The following is a brief summary of the ancient Greek theory and practice of biopolitics, racialism, and nationalism. These themes, which are so taboo in the West today, were integral to the Hellenic way of life at the founding of our Western civilization and of our unique tradition of civic self-government. I will also refer to some of the copious mainstream academic literature documenting this.
The Greeks believed that, despite their political divisions, they belonged to a common nation, defined by shared blood, language, religion, and culture. According to Herodotus, the Greeks were“one race speaking one language, with temples to the gods and religious rites in common, and with a common way of life” (Histories, 8.144). Patriotic Pan-Hellenic rhetoric – on the supreme value of Greece and the glory of sacrificing oneself to save Greece – is pervasive across centuries of Greek literature and political discourse.
The Greeks had a primitive and unsystematic racial theory. They believed that peoples gradually acquired characteristics due to their environment (e.g. Ethiopians became black because of the heat) and that these traits became hereditary. These observations certainly prefigure Darwin’s later evolutionary theory.
The Europeans north of Greece were generally considered barbaric and spirited, while Asians inhabiting Persia were considered effeminate and submissive. Barbarians were often thought incapable of civic self-government. The Phoenicians were sometimes perceived as having certain Semitic stereotypes (mercantile, dishonest, greedy, mercenary) but were also sometimes perceived as a fellow advanced people, comparably organized and capable in terms of trade, warfare, and civic self-government.
The Greeks did not talk about anything analogous to racial differences in IQ and it is often unclear to what extent they believed ethnic characteristics to be due to culture, geography and climate, or heredity. The Greeks were however certainly very struck by the physical differences of the few Blacks they encountered, producing pottery contrasting Caucasian and Negroid features, in styles rather reminiscent of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The Greeks had a primitive theory and practice of eugenics. Following the practice of animal breeding and simple observation, the Greeks understood that human physical and psychological traits were at least partly hereditary. It was often said that men should choose the best women as wives so as to have the best children possible. Due to economic difficulties, infanticide through exposure was a cruel accepted practice, at the parents’ discretion. In Sparta and Rome, the killing of deformed children was mandatory, an exercise in negative eugenics. Read more