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Rudolf Kjellén: Nordic Biopolitics Before the Welfare State
Retfaerd (2015)
  • Markus Gunneflo
This article aims to contribute to the history of biopolitical thought through a more accurate understanding of the Swedish professor of political science Rudolf Kjellén considered both in his historical and political context. Kjellén coined the term ‘biopolitics’, as early as 1905, in a two-volume work entitled The Great Powers, and developed it even further in a 1916 book entitled The State as a Form of Life. Because of the organicist analogies deployed by Kjellén, his biopolitical theory of the state is considered as a form of ‘vitalism’ or ‘organicism’ in the contemporary literature on biopolitics. Based on a close examination of texts only available in Swedish (and, to some extent, German) I argue that this fails to account for Kjellén’s argument for a strong state and his analysis of the rationality of state action in a multiplicity of areas of state intervention, including the guarding, refining and securing of the population stock. This reading brings Kjellén’s concept of biopolitics significantly closer to the reality that the French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault described, using the same concept, more than a half-century later. Kjellén’s writings also foreshadow subsequent developments of keen interest for biopolitical study in a Nordic context, particularly the rise of the social democratic welfare state and the social engineering of the population material, starting in the 1930s.
  • Biopolitics,
  • Sweden,
  • Rudolf Kjellén,
  • the State,
  • Law,
  • Social Democracy
Publication Date
Fall 2015
Citation Information
Markus Gunneflo. "Rudolf Kjellén: Nordic Biopolitics Before the Welfare State" Retfaerd Vol. 35 Iss. 3 (2015)
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