Gregory Claeys “The “Survival of the Fittest” and the Origins of Social Darwinism”

September 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Claeys, Gregory 2000. The “Survival of the Fittest” and the Origins of Social Darwinism. Journal of the History of Ideas, 61(2): 223–240.

The work which provoked Charles Darwin was T.R. Malthus’s Essay on Population (1798), which he later claimed first suggested to him the idea that “on the whole the best fitted live.” This idea Darwin would popularize through the notion of the “struggle for existence,” a phrase which he famously claimed to use as a “metaphor” but which meant simply “the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms.” (223)

[…] we know of course that Darwin was not the inventor of the term, “the survival of the fittest”. That honor belongs to Herbert Spencer, today best known as a founder of sociology, but the greatest polymath – and to Darwin, as well as Wallace, the greatest philosopher – of his day. Spencer coined the term in 1852 in an article on population theory, while suggesting that intraspecific struggle – largely provoked by the pressure of population growth – resulted in “progress”, with the survival of plant and animal species being dependent on their fertility. (227)

The most recent study of the subject, Mike Hawkins’s Social Darwinism and European and American Thought 1860-1945, isolates four main assumptions as composing the Social Darwinist world-view: First, biological laws govern the whole of organic nature, including humans; second, the pressure of population growth on resources generates a struggle for existence among organisms; third, physical and mental traits confer an advantage on their possessors in this struggle, or in sexual competition, which advantages can, through inheritance, spread through the population; and last, the cumulative effects of selection and inheritance over time account for the emergence of new species and the elimination of others. (228)

What unites the various forms of Social Darwinism is not a specific political stance but the application of the idea of evolution to a higher social type on the basis of social competition between “fit” and “unfit” groups and individuals, whose “fitness” or “value” to society can be defined in a number of ways. (229)

In Malthus, Original Sin, in the form of sexual desire, thus returns with a vengeance, pushing population growth relentlessly onwards unless “positive checks” like war and misery curtail it. […] Society is not fashioned by rational, creative designs but always operates within constraints imposed by the lower, animal passions. (230)

[Malthus, Essay, 1803 edition]: “A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders, if he does not work upon the compassion of some of her guests. If these guests get up and make room for him, other intruders immediately appear demanding the same favour. The report of a provision for all that come, fills the hall with numerous claimants. The order and harmony of the feast is disturbed, the plenty that before reigned is changed into scarcity; and the happiness of the guests is destroyed by the spectacle of misery and dependence in every part of the hall. (230)

Malthus viewed society in terms of an organic metaphor in which similar laws governed both animal and human worlds. He strongly distinguished between people who benefitted society (as defined in terms of productivity) and those who did not, and he defined rights as derived solely from productivity, competition-as-natural-selection dictated the survival of the “fittest”, and the starvation of the less successful, unless other factors intervened. We do not, of course, have a theory of inherited characteristics in which this “fitness” is transmitted, but we do very nearly have the symbolic imagery, so suitable to an age that prized usefulness above all else, in which such a concept functioned not as science, but as social theory. (232)

Political economy provided a technical vocabulary and a model for showing how Malthusian ideas of struggle could be understood in terms of social class and economic competition. It is no exaggeration to assert, moreover, that the triumphal conquests of the new science effected a near-seismic shift in perceptions about nations and the international order as well as classes and individuals within nations. (234)

I have contended so far that Darwin’s metaphorical application of the “survival of the fittest” to society was in fact virtually a commonplace by 1859. Malthusianism and political economy in particular created a world-view in which the first three of these components were prominent – mankind being governed by natural laws shared by animals, in a world in which scarce resources were acquired through greater mental and physical effort (or in the case of thrift, abstinence from present pleasures), and in which the most “fit”, “desirable” or “valuable” members of society, the most “useful” or productive, survived or ought to survive. (235)

Yet “Social Darwinism” is not entirely a misnomer. What, then, was novel about, and what remains distinctly “Darwinian” about, Social Darwinism? Four theses suggest themselves.

1) […] what was new in the 1850s (at least at the popular level) was the notion that inherited characteristics, rather than individual and collective moral effort and education, cumulatively played a distinctive role in the character of a people. But this view can of course also be associated with Spencer’s idea of the improvement of type. Malthus had formulated the struggle for existence. Darwin, Wallace, and Spencer added that this struggle improved species as well as generated new species via the hereditary transmission of traits. (236)

2) […] the application of ideas of inherited characteristics to society not only came from sources other than Darwin, but Darwin himself, in the years between the Origin of Species (1859) and the Descent of Man (1871) reformulated his ideas considerably. The Origin was not of course concerned with human, much less social, evolution; nor were its social implications necessarily optimistic. Indeed, as soon as Darwin’s ideas were applied to society, it was widely recognized that if the criterion of “fitness” was fecundity, it was the poorer and most degraded classes, with the largest families, who seemed most likely to dictate the future course of human evolution. By the mid 1860s Darwin was anxious to resist this conclusion. Here he turned for assistance to Wallace’s 1864 research on the tendency of natural selection to promote human intelligence. […] In the mid-1860s Darwin himself became in effect a Social Darwinist, and came increasingly to hope that the optimal outcome of human natural selection would be the triumph of “the intellectual and moral” races over the “lower and more degraded ones.” (236, 237)

3) […] we see that a complex language of race played a pivotal role in this transition. In the Origin Darwin had used the term race very loosely, to denote species in general. Although the language of race in the Descent is overlaid almost exactly on an earlier, familiar language of savagery and civility, which was itself central to the existing justification of imperial expansion, Darwin here presumes that the “civilised races … encroach on and replace” the savage, with the “lower races” being displaced through the accumulation of capital and the growth of the arts. (237)

4) […] what was most distinctive about much (though not all) Social Darwinism was its concern not with “race” as such in the loose sense of a term of general classification but with a new definition of race directly attached to skin color, in which ideas of racial hierarchy and supremacy were wedded to earlier notions of “fitness”. Race was now assumed to be a determinate, independent factor in human evolution. (238)


James G. Lennox “Darwin Was a Teleologist”

August 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Lennox, James G. 1993. Darwin Was a Teleologist. Biology and Philosophy 8: 409-421.

The conclusion that Darwin was not a teleologist follows inexorably from two premises: (i) The only “non-trivial” teleological explanations are those which appeal to divine design or an internal vital force; (ii) Darwinian selection explanations appeal to neither. (410)

Selection explanations are inherently teleological, in the sense that a value consequence (Darwin most often uses the term ‘advantage’) of a trait explains its increase, or presence, in a population. (410)

[…] Darwin essentially re-invented teleology. Encouraged by many close followers to drop the term ‘natural selection’, Darwin steadfastly refused. He saw, better than his followers, that it could not easily be dropped. In the context of viewing variation as the provision of a random set of alternatives, a mechanism for selecting among them is crucial. The concept of selection permits the extension of the teleology of domestic breeding into the natural domain, without the need of conscious design. As in domestic selection, the good served by a variation continues to be causally relevant to its increasing frequency, or continued presence, in a population – but the causal mechanism, and the locus of goodness, shifts. (417)

Kalevi Kull “Adaptive Evolution without Natural Selection”

August 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Kull, Kalevi 2014. Adaptive Evolution without Natural Selection. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 112(2): 287-294.

[…] to be certain that we do have here an evolutionary mechanism that is nonneo-Darwinian, it is necessary to demonstrate that a phenotypic change can become genetically fixed via random genetic changes and without differential reproduction, i.e. without natural selection, in the strict sense. This is the main point of the current article. (288)

Adaptation means making something suitable for a use, or becoming adjusted to something – ‘a feature for a particular utility’ (Gould, 2002: 1230). Turning a non-suitable situation into a suitable (adaptive) one means solving a certain problem that an organism is facing. Finding a suitable solution in the situation of indeterminacy – this is what an adaptation process does. Thus, we can state that adaptation is primarily a qualitative change or, as a product of this process, a qualitative feature. We call a change adaptive if it solves some problem a living being faces, i.e. if it turns certain incompatibility into a compatibility. (288)

When speaking about adaptation, biologists almost always had in mind one or other concrete functional relationship. These functional relationships, being local and concrete, do not have any common quantitative measure – and they really cannot have such, due to their qualitative relational nature. (288)

Adaptation is a meaningful relation for a living system, which is defined independently from the process of evolution. An adaptation is evolutionary only if it is irreversible, as evolution is defined as an irreversible transformation, in concordance with Dollo’s rule. (288)

natural selection is the differential reproduction of genotypes. ‘Natural selection [. . .] is the differential and nonrandom reproduction of different alternative alleles in a population’ (Grant, 1985: 88); ‘population genetics and modern evolutionary theory equate natural selection with differential reproduction of alternative forms of genes, genotypes, or other reproducible units’ (Grant, 1985: 91). Thus, natural selection is the gradual, non-random process by which genetically inherited traits (alleles) become either more or less common in a population due to non-random differences in the effective reproductive rate of bearers of these genetic traits. (289)

  1. Non-random mutations, genetic change first. This was the view of evolution espoused by T. H. Morgan and some other mutationists. Despite many abandoning this view as a result of the Modern Synthesis of the 1930s, it did not disappear completely. Even more, there exist some recent claims about the existence of this mechanism. For instance, J. A. Shapiro (2011: 143) writes: ‘Cells are built to evolve; they have the ability to alter their hereditary characteristics rapidly through well-described natural genetic engineering [. . .]’.
  2. Non-random mutations, epigenetic change (learning) first. [The term ‘learning’ is appropriate here in the general sense, if to define learning as an adaptive plastic change.] This mechanism can be identified as a Lamarckian theory. J. B. Lamarck himself, of course, could not speak directly about mutations due to the level of knowledge at his time, but this is the way the Lamarckian approach – inheritance of acquired characters – has usually been interpreted in the later biological literature (e.g. as explained by Mayr, 1997 [1976]: 314).
  3. Random mutations, genetic change first. This is the common neo-Darwinian mechanism, the first event being a random genetic change, followed by a new phenotype and natural selection.
  4. Random mutations, epigenetic change (learning) first. According to the semiotic mechanism described, the first event in an evolutionary transformation is a plastic change (change of phenotype), followed by the stochastic genetic changes. This mechanism can be identified with organic selection (as thought of by Baldwin, 1896; Lloyd Morgan, 1896; Osborn, 1897; see
    also Kull, 1993; Hoffmeyer & Kull, 2003; Sánchez & Loredo, 2007), with the addition that differential reproduction may even be unnecessary for this mechanism in its pure form. (292)

(Type III, as above) Evolution is of primary importance. Everything in life is a result of evolution and is based on evolution. (This can be illustrated by Dobzhansky’s dictum: Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.) The dominant way of explaining how living systems work is through history, i.e. diachronically.
(Type IV) Evolution is of secondary importance. Evolution is not necessary for life to function. Life simply cannot avoid evolution; evolution is rather a side-effect of living processes. (We may use a paraphrase of the dictum above: Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of sign relations, or meanings and functioning.) The primary way to explain the workings of living systems is via the meanings, i.e. synchronically. (293)

Michel Foucault “Labour, Life, Language”

August 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Foucault, Michel 2002. The Order of Things. An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London; New York: Routledge.

  1. Labour, Life, Language

Thus, European culture is inventing for itself a depth in which what matters is no longer identities, distinctive characters, permanent tables with all their possible paths and routes, but great hidden forces developed on the basis of their primitive and inaccessible nucleus, origin, causality, and history. From now on things will be represented only from the depths of this density withdrawn into itself, perhaps blurred and darkened by obscurity, but bound tightly to themselves, assembled or divided, inescapably grouped by the vigour that is hidden down below, in those depths. Visible forms, their connections, the blank spaces that isolate them and surround their outlines – all these will now be presented to our gaze only in an already composed state, already articulated in that nether darkness that is fomenting them with time. (274)


When we consider the organ in relation to its function, we see, therefore, the emergence of ‘resemblances’ where there is no ‘identical’ element; a resemblance that is constituted by the transition of the function into evident invisibility. It matters little, after all, that gills and lungs may have a few variables of form, magnitude, or number in common: they resemble one another because they are two varieties of that non-existent, abstract, unreal, unassignable organ, absent from all describable species, yet present in the animal kingdom in its entirety, which serves for respiration in general. (288)

When the Same and the Other both belong to a single space, there natural history; something like biology becomes possible when this unity of level begins to break up, and when differences stand out against the background of an identity that is deeper and, as it were, more serious than that unity. (288-289)

Animal species differ at their peripheries, and resemble each other at their centres; they are connected by the inaccessible, and separated by the apparent. Their generality lies in that which is essential to their life; their singularity in that which is most accessory to it. […] for multiplicity is apparent and unity is hidden. In short, living species ‘escape’ from the teeming profusion of individuals and species; they can be classified only because they are alive and on the basis of what they conceal. (291)

It is true that the Classical space, as we have seen, did not exclude the possibility of development, but that development did no more than provide a means of traversing the discreetly preordained table of possible variations. The breaking up of that space made it possible to reveal a historicity proper to life itself: that of its maintenance in its conditions of existence. Cuvier’s ‘fixism’, as the analysis of such a maintenance, was the earliest mode of reflecting upon that historicity, when it first emerged in Western knowledge. Historicity, then, has now been introduced into nature – or rather into the realm of living beings; but it exists there as much more than a probable form of succession; it constitutes a sort of fundamental mode of being. (300)

The plant held sway on the frontiers of movement and immobility, of the sentient and the non-sentient; whereas the animal maintains its existence on the frontiers of life and death. Death besieges it on all sides; furthermore, it threatens it also from within, for only the organism can die, and it is from the depth of their lives that death overtakes living beings. Hence, no doubt, the ambiguous values assumed by animality towards the end of the eighteenth century: the animal appears as the bearer of that death to which it is, at the same time, subjected; it contains a perpetual devouring of life by life. It belongs to nature only at the price of containing within itself a nucleus of anti-nature. Transferring its most secret essence from the vegetable to the animal kingdom, life has left the tabulated space of order and become wild once more. The same movement that dooms it to death reveals it as murderous. It kills because it lives. Nature can no longer be good. (302)

In relation to life, beings are no more than transitory figures, and the being that they maintain, during the brief period of their existence, is no more than their presumption, their will to survive. And so, for knowledge, the being of things is an illusion, a veil that must be torn aside in order to reveal the mute and invisible violence that is devouring them in the darkness. (303)

Jeremy Walker & Melinda Cooper “Genealogies of Resilience”

August 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Walker, Jeremy; Cooper, Melinda 2011. Genealogies of Resilience: From systems ecology to the political economy of crisis adaptation. Security Dialogue 42(2): 143–160.

Engineering resilience, associated with the reigning mathematical ecology (Odum, 1969; Lewontin, 1969; May, 1973), is an abstract variable, simply the time (t) it takes a system to return to a stable maximum (or equilibrium position) after a disturbance. The return is simply assumed, and the equilibrium state is taken as equivalent to longterm persistence. What Holling seeks to define, instead, is a complex notion of resilience that can account for the ability of an ecosystem to remain cohesive even while undergoing extreme perturbations. If stability refers to the familiar notion of a return to equilibrium, ecological resilience designates the complex biotic interactions that determine ‘the persistence of relationships within a system’; thus, resilience is ‘a measure of the ability of these systems to absorb changes of state variables, driving variables, and parameters, and still persist’ (Holling, 1973: 17). (146)

For Holling, the equilibrium approach was dangerous in its abstraction: glossing over the unknowably complex interdependencies of specific landscapes pressed into the conditions of maximized yield, it accelerated the process of fragilization, potentially leading to the irreversible loss of biodiversity. The urgent focus for the conservation manager in a significantly humanized world should not be the equilibrium of a pristine ecosystem, but rather
the resilience of biotic communities exposed to severe economic pressures. (146)

Under the sign of resilience, this is an approach to risk management that foregrounds the limits to predictive knowledge and insists on the prevalence of the unexpected, seeking to ‘absorb and accommodate future events in whatever unexpected form they may take’. (147)

What unites these diverse systems and allows Holling to propose a common theorization of their dynamics is the proposition that each can be defined by a concept of ‘capital’ – this capital, be it financial, organizational or biophysical, is ‘the inherent potential of a system that is available for change, since that potential determines the range of future options possible’ (Holling, 2001: 393). In short, Holling seeks to independently theorize an abstract dynamics of capital accumulation, one not predicated on the progressive temporality of classical political economy but rather on the inherent crisis tendencies of complex adaptive systems. (147)

Hayek’s critique of Keynesian and neoclassical equilibrium theories goes well beyond the political sphere. What is at stake for him is no less than a thorough rethinking of epistemology itself, informed at least implicitly by the insights of his masterwork in neuropsychology, The Sensory Order (Hayek, 1952). As a counter-argument to the predictive fantasies he sees as integral to Keynesian economics, Hayek espouses an epistemology of limited knowledge and uncertain futures. ‘I confess that I prefer true but imperfect knowledge, even if it leaves much indetermined and unpredictable, to a pretence of exact knowledge that is likely to be false’ (Hayek, 1974). (149)

Social systems, writes Hayek (1974), are like the biological systems newly defined by scientists as complex, adaptive and non-linear. They are not subject to the laws of prediction and quantification that govern the simple physical systems of classical mechanics. His texts of the later 1970s and 1980s deploy an approach to complex adaptive systems that is formally very similar to Holling’s but much more radical in its conflation of the financial, social and biological spheres. What Hayek ends up endorsing is a complex systems ontology, one whose unpredictable instantiation (social, economic or natural) cannot detract from the essential unity of all systems. (150)

Like all ontologies, Hayek’s complexity turn generates a number of normative consequences. First, it assumes that time’s arrow moves ever in the direction of greater complexity, and evolution occurs spontaneously in far-from-equilibrium conditions. Perturbations of greater or lesser force are not only inevitable; they are also necessary to the creativity of organized complexity. Here we see in essence the anti-environmentalism of the neoliberal think-tanks when they insist that social and ecological systems will evolve most productively once liberated from the counter-evolutionary control of the interventionist state. (150)

On a purely ontological level, Hayek places the immanent laws of market freedom prior to those of the state or any other transcendental law-making power. (150)

During the last decade, ‘resilience’ has become ubiquitous as an operational strategy of emergency preparedness, crisis response and national security. Although by no means absent prior to 2001 or restricted to the North American prosecution of the ‘war on terror’, the term has proliferated since the formation of the US Department of Homeland Security and the publication of its National Strategy for Homeland Security in 2002. The revised National Strategy, issued in 2007, brings together the structural resilience of ‘critical infrastructures’ and the ‘operational resilience’ of emergency response organizations, government institutions and private enterprise in the face of crisis. The strategy is notable for its insistence that none of the threats facing these structures are fully preventable, and proposes, in lieu of prevention, the notion of ‘resilience’ as a default condition of emergency response (US Department of Homeland Security, 2007: 31). Identifying ‘resilience’ as the essence of a ‘culture of preparedness’, it also situates its recommendations within a general recognition of the limits to full preparation. (152-153)

The National Strategy for Homeland Security of 2007 is notable not only because it reasserts the importance of ‘resilience’ as both a strategic and a psychological imperative of national preparedness, but also because it more fully incorporates the ecosystemic and financial dimension of crisis into its taxonomy of contingencies. Between the 2002 and 2007 editions of the National Strategy for Homeland Security, Hurricane Katrina had intervened, further blurring the cognitive distinctions between the unpredictable terrorist threat, financial crisis and environmental disaster. The 2007 National Strategy for Homeland Security combines an almost obsessive focus on the necessity of preparedness with the disarming recognition that anticipation and prevention of all future contingencies is a logical impossibility. Within this optic, preparedness would seem to demand the generic ability to adapt to unknowable contingencies rather than actual prevention or indeed adaptation to future events of known probability. (153)

What is called for instead is a ‘culture’ of resilience that turns crisis response into a strategy of permanent, open-ended responsiveness, integrating emergency preparedness into the infrastructures of everyday life and the psychology of citizens. It is notable, in effect, that the culture of preparedness envisaged by the Department of Homeland Security sees no end point to emergency. The strategy of resilience replaces the short-term relief effort – with its aim of restoring the status quo ante through post-catastrophe reconstruction – with a call to permanent adaptability in and through crisis. What is resilience, after all, if not the acceptance of disequilibrium itself as a principle of organization? (154)

There is a strong selective dimension to the emerging consensus on resilient growth, one that both reiterates and modifies the Darwinian law of natural selection. Relying as it does on the nonequilibrium dynamics of complex systems theory, what the resilience perspective demands is not so much progressive adaptation to a continually reinvented norm as permanent adaptability to extremes of turbulence. (156)

Roberto Esposito “Community, Immunity, Biopolitics”

August 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Esposito, Roberto 2013. Community, Immunity, Biopolitics. Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 18(3): 83-90.

In the late 1980s in France and Italy, a discourse on the concept of community took form that was radically deconstructive toward the way the concept-term had been used in twentieth-century philosophy as a whole – first by the German organicist sociology on Gemeinschaft (community), then by the various ethics of communication, and finally, by American neocommunitarianism. Despite significant differences, what linked these three conceptions was a tendency – which could be defined as metaphysical – to conceive of community in a substantialist, subjective sense. Community was understood as a substance that connected certain individuals to each other through the sharing of a common identity. Based on this understanding, community seemed to be conceptually linked to the figure of the “proper”: whether it was a matter of appropriating what is in common or communicating what is proper, the community was still defined by a mutual belonging. What its members had in common was what was proper to them – that of being proprietors of their commonality. (83)

If communitas is what binds its members in a commitment of giving from one to the other, immunitas, by contrast, is what unburdens from this burden, what exonerates from this responsibility. In the same way that community refers to something general and open, immunity – or immunization – refers to the privileged particularity of a situation that is defined by being an exception to a common condition. (84)

By overlaying the legal and medical semantic fields, one may well conclude that if community breaks down the barriers of individual identity, immunity is the way to rebuild them, in defensive and offensive forms, against any external element that threatens it. (85)

[…] the type of politics that we are speaking about in this case can only be a form of biopolitics. Since the phenomenon of immunity is inscribed precisely at the point of intersection between law and biology, between medical procedure and legal protection, it is clear that the politics that it gives rise to, in the form of action or reaction, must be in direct relationship with biological life. (85)

This constitutive nexus is what I have sought to identify in the paradigm of immunization. In its dual appearance in the legal and biological realms, this paradigm is the exact point of tangency between the spheres of life and politics. This is where the possibility arises of filling the gap in principle between the two extreme interpretations of biopolitics – between its deadly version and its euphoric version. Instead of two opposing, irreconcilable ways of understanding the category, they constitute two internal possibilities, in a horizon that is unified precisely by the bivalent character of the immune dispositif, which is both positive and negative, protective and destructive. (86)

Roberto Esposito “The Dispositif of the Person”

August 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Esposito, Roberto 2012. The Dispositif of the Person. Law, Culture and the Humanities 8: 17-30.

The concept of person functions as the crucial passage through which a biological material lacking in meaning becomes something intangible. Only a life that has crossed beforehand through the symbolic door of the person is believed to be sacred or is to be valued in terms of its qualities since only life is able to produce the proper credentials of a person. (18)

[…] the notion of person isn’t able to join together the epochal hiatus between life and rights, between nomos and bios, since it is the notion of person itself that produces it. (19)

When we move, however, from the doubled nature of Christ to what makes man a totality composed of soul and body, the qualitative difference between the two elements becomes decisive. Rather than being equal, these elements are actualized in an ordering [disposizione] or more precisely in a dispositif that layers or superimposes one under the other. Such an hierarchic effect, which is quite clear in Saint Augustine, extends to all Christian doctrine so that there cannot be the least doubt: although the body isn’t in itself something evil (because it too is a divine creation), nevertheless it constitutes that part of man which is animal. (20-21)

Here too in a formulation unsurpassed in its dogmatic clarity, the Christian idea of person is tethered to a unity that isn’t only constructed from a doubleness, but is put together in such a way that one of its elements is subordinated to another, separating it from God. Yet the distancing from God also means diminishing or degrading humanity since humanity only finds its ultimate truth in relation to the Creator. This explains how Saint Augustine can describe the necessity of meeting man’s bodily needs as an ‘‘illness’’ (De Trinitate, XI, 1,1) in the sense that this part isn’t properly human in man, or how Augustine can say that these needs make up the impersonal part of the person. (21)

Man is a person if and only if he masters the more properly animal part of his nature. He is also animal but only so as to be able to subject himself to that part which has received the charisma of person as a gift. (22)

On the one hand, person is the more general category since it encompasses the entire human species. On the other hand, it is the prism through which the human species is separated in the hierarchical division between types defined precisely by their constitutive difference. Such a characterization doesn’t have meaning outside of the ius, which is to say that the homines take on the guise of personae only de iure (and therefore are situated in distinct categories) is further proof of the performative power of law [diritto] in general and of the notion of person in particular. It is thanks to the category of person that human beings are unified in the form of their separation. (22)

Outside of this differential logic, a right would never exist as such, but instead would merely constitute a juridically irrelevant given; and indeed it wouldn’t even be spoken of as such. Consider in this regard the irresolvable antinomy of so-called natural rights, the aporia of defining an artifice as natural or a fact of nature as artificial. (23)

What is striking here, even more than the absolute clarity of the distinctions, are the zones of indistinction and transition which the first distinctions give rise to in their continual movement. If the servile res, those homines who are reduced to strumentum vocale, are in some way contained within the most generalized form of the person, this means that the category of person encompasses all the intermediate stages of the person over time; of the potential person as well as the semi-person up to and including the non-person. It also indicates that the person not only includes its own proper negative within it, but constantly reproduces the negative.8 Seen from this perspective, the mechanism of depersonalization is the reverse of personalization and vice-versa. It isn’t possible to personalize someone without depersonalizing or reifying others, without pushing someone over into the indefinite space that opens like a kind a trap door below the person. Silhouetted against the moving backdrop of the person looms the inert figure of the thing. (24)

The person doesn’t coincide with the body in which it inheres, just as the mask is never completely one with the actor’s face. In this case as well the element that most strongly characterizes the “machine” of the person is to be traced in the subtle interval that always differentiates it from the character [personaggio] that acts, regardless of the qualities of the actor. (25)

We should also note that from the end of the 18th century on, men are declared equal (at least in principle) as subjects of law [diritto]. Still the formal separation of different typologies of individuals, driven out from the domain of species, is transposed, so to speak within the single individual, and which is doubled across two different and layered spheres: one capable of reason and will and therefore fully human and the other reduced to biology, practically assimilated to the animal. While the first, called person, is considered to be the center of juridical imputation, the second, coinciding with the body, constitutes on the one hand the required layer and on the other hand a piece of property akin to an internal slave. (25)