Manhunts: A Philosophical History

Grégoire Chamayou
Translated By Steven Rendall
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Touching on issues of power, authority, and domination,Manhuntstakes 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,Manhuntsis an in-depth consideration of the dynamics of an age-old form of violence.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4225-4
    Subjects: Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. 1-3)

    In the fifteenth century, a very special kind of hunt is said to have taken place in France on the grounds of the royal chateau of Amboise. King Louis XI, who had been offered “the dreadful pleasure of a manhunt,” set out in pursuit of a convict wearing the “hide of a freshly killed stag.” Released on the grounds and quickly caught by the royal pack of hounds, the man was torn to pieces by the dogs.” ¹

    To write a history of manhunts is to write one fragment of a long history of violence on the part of the...

  4. CHAPTER 1 The Hunt for Bipedal Cattle
    (pp. 4-10)

    Greek philosophy contains a warning that political thought has not taken seriously enough, despite the ancients’ insistence on it: the masters’ power is based on the violent act of capturing their subjects. Domination presupposes a kind of manhunt. This book takes this fundamental thesis as its starting point and examines its implications from the point of view of the dominated, the prey. The goal is to write a history and a philosophy of hunting powers and their technologies of capture.

    For the Greeks, the manhunt is not only a metaphor of the play of seduction, hunting for lovers, or sophistical...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Nimrod, or Cynegetic Sovereignty
    (pp. 11-18)

    In Genesis we find the story of Nimrod, the son of Chus, the grandson of Cham, the founder of Babel and the world’s first king: “He was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord.”¹ This very short passage has given rise to long interpretations.

    In what sense is Nimrod said to be ahunter? The commentary in theZoharexplains: “By the wordhunterthe scripture does not designate a hunter of animals, but a hunter of men.”² an exegete adds: “If Nimrod was a hunter properly so called, this...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Diseased Sheep and Wolf-Men
    (pp. 19-28)

    In 1329, Simon Roland of Carcassonne, suspected of being still “infected with heretical errors that have been so often condemned by the authority of the popes,” was brought to trial before the Inquisition. The phrases he heard when he was sentenced had no doubt been uttered by his judges dozens of times before: “We, Pilfort, bishop of Pamiers by the grace of God, . . . fearing that, like a diseased sheep, you might infect the other sheep in the flock, . . . declare you an obstinate heretic, and as such we deliver you to the secular authorities.”¹


  7. CHAPTER 4 Hunting Indians
    (pp. 29-42)

    The Spanish chronicle recounts the exploits of Leoncico, the faithful companion of the conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa: “Leoncico, from the dog Becerrico, of the island of St Juan, and no less famous than his parent.”¹ Having a right to the same portion of the booty as his human comrades, he brought his master more than two thousand gold pesos. Oviedo describes his ruddy coat and his robust body, marked with countless scars received in combat: “When the Spaniards were taking or pursuing the Indians, on loosing this animal, and saying, ‘There he is—seek him,’ he would commence the...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Hunting Black Skins
    (pp. 43-56)

    In 1440, the Portuguese navigator Antoine Gonzalez was sent to the coasts of Guinea “to load his ship with seal-skins.”¹ One day when he had landed with ten of his men, he “discovered a naked man who was carrying two spears and leading a camel; he was a Moor who took fright and let himself be captured without resisting.”² On his way back to the ship, the captain found other natives along the way, including a woman, whom he seized. These two captives were probably “the first inhabitants of this coast who fell into the hands of the Portuguese.”³ Encouraged...

  9. CHAPTER 6 The Dialectic of the Hunter and the Hunted
    (pp. 57-77)

    In the fifteenth century, in hisChronicle of Guinea, Gomes Eanes de Zurara tells of a raid the Portuguese made on a village on the coasts of Africa: “Shouting ‘Santiago! St. George! Portugal!’ they fell on them and killed and captured as many as they could. Then you might have seen mothers abandon their children and husbands abandon their wives, each trying to flee as quickly as possible. Some of them drowned themselves in the sea, while others sought refuge in their huts, and still others hid their children under the coastal grasses, seeking in that way to protect them...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Hunting the Poor
    (pp. 78-86)

    The founding act of police hunting, the inaugural scene of the roundup power that was to become that of modern policing, is the immense hunt for the poor, idle people, and vagabonds that was launched in Europe in the seventeenth century—first with the Poor Laws of Elizabethan England, and then in 1656 in France, with the creation of the General Hospital, where “the poor were to be interned and fed.” In doing so, royal power chose to solve the problem of poverty by the massive incarceration of the poor. Of course, in order to intern them, they had first...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Police Hunts
    (pp. 87-98)

    In 1907, an international competition for police dogs was held in Rouen. The police dog was then a recent invention. First used in Belgium and then in Germany, it was publicly presented in France on this occasion:

    This city’s central police commissioner, complaining about the growing number of dangerous vagabonds to his German and Swiss colleagues who had gathered to participate in this competition, . . . the foreign police officers proposed an experiment. They organized a hunt under the direction of the French magistrate to which they brought their champion dogs. In a short time the vagabonds, terrified and...

  12. CHAPTER 9 The Hunting Pack and Lynching
    (pp. 99-108)

    Up to this point, I have discussed mainly manhunts conducted at the behest of identifiable and organized powers: the government of the masters, pastoral power, monarchical sovereignty, colonial powers, slave-owner power, the state apparatus. But the history of cynegetic power cannot be reduced to these cases. There are also situations in which, independent of the impetus provided by a central power, a pack sometimes assembles in spite of itself, sometimes even against itself, for a manhunt.

    For there to be a pack, individuals have to gather together. A pack is a collective being that draws its strength from numbers. Once...

  13. CHAPTER 10 Hunting Foreigners
    (pp. 109-119)

    On 16 August 1893, at a work site in the region of Aigues-Mortes in southern France, an Italian worker dipped his dirty shirt in a reservoir of water intended for drinking. A fight between French and Italian workers resulted. But things did not stop there: “The news of this attack soon spread to the various work sites. . . . The workers banded together. Armed with shovel handles, around 4 a.m. they set out on a veritable manhunt.”¹ The authorities decided to evacuate the Italian workers: “The French followed our column, throwing stones and shouting,

    “Death to the Italians! Go...

  14. CHAPTER 11 Hunting Jews
    (pp. 120-133)

    In 1320, the Pastoureaux¹ launched their second crusade in Languedoc. “Continuing to wage war and to hunt down Jews,”² they entered Toulouse. A resident, Baruch l’Allemand, described the event:

    These Pastoureaux and the crowd then invaded the Jewish quarter. I was in my room, studying and writing, when these people came to my house and began to shout: “Death, death, get baptized or we’ll kill you immediately.” Seeing the fury of this crowd, and seeing that they were killing before my eyes other Jews who refused to be baptized, I replied that I would prefer that to being killed. They...

  15. CHAPTER 12 Hunting Illegals
    (pp. 134-148)

    In Genesis, Cain is doomed to wander the Earth. This exile makes him a universal prey: “Whoever finds me will slay me.” To remedy this dangerous vulnerability, God marks him with a protective sign: “The Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him.”² What was this sign? The text does not tell us, and interpretations differ. For some commentators, it was nothing other than the fear that agitated Cain’s body, “the trembling of his members that made him different and stand out.”³ But whatever it was, this mark was of transcendental origin. What...

    (pp. 149-154)

    A man is running. Armed pursuers are chasing him. The scene has been repeated ever since a barbarian was caught at the gates of an ancient city, right down to that shadowy figure disappearing down the corridor in a Parisian metro station. Beneath the apparent similarity of the situations are concealed, however, very different forms of power.

    There are cynegetic powers, ones that are exercised by tracking and capturing their subjects. This book outlines the history of their changing morphology. Whereas an author like René Girard postulates a kind of invariant of violence in human societies that is for him...

    (pp. 155-156)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 157-184)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 185-191)