Homo homini lupus, man is a wolf to man, remains one of the most well-known and often quoted dictums in the tradition of political theory. Political theorists take this phrase by Thomas Hobbes in the Epistle Dedicatory of De Cive to illustrate the brutish, anarchical and violent condition of man in the natural condition, prior to the establishment of a civil state. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I suggest that this brief passage directs our attention to lycanthropy: an acute melancholic syndrome which 17th century physiologists thought could turn humans into animals. I suggest that Hobbes’s political theory stands for a therapeutic intervention to curb the lycanthropic tendencies of his time. Hobbes’s shock therapy implies leaving animality behind, as non-political, and securing human politicality in an artificial commonwealth. However, Hobbes’s intervention will be insufficient, as the animality left behind, excluded from the realm of politics, will return reinstating the symptoms of lycanthropy.
Hobbes and Wolf-Man: Melancholy and Animality in Modern Sovereignty,
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