A1 Journal article (refereed)
Was Thomas Hobbes the first biopolitical thinker? (2023)

Lindholm, S. (2023). Was Thomas Hobbes the first biopolitical thinker?. History of the Human Sciences, 36(3-4), 221-241. https://doi.org/10.1177/09526951231159260

JYU authors or editors

Publication details

All authors or editors: Lindholm, Samuel

Journal or series: History of the Human Sciences

ISSN: 0952-6951

eISSN: 1461-720X

Publication year: 2023

Publication date: 19/04/2023

Volume: 36

Issue number: 3-4

Pages range: 221-241

Publisher: SAGE Publications

Publication country: United Kingdom

Publication language: English

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/09526951231159260

Publication open access: Openly available

Publication channel open access: Partially open access channel

Publication is parallel published (JYX): https://jyx.jyu.fi/handle/123456789/86587


Thomas Hobbes's name often comes up as scholars debate the history of biopower, which regulates the biological life of individual bodies and entire populations. This article examines whether and to what extent Hobbes may be regarded as the first biopolitical philosopher. I investigate this question by performing a close reading of Hobbes's political texts and by comparing them to some of the most influential theories on biopolitics proposed by Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito, and others. Hobbes is indeed the first great thinker to assert the supreme political importance of safeguarding life. Furthermore, this prominence of non-contemplative life is not limited to mere survival but also seeks to allow for the people's happiness. This may indeed allow us to consider him as the first biopolitical philosopher, at least in some limited capacity. However, the Englishman's biopolitical stance lacks the practical aspects seen in examples of ‘properly modern’ biopolitics. Moreover, peoples’ lives were already governed radically in antiquity. I argue that Hobbes's biopolitical system was, therefore, minimal in the sense of a ‘biopolitical nightwatchman state’. However, he acted as an undeniable catalyst to the ‘properly biopolitical era of modernity’, when mundane life and happiness became the explicit main objects of virtually all politics.

Keywords: biopolitics; political philosophy; social philosophy; political research; societal policy

Free keywords: Agamben, Giorgio; biopolitics; biopower; Foucault, Michel; Hobbes, Thomas

Fields of science:

Contributing organizations

Ministry reporting: Yes

Reporting Year: 2023

Preliminary JUFO rating: 2

Last updated on 2023-03-10 at 12:36