Biopolitics in the Political Thought of Classical Greece
Ojakangas, M. (2017). Biopolitics in the Political Thought of Classical Greece. In S. Prozorov, & S. Rentea (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Biopolitics (pp. 23-35). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315612751-2
© Routledge, 2016. This is a final draft version of an article whose final and definitive form has been published by Routledge. Published in this repository with the kind permission of the publisher.
This article deals with biopolitics in classical Greek thought. Its aim is to demonstrate that biopolitics is not a distinctively modern phenomenon. It is as old a phenomenon as western political thought itself. Focusing on Aristotle’s Politics as well as Plato’s Republic and Laws, I argue that the politico-philosophical categories of classical thought were already biopolitical categories. In their books on politics, Plato and Aristotle do not only deal with all the central topics of biopolitics (sexual intercourse, marriage, pregnancy, childcare, public health, education, population, and so forth) from the political point of view but for them these topics are the very keystone of politics and the art of government. At issue is not only a politics for which ‘the idea of governing people’ (Foucault 2007, 122) is the leading idea but also a politics for which the question how ‘to organize life’ (Polit. 307e) is the most important question. This politics is not characterized by what Foucault calls the juridicoinstitutional model of politics revolving around laws, legal subjects, contracts, liberties, obligations, rights, and duties. Platonic and Aristotelian politics concern the technologies of power over the natural life of the ‘tame animals’ (Leg. 6.766a) called human beings. By focusing primarily on the quantity and the quality of population (Pol. 7.1326a5-7) they aim at controlling and regulating the domain of the living (en tois zôois) (Polit. 261c-d) in ...
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