Body politic

The body politic is a polity—such as a city, realm, or state—considered metaphorically as a physical body. Historically, the sovereign is typically portrayed as the body's head, and the analogy may also be extended to other anatomical parts, as in political readings of Aesop's fable of "The Belly and the Members". The image originates in ancient Greek philosophy, beginning in the 6th century BC, and was later extended in Roman philosophy. Following the high and late medieval revival of the Byzantine Corpus Juris Civilis in Latin Europe, the "body politic" took on a jurisprudential significance by being identified with the legal theory of the corporation, gaining salience in political thought from the 13th century on. In English law the image of the body politic developed into the theory of the king's two bodies and the Crown as corporation sole.

The frontispiece of Hobbes's Leviathan shows a body formed of multitudinous citizens, surmounted by a king's head.[1]

The metaphor was elaborated further from the Renaissance on, as medical knowledge based on Galen was challenged by thinkers such as William Harvey. Analogies were drawn between supposed causes of disease and disorder and their equivalents in the political field, viewed as plagues or infections that might be remedied with purges and nostrums.[2] The 17th century writings of Thomas Hobbes developed the image of the body politic into a modern theory of the state as an artificial person. Parallel terms deriving from the Latin corpus politicum exist in other European languages.