variations on the animal metaphor have also been proposed by George Orwell and some political thinkers from the pre-industrial era as Bernard de Mandeville or the Pastor Joseph Townsend could also be classified in a post-platonic context. For various reasons, it is more difficult to find intellectual heirs to Aristotelian political theories, but it could be useful to search outside political philosophy. Looking at naturalists, one may for instance confront the way the French entomologist Louis Bouvier envisions at the start of past century the swarm in Le Communisme chez les insectes with Bernard de Mandeville’s consideration of individualistic, sensual and profit minded insects.

Alain Tonnet
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