This chapter takes off from Derrida’s examination of the relationship between the sovereign and the people in Early Modern political philosophy, notably Rousseau’s Social Contract and Rousseau’s interlocutors (Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes); and from Derrida’s analysis of servitude or slavery in Robinson Crusoe. It sets this in the context of other Enlightenment writings on slavery and abolition (e.g. returning to the Encyclopédie), and to representations of slavery in the Americas more generally, including the English and French versions of the Letters from an American Farmer by the founding father of American identity, Crèvecoeur. Like the savage, the slave exists on the borderline between what is set up as the human and what is set up as the animal. Supporters of slavery put forward the hypothesis of natural slaves who are (like) animals; abolitionists, including former slaves, focus on the bestialisation of human beings who are forced to be property as domestic animals are. Debates over the precise definition of a slave, and over the distinction between figural and literal slaves, also have a purchase on modern slavery and the difficulty of drafting legislation.
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