How do the discourses of biology and politics interact? This article uses the case of Carl Vogt (1817–1895), the notorious German “radical materialist” zoologist and political revolutionary, to analyze the traffic across these discourses before, during, and after the revolutions of 1848. Arguing that metaphors of the organism and the state did different work in the discourse communities of German political theorists and biologists through the 1840s, it then traces Vogt’s life and work to show how politics and biology came together in his biography. It draws on Vogt’s political rhetoric, his satirical post-1849 writings, and his scientific studies to examine the parallels he drew between animal organization and human social and political organization in the 1840s and ’50s. Broadening back out, I suggest that the discourses of organismal and state organization, both somewhat transformed, would align more closely over the 1850s and thereafter—yet asymmetrically. Although the state metaphor became more attractive for biologists, the organism as state did not harden into a dominant concept in biology. On the political side, a new wave of political theorizing increasingly viewed the state as resembling a biological organism. These shifts, I speculate, brought the discourses closer together in the post-revolutionary era, and may be seen as contributing to a new configuration of mutual legitimation between science and the state.
This essay is part of a special issue entitled REVOLUTIONARY POLITICS AND BIOLOGICAL ORGANIZATION IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY FRANCE AND GERMANY edited by Lynn K. Nyhart and Florence Vienne.