Competition, Antagonism, and Enmity



The ruler of the island of San Lorenzo in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle conspires with his colleague, the founder of a new religion, to formally persecute, but never actually destroy, the sect and its leader, and by so doing to legitimate his own power. He is ‘sane enough to realise that without the holy man to war against, he himself would become meaningless.’3 The suggestion that enmity narratives play a more than peripheral or disruptive role in government and politics may have been most graphically presented in fiction. But it has not been neglected in work employing other kinds of imagination, in the explanation and justification of government, and in the study of the circumstances in which government operates and in which the societies which it rules cohere or disintegrate. Questions about the role of expressions of enmity in politics have many and varied resources on which to draw, and a range of existing answers with which to work. Although accounts of the role of enmity have lain at the periphery of political explanation and theory, they have been a powerful minor theme, in particular within two traditions of political enquiry: the examination of the character, cultivation, and conditions of collective and public political identity, and the consideration and justification of the powers of government. In each, considerations of enmity have played a minor but powerful role. And whilst for most political speculation, expressions of enmity are treated as either an interruption of or a threat to desirable social life, in some at least of the work that specifically addresses the character and role of enmity, its articulation is seen as being beneficial and stabilising.


Political Community Political Life Political Entity External Threat Physical Existence 
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Copyright information

© Rodney Barker 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The London School of Economics and Political ScienceUK

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