Population Policies and Eugenics
The Spartan sage Lycurgus instituted Greece’s most ambitious population policies.
True to his communitarian foundations, Aristotle argues that population policies — notably concerning immigration, naturalization, and reproduction — are a fundamental element of statecraft and ought to be determined by what serves the interests of the society as a whole. Aristotle observes very lucidly: “The prime factor necessary, in the equipment of a city, is the human material; and this involves us in considering the quality, as well as quantity” (1325b33). The city is defined not by mere geography, but above all by the population. Therefore: “To determine the size of a city — to settle how large it can properly be, and whether it ought to consist of the members of several races — is a duty incumbent on the statesman” (1276a24). The statesman then has a duty to decide who is fit to be a citizen and to ensure the biological reproduction and quality of the citizens, thus perpetuating the city.
In line with Aristotle’s imagined foundation of the city as an extended family, the Greeks typically granted citizenship according to rules of descent. Aristotle observes: “For practical purposes, it is usual to define a citizen as one ‘born of citizen parents on both sides,’ and not on the father’s or mother’s side only; but sometimes this requirement is carried still farther back, to the length of two, three, or more stages of ancestry” (1275b22). Aristotle also defines a city in part by the possibility of intermarriage among its members. Naturalized citizens are clearly considered exceptional, Aristotle deeming them citizens “in some special sense” (1274b38).
The ancient Greeks were obsessed with their ancestry and lineage, following aristocratic and hereditarian assumptions. Aristotle says that “good birth, for a people and a state, is to be indigenous or ancient and to have distinguished founders with many descendants distinguished in matters that excite envy” (Rhetoric, 1.5). Following the widespread Greek assumptions that both nature and nurture mattered, he writes that “it is likely that good sons will come from good fathers and that the appropriately raised will be of the appropriate sort” (Rhetoric, 1.9). Aristotle furthermore lists shared blood as one of the forms of friendship, an eminently adaptive view: “The species of friendship are companionship, intimacy, consanguinity, and so on” (Rhetoric, 2.4). Read more