Animal Republic: Social Biology and the Evolution of French Republicanism, 1870-1914


ACLS Fellowship Program




In the period of France's Third Republic, a wide ranging discourse about animal societies offered a particularly powerful means of redefining the ideological determinants of social morality in the midst of the Republic’s struggle against both the Catholic Church and the socialist left. Colonies of insect, flocks of birds, empathic dogs, and loquacious simians frequently served in this discourse to illustrate ideas about the morality of particular social and political configurations. To date, historical works on the human-animal analogy in the nineteenth century have focused almost exclusively on the ways in which this connection served apologists for liberal capitalism, exclusive nationalism, and imperialism. Little attention has been paid to those discourses that used this same analogy to illustrate and promote theories of society that favored cooperation and solidarity over competition and division. While the historical focus of this research is limited to the operation of social biological discourse in French republicanism, it ultimately contributes to a larger body of literature on the implications of the natural sciences in theories of human societies. By historicizing these implications, this project hopes to open the concept of social biology to a critical scrutiny of its political effects in both the past and present.