During the Siege of Paris (1870-1871,) political debate turned around the question of human needs: who legitimately needed meat, and who needed bread. One of the strongest themes in siege politics was the distinction between ‘useful’ and ‘useless’ residents. The former described brave, active citizen-defenders who contributed whatever strength or resources they had to the cause of national “defense to the last.” On the other hand, populations outside of the realm of the market, either excessively wealthy or poor, were ‘useless mouths’. Under siege, the republican government in Paris defined citizen’s needs according to their utility to the state.
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