Antonio Cimino & Jussi Backman: Biopolitics In Ancient Thought
February 9, 2022, 12pm EDT
"I briefly outline the main question addressed in the volume Biopolitics and Ancient Thought (eds. Jussi Backman & Antonio Cimino; Oxford University Press, 2022), that is, whether and to what extent biopolitics also existed in antiquity. First, I introduce Michel Foucault’s concepts of biopower and biopolitics, and explain why he argued that biopolitics is specific to European modernity. Second, I concentrate on Giorgio Agamben’s revision of the Foucauldian narrative of power and clarify his ideas about the ancient origins of biopolitics. Third, I point out the pros and cons of Foucault’s and Agamben’s approaches to the history of biopolitics, and draw attention to recent debates about the relationship between biopolitics and antiquity."-Antonio Cimino
"Following up on the introductory talk by Antonio Cimino, I briefly discuss biopolitics as 1) a “political technology,” as governmental techniques aimed at controlling citizens as members of a biological population, with a special focus on their health, reproduction, and mortality, and involving genetic, sometimes even eugenic, considerations; and as 2) an ideal of political theory in which the ultimate aim and purpose of the political community and the political government is to enhance the biological life-process of the population, and which understands the civic “happiness” of the population in terms of a biologized “quality of life.” As many commentators have shown, it is evident that biopolitics in the first sense of a governmental technique existed in antiquity and was also an important facet of ancient and medieval political theory in Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas. However, I argue that biopolitics as a political ideal is a modern phenomenon that properly emerges with Thomas Hobbes. In ancient and medieval political theory, the ultimate purpose of the polity – supreme human happiness – was situated on a level above and beyond the human biological life-process."-Jussi Backman
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