On the Greek Origins of Biopolitics: A Reinterpretation of the History of Biopower, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

On the Greek Origins of Biopolitics

A Reinterpretation of the History of Biopower, 1st Edition

By Mika Ojakangas


108 pages

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pub: 2016-05-10
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This book explores the origins of western biopolitics in ancient Greek political thought. Ojakangas’s argues that the conception of politics as the regulation of the quantity and quality of population in the name of the security and happiness of the state and its inhabitants is as old as the western political thought itself: the politico-philosophical categories of classical thought, particularly those of Plato and Aristotle, were already biopolitical categories. In their books on politics, Plato and Aristotle do not only deal with all the central topics of biopolitics from the political point of view, but for them these topics are the very keystone of politics and the art of government.

Yet although the Western understanding of politics was already biopolitical in classical Greece, the book does not argue that the history of biopolitics would constitute a continuum from antiquity to the twentieth century. Instead Ojakangas argues that the birth of Christianity entailed a crisis of the classical biopolitical rationality, as the majority of classical biopolitical themes concerning the government of men and populations faded away or were outright rejected. It was not until the renaissance of the classical culture and literature – including the translation of Plato’s and Aristotles political works into Latin – that biopolitics became topical again in the West.

The book will be of great interest to scholars and students in the field of social and political studies, social and political theory, moral and political philosophy, IR theory, intellectual history, classical studies.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Foucault on Biopolitics

3. Aristotle’s Biopolitics of Population

4. Plato’s Biopolitical State Racism 1: The Republic

5. Plato’s Biopolitical State Racism 2: The Laws

6. Platonic-Aristotelian Biopolitical Justice

7. Decline of Biopolitics in Late Antiquity

8. Rebirth of Biopolitics in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

9. Conclusion

About the Author

Mika Ojakangas is Professor of Political Thought, Rhetoric and Culture in the Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

About the Series


The Series provides a forum for innovative and interdisciplinary work that engages with alternative critical, post-structural, feminist, postcolonial, psychoanalytic and cultural approaches to international relations and global politics. In our first 5 years we have published 60 volumes.

We aim to advance understanding of the key areas in which scholars working within broad critical post-structural traditions have chosen to make their interventions, and to present innovative analyses of important topics. Titles in the series engage with critical thinkers in philosophy, sociology, politics and other disciplines and provide situated historical, empirical and textual studies in international politics.


We are very happy to discuss your ideas at any stage of the project: just contact us for advice or proposal guidelines. Proposals should be submitted directly to the Series Editors:

‘As Michel Foucault has famously stated, "knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting" In this spirit The Edkins - Vaughan-Williams Interventions series solicits cutting edge, critical works that challenge mainstream understandings in international relations. It is the best place to contribute post disciplinary works that think rather than merely recognize and affirm the world recycled in IR's traditional geopolitical imaginary.’

Michael J. Shapiro, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, USA


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