First use of bio-politics?

In the comments Foucaultblog reader Volha Piotukh points to possibly the first usage of the word biopolitics in a short essay by G.W. Harris in 1911. (This had previously been discovered by Generation Online, but their link has gone bad.)

As a service to readers, here is the text of the article “Bio-Politics” by Harris. This article precedes that of Kjellén by five years, but what is more interesting is that it does describe biopolitics in the familiar Foucauldian terms: concern over degeneracy, the quality of the population, and the question of who and how to govern:

By the term “ bio-politics ” we mean a policy which should consider two aspects of the nation: in the first place, the increase of population and competition; in the second place, the individual attributes of the men who are available for filling places of responsibility in the State.

It appeared in The New Age 10(9), December 28, 1911, p. 197. Link.

* * *


by G. W. Harris

THE invention of a new label is much to be deprecated
unless just cause can be shown for its use. The term
“ bi0-politics ” can be justified by a consideration of its
meaning and the aspect of politics which it has been
designed to explain and characterise. The present condition
of the nations of Europe gives much cause for
apprehension. There is a general unrest, an almost
universal discontent and distrust of existing methods,
and, unfortunately, but few honest attempts at a policy
of reconstruction. Everyone is nowadays iconoclastic.
This party and that party are useless and must be
abolished. One man calls for a “ business,” Government,
which is as vague in its meaning as the blessed
word “ Mesopotamia.” Another joins a society of
dilettante windbags who talk and talk and talk about
social degeneracy and do nothing. Others find attraction
in wild schemes of universal suffrage, of redistribution
of wealth, and other chimeras as impracticable as
they are sensational. Either England is in need of a
severe war and a sound thrashing, or else she must
begin to reconstruct her home policy from a logical and
obvious basis. The inevitable result of democracyand
particularly is this noticeable in the case of a
democracy semi-ochlocratic–is a system of cast-iron
bureaucracy in which everything is subordinated to
some futile red-tapeish procedure. Democracy, in fact,
is mediocrity in excelsis in all meanings of the wordsparticularly
in the matter of high places. The choice of
Mr. Runciman as Minister of Agriculture is simply the
illustration of this fatal habit of endeavouring to find
places for men, instead of men for places. By the term
“ bio-politics ” we mean a policy which should consider
two aspects of the nation : in the first place, the
increase of population and competition; in the second
place, the individual attributes of the men who are available
for filling places of responsibility in the State.
There can be little doubt that before very long every
State will have to take in hand seriously the question of
increased population and examine accurately the places
and classes in which increase is most pronounced. The
present troubles with hysterical women are greatly due
to the excess of the female over the male population,
this superfluity having nothing to do and doing it extremely
ill. Mere is clearly a case where legislation
might rationally diminish the number of female births,
and thus leave enough women to go round without
superfluity. Or, again, the superfluous women might
be compelled to leave the country by a process of lotdrawing-
a method employed by the Athenians for
selecting their archons, and one which can be regarded
as the result of their mature consideration. Again, the
absurd procedure adopted at the present time in the
case of the production of abortion should be abandoned.
If a woman is with child and does not want it, it is impossible
to see why, when at her request a doctor undertakes
an operation at present called illegal, he should
not only be permitted but actually empowered to do so.
The production of illegitimate children is one of those
phenomena which will always occur so long as the law
stands as it is, and there can be little doubt that
bastardy is not only a great hindrance in life, but is
also liable to swell the numbers of those who, for want
of something better to do, turn their hands to crime
and other ignoble pursuits.
The upkeep of lunatics and criminal lunatics is
another question which must be attacked. Unless some
pratical use can be made of them for experiment and
the understanding of the causes of their disease, then
a State lethal chamber is the best way out of the difficulty.
Once we do away with the pomp and ceremony
and ethical and moral lamentations over death, crime
and other evils, we shall be able to treat them in a
rational way without endeavouring to extract self satisfaction
from the failure of the ungodly. There is
no panacea, and we do not suppose for a moment that
bio-politics is all-in-all and the end-all of suffering. But

it is highly essential to consider the men themselves and avoid handing over to a lamp-lighter, for example,
the care of the town clock. The search for good men,
though difficult, is not hopeless; and were so much
ingenuity displayed in the search as is shown by the
promoters of the Insurance and Stamp Bills, good men
would have been found long ago. Above all, the fewer
orators we have the better. We do not want public
speeches and canvassing and the exuberance of verbose
and emotional idealists. Far better to leave the people
alone who do not come voluntarily to vote-and to vote,
not because the man is a Liberal or otherwise, but
because he is a good man and has some knowledge of
how to govern.


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