2009 volume 27(1) pages 12 – 28
doi:10.1068/dst3

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Sloterdijk P, 2009, "Rules for the Human Zoo: a response to the Letter on Humanism" Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 27(1) 12 – 28

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Rules for the Human Zoo: a response to the Letter on Humanism

Peter Sloterdijk (translated by Mary Varney Rorty)

Abstract. Rules for the Human Zoo, also known as the Elmauer Rede, originally appeared in 1999 in the newspaper Die Zeit and was subsequently published by Suhrkamp in 2001. In this response to Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism, Sloterdijk poses the basic question about the purpose of politics, governance, and civic solidarity. On the one hand, since Plato, politics has been conceived in part as concerned with the necessity of ‘taming’ humans into being good citizens. Sloterdijk thus follows Nietzsche and Heidegger in portraying humanism as one side in a “constant battle ... between bestializing and taming tendencies”. It is in the Hobbesian state of nature that humans are ‘wolves’ to each other; but who turns the wolves into friendly, loyal dogs? Humanism has claimed, according to Sloterdijk, that it is “reading the right books” which “calms the inner beast”. It is the great books, the “thick letters” from one great thinker to another, that provide the “model presented by the wise”, which enables “the care of man by man”. At the present, Sloterdijk argues, we appear to have been abandoned by the wise. It is no longer the humanist but the archivist who bothers to look up the old, thick letters. Humanism thus gives way to archivism.

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