The Common: Solon and the Cuba to Come

To Jorge Salcedo, with whom I have ruminated these ideas and with whom I dreamed, in times when these ravings were something only worms entertained, of a truly free Cuba.

Let it be understood that only the effective existence of a center can eventually protect a city from stasis. […] “it is easy to divide the whole population in two without leaving anything in the middle.”
Nicole Loraux, La guerra civil en Atenas

“I don’t like politics but… it likes me, comrade.”
Porno para Ricardo


The essay you will read now is part of that long philosophical tradition that believes that in order to test political concepts it is essential to imagine the polis that embodies them. This tradition was inaugurated by Plato in his Republic and receives its name from a book by Thomas More, Utopia.

These are the words of someone who never felt part of the political community in which he was born and spent many years of his life dreaming of another. The arduousness of this task, fleeing from the community in which one has lived and inventing an alternative one, becomes more difficult in my case because the republic from which I was trying to escape conceived itself as a utopia. How can you flee to a new country made of ideas, of concepts, when you try to avoid by all means ending up trapped in another ideological entelechy?

Philosophers not only aspired to take the place of the king, as Plato dreamed in his Republic, they also wrote manuals for princes, in which the philosopher becomes an advisor to power. Of the sovereigns who tried to pass themselves as philosophers, only one, Marcus Aurelius,[1] tried to rule his soul using the same precepts with which he ruled his empire; others, such as Lenin and Mao, limited themselves to producing pamphlets for the insurgency and, when they came to power, manuals for their subjects.

There were other cases, like Diogenes the dog, who broke all his ties with the city—he renounced all his political ties, only acknowledged his affiliation with the cosmos, lived in a barrel and wore rags—to manage that his words, a quality the Greeks called parrhesia, be free from all subjection and coercion.

I, who long for a country without subjects and who has only admired kings of the Carolingian cycle, aspire to something else: to draw a road map to reach the country I never had. And that I will never have. I am an old man; I do not plan to go anywhere else. I am happy in the country that welcomed me. I am describing a route that, in the best case scenario, will be followed by others.

On the other hand, the role of the political counselor is ruled out. The only rulers today who seek refuge in philosophical books are those with an inclination for totalitarianism, as the history of the twentieth century has shown ad nauseam.

The three things I offer are the only things that philosophy can offer to politics: to sculpt ideals, but with the essential clarification that these ideals must be tolerated and sustained by reality; to demolish idols; to speak, without fear, the truth.


Yes, we see that you have begun a new
plan of arguing, which is nowhere in the books of the Greeks. That
leading man,  to whom no one was superior in writing, took a piece
of ground for himself on which he built up a city according to his own
choice—admittedly splendid, perhaps, but inappropriate for human
life and customs. The others have discussed the types and principles
of cities without any certain pattern and shape of
republic […] you argue not in a roaming speech
but about one fixed)
Cicerón, Sobre la República, Libro II

For the task I have set myself, to recount the history of political philosophy in order to imagine the country I never had—a possible, desired, but not utopian country—I turn, in this essay, to Solon, the great Athenian legislator, one of the seven wise men, who invented the posture that anyone who aspires to justice must assume, the mesotes, the golden mean.[2]

The importance I give to Solon is sustained by the depth of his reforms-legislations (θεσμοί)[3] that make him worthy of the epithet of “creator of Athenian citizenship”.[4] Solon defines himself in his poems as the one who tears away the old markers of the land and proposes new boundaries with respect to properties. On the one hand, by establishing wills[5] he guaranteed that the transmission of property would be made according to the will of its owner and that this, in the absence of a male heir, would not end up—whatever the last will of the deceased might have been—in the hands of his family. On the other hand, it places a limit on the concept of property by forbidding someone from ending up enslaved because of debts[6] he had contracted. Human freedom, at least that of Athenian citizens,[7] could not be reduced to property. Furthermore, he reformed the representative system by allowing all Athenians to participate, in one way or another, in the affairs of the city both in deliberative bodies and in the dispensing of justice—the latter measure, by removing the capacity of tribes to implement justice by involving the entire political community in it, it allows for a shift from a system that codifies vengeance as a draconian response to a political concept of justice[8]—. As a result, it turns Athens, which was previously sustained by kinship and tribal ties, into a legal and political community, a Politeia. Finally, his centrist, conciliatory, reforming vocation prevents a stasis, a civil war between the different factions that coexisted in the Greek polis.

Cuba, the country where I was born, is doomed to face radical change and must avoid by any means another revolution, another clean slate. No matter what political breath, direction or compass might characterize that new attempt to create the island of Juana ex nihilo, this must be avoided at all costs.

And yet, and yet… Cuba needs, perhaps as never before, a reinvention of all its political institutions, including its Constitution and model of coexistence.

Is it possible to wish for the arrival of a hot period of political sentiment, to use Bruce Ackerman’s expression, to aspire to a constituent moment and to avoid, by all means necessary, another revolution?

I believe it is possible, and this is where the possibility opened by Solon in the Western political imaginary acquires all its relevance: radical transformation of institutions, forms of access and participation in representation without this implying an attempt to control, by the State, the ways in which the social body reorganizes itself. Reforming everything necessary without falling into the temptation of wanting to refound the political community from its foundations, without pretending to make a revolution.

Before approaching Solon, it is necessary to purge the idols, the false notions, the preconceived ideas, the prejudices that a people, whose day has been coming for more than thirty years—Willie Chirino dixit—, has projected on that portion of the “after” that was not monopolized by that future-devouring-machine that is every revolution.

There are three of them, as I see it, the main chimeras that have been projected on that piece of time—that is how Fidel Castro referred to the future—that belongs entirely to socialism: the miracle of the day after, the return to the day before, the salvation that comes from the North. Regarding the latter, the chimerical spans both sides of the Florida Strait.

When in 2001, the Cuban thinker Iván de la Nuez published the anthology of essays Cuba y el día después, where authors tried to imagine what would be the future of the island after the death of Fidel Castro, the hypothesis that no one considered was that nothing would change. Nor could anyone have imagined that Cuba would wake up in a world that is no longer convinced that democracy is the best form of coexistence for human beings. I fear that the macabre joke that destiny has in store for us is that when Cuba becomes democratic—if this ever happens—, no one will want to be democratic anymore.

Those who dream of “the day before” think that the solution to all problems lies in the past. If pre-revolutionary Cuba were replicated, a few years would be enough to place the island among the most solvent economies in Latin America, the dollar and the peso would have the same value, many would emigrate to the Queen of the Antilles; all these things happened before 1959. However, a relevant part of the history is usually elided. The republican history of the island, if we take into account only the moments in which it enjoyed full sovereignty and democratic institutions, is reduced from 1934 to 1952.  It was not until 1934 that the “Platt Amendment” was eliminated, a constitutional clause that restricted the sovereignty of the Cuban nation by allowing U.S. political and military intervention[9] and forced the nation to sell or lease parts of its territory for the construction of naval and coal bases that would supposedly help the U.S. government protect Cuban territory. Prior to this date, the republican period also included a U.S. intervention (1906-1909), a dictatorship, that of Gerardo Machado (1929-1933) and a revolution in 1933. If there is something to admire about republican Cuba, it is the versatility of its leaders. Gerardo Machado, before being dictator, had fought for the independence of Cuba, reached the rank of brigadier general, ran in 1925 for the Liberal party and won the elections; he also aspired, as president, to turn Cuba into the Switzerland of America. As for Fulgencio Batista, after leading the revolution of 1933, known as the Sergeants’ Revolution, he began to serve as head of the army. Later, he was president between 1940 and 1944 at the head of the Socialist-Democratic Coalition—the coalition that called for the Constituent Assembly responsible for the 1940 Constitution, the most democratic and progressive in Cuban history—. It would be Batista himself who would lead the coup d’état in 1952 that established a state of exception in the Republic. This state of exception became a normative practice, a new civil and legal order, with the Cuban Revolution. Pre-revolutionary Cuba has as much to do with the image given of it in the second part of The Godfather—presented as the place that would supplant Las Vegas in its role as the city of sin—as with the delusions of the retrotopia that I have described here.

The third chimera, the dream that salvation comes from the North has had many episodes. The two most prominent are the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the normalization of relations pushed by Barack Obama in 2014. I will limit myself to describing the latter because it is closer to us in history. “Hay días que no olvidamos. Todos los que están en la sala y tengan edad suficiente recordarán el día que mataron a Kennedy, cuando Neil Armstrong pisó la luna. Todos, sin duda, recordamos donde estábamos el 11 de septiembre del 2001. Lo mismo pasará con el 17 de diciembre del 2014.” There are days we do not forget. Everyone in this room who is old enough will remember the day Kennedy was killed, when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. We all, no doubt, remember where we were on September 11, 2001. The same will be true for December 17, 2014”.  The quote belongs to political analyst Peter Kornbluh[10] and was delivered at a lecture he gave at Carleton College a few months after the signing of the agreement between Washington and Havana. Newspapers around the world rushed to announce, following the agreement, the end of the Cold War, the beginning of a new era for the world and the island, prosperity and reconciliation among all Cubans. To the delight of all in attendance, Amy Klobuchar, the Democratic senator from the state where I live, Minnesota, proclaimed in the welcome address of the 2015-2016 school year, at Carleton College, that students entering the workforce at that time would have the opportunity to enjoy a privilege that she had never had in her youth: to travel freely to Cuba. The normalization of relations between Cuba and Washington not only redeemed the island, and its entire exile and diaspora, but added an element to the American dream that had been out of reach for generations of Americans: travel to the last forbidden place, the one that synthesizes, in magical potion, revolutionary utopia and prehistory, where the best cars produced in the United States rub shoulders with posters of two of the last messianic heroes of the twentieth century, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, where one can spend a couple of weeks freed from the oppression of consumption and social media. The only one who saw with absolute clarity the significance of the agreement between Obama and Raul Castro was the Cuban essayist Fernando Martínez Heredia. In an article published on the pro-government platform Cubadebate, he stated: “Last Friday the 14th was not a historic day, and it is necessary to deny that it was. To call it so could be a forgivable hyperbole, if national sovereignty and the society we have created in the last half century were not at stake.” His views and mine regarding national sovereignty and the society that was created in Cuba after 1959 could not be more opposed; however, I fully subscribe to his judgment that considering that day as a historic day could have, and in fact did have, dire consequences.

‘Diorama de la Libertad’, Geandy Pavón.


My music is neither to the right nor to the left.
Nor does it give the signs of general protest
My music is neither to the right nor to the left
It remains in the center of a really lawful drum
That’s why I sing music, my music is pure music.
I already told you that my music is not protest,
my music is essential, make no mistake[11]
Tite Curet Alonso and Ismael Rivera, “Mi música”

What a country that marched through the twentieth century, and what we have lived of the twenty-first, to the martial rhythm of generals and commanders needs most is civilian leadership.

Solon belongs to the generation of the first civil heroes[12] that Hellas had and that reached its acme, its maturity and flourishing, at the beginning of the sixth century BC. The civil destiny[13] of the Seven Wise Men[14] is marked in their names: Thales of Miletus, Bias of Priene, Pythagoras of Milene, Chilon of Sparta, Periando of Corinth, Solon of Athens,[15] etc. With them—especially through their most prominent figures Thales and Solon—we witness the first attempt to produce a legality both for the Cosmos and for the polis: the city writes its laws, people try to reason, starting from a unique principle, the Cosmos. A type of wisdom is championed that is not only civil but also practical, sophía… aretè tês téchnës, as the Stagirite would say in the Nicomachean Ethics. “Wisdom in its civic praxis is a weapon for profit and enrichment in these communities open to techniques and new ideas, with commercial eagerness and taste for profit and progress. Wise is he who masters a technique, who professes the excellence of an art […] and also the politician who knows how to handle the affairs of the polis with art and sagacity” ( García Gual, 9).

Wisdom in its civic praxis is a weapon for profit and enrichment in these communities open to techniques and new ideas, with commercial eagerness and taste for profit and progress. Wise is he who masters a technique, who professes the excellence of an art […] and also the politician who knows how to handle the affairs of the polis with art and sagacity

Disclaimers are always useless; nevertheless, I am offering one. I am not trying to turn Athenian democracy into a model to be followed by a future Cuban state. Solon’s Athens, with which I am in dialogue, was at best a timocracy—access to the magistracies was limited by the possession of wealth—and a slave society where, moreover, the participation of women in the polis, in public affairs, was non-existent.[16] What I consider relevant to the country I am imagining in these pages are the normative possibilities that are latent in some of Solon’s ideas. It is worth clarifying, moreover, that the concepts of the Athenian magistrate that I am now developing are important because of the potential impact they could have for our time, so a comparison will be made between them and what relevant contemporary thinkers have thought about them.

A small part of Solon’s work as a legislator is of interest here, especially that which could serve to imagine a Cuba to come. First, his notion of the middle ground conceived as the space from which the public, the common, is invented. Second, his redefinition of the structures of representation and access to them without this implying a restructuring, from the State, of the forms of affiliation. Third, his mechanisms to mediate between the different claims and notions of equality that emerge from the polis. He was able to understand, before anyone else, that the role of justice does not entail imposing a notion of equality but trying to make intelligible the different claims of equity that are in dispute in the public space, and thus discern which forms of inequality are legitimate and which are not. Fourth, his enunciation of principles that are inalienable, that cannot be weighed in the scales of justice, that cannot be measured or quantified but must be understood as axioms, or foundations, without which justice cannot function. Solon, who defined the common, as will be seen below, as that place which can only be accessed from one’s possessions, was also the first to separate the subject from property from a normative point of view, since he forbids the creditor to deprive the debtor of freedom. This principle makes it possible that freedom can never be reduced to an appropriable good. Freedom can only be taken away by the institution that grants it: the laws. Freedom will be one of those principles that gives meaning to justice but cannot be placed in its balance because it cannot be measured, quantified, translated into another value. Finally, of interest is his understanding that any new coexistence pact always entails leaving a series of debts, damages and losses unpaid. At times like these, both in the ancient and contemporary world, a political community must give priority to peace over justice.

‘Faro tumbado’, Los Carpinteros, 2006.


There is no room in this essay to discuss all of the above-mentioned issues. I limit myself, therefore, to developing the topic on which Solon’s imprint was most decisive. The issue in question that will be exposed in the remainder of this essay is the following: how and from what place a space for the common is created. In assuming this stance towards the common I restrict my reflection to the topological framework of this concept. What I am attempting to elucidate here is the structure of the ideal locus, as the common is that and only that, from which normativity is generated.

For Solon the midpoint—es meson or en mesoi—is the place where the common, the public, is founded. To fully understand the redefinition produced by the Athenian ruler of what was one of the main axes of the articulation of the Greek polis, the meson or midpoint, we must hasten to clarify that this space should not be confused, in any sense, with a notion of neutrality, which would lead to not siding with any of the opposing sides. Among Solon’s laws, one stands out and Plutarch, in his Parallel Lives, describes it as the strangest and most singular of all: that which condemns to athymia, the loss of political and civil rights—participation in the assembly, the right to complain before a jury, the right to be elected to a magistracy, etc.—of those who remain neutral in a civil war. One of the essential features of this new concept of the meson is defined by Nicole Loraux, quoting her teacher Jean Pierre Vernant: “The meson, or middle, defines the common or public domain (the xunon), as opposed to what is private, individual”.(211) Factions privatize the city, dividing it into incompatible interests. The midpoint is constructed to postulate a common space, to accommodate the litigating parties. Stasis, civil war implies a split in the political community, the privatization of public space. Any entity that vetoes the access to the meson, to the common, of a part of the community is privatizing the public. The archon stands with his shield, as the Athenian sage says in one of his poems, in the midst of the armies ready for battle. The common is never an enclosed space, although it is bounded by the litigants that surround it. The concept that defines this territory, metaikhmion,[17] the space that exists between two fighting armies, defines the work of the magistrate and the institutions that seek to establish a public space to settle conflicts without aspiring, from a fictitious and artificial consensus, to annul them. This prevents institutions from being closed within a system of beliefs that is intended to be immovable or to be diluted in quarrels, in disagreements that never reach a meeting point. The common, therefore, is the imaginary place from which the institutions of the State is founded. It is here that we try to find the normative frameworks that allow us to make intelligible and compatible the different demands for justice that arise from civil society. From that no man’s land that neither side has made their own yet, the common, the public, is founded.


The common and the community are the new philosopher’s stone, those concepts and practices that are intended to save us from everything and everyone: neoliberalism, the privatization of public spaces and politics, the dissolution of the Welfare State, the crisis of contemporary representative democracies, the ecological catastrophe, etc. People often speak of the common and the community[18] in a mystical tone[19]—only that which we do not own is common, that which is lacking and dispossesses us. The list of contemporary thinkers who define these concepts in the key of negative theology[20] is long. I limit myself to mentioning the most prominent: Bataille, Nancy, Blanchot, Agamben, Esposito.[21] Others do so in the form of a pamphlet—addressed to the indignant of the moment and written in tandem—: Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, Laval and Dardot.[22] In both cases, the intention is that the community, the common and communism itself remain in a status of permanent promise in which all its emancipatory impulses are enhanced while, at the same time, the moment in which the ideal seeks to be translated into action is interrupted, suspended. The happening—pure expression of potency, intensity always on the verge of realization—that beats in every promise is exasperated and its actualization, its realization in a determined being, is refused with the same fervor. Communisms are spared that element that always makes them fail: reality.[23] The affective tessitura of these writings oscillates between the vindication of the community and the common in the face of the failure of all (real, dreamed, fantastic, impossible) communisms and the denunciation of all individualisms[24] (“imposed” by modernity, capitalism, neoliberalism, etc.). The vindication covers the whole range of the possible and the denunciation of all forms of the real.

The subject of these pages requires a change of perspective. How would the conceptualization of this problem be altered if what prevents access to the common, to the public, what privatizes the political community into factions, is a revolution that defined itself, starting in 1961, as communist and that abolished, for many years, private property, reducing individual rights to their minimum? How to define the common with respect to a political process that assumed that everything that did not fall within its monopoly of language, of representation, of property was only conceivable as an antagonist, an enemy, in front of which no concession should be made?[25]

In his book Communitas, Roberto Esposito uses a phrase of Quintilian to define the first—and main—meaning of the common: “Quod commune cum alio est desinit esse proprium” (Quint. Inst., 7, 3, 24), the common begins where your property ends. The full reading of this definition, however, demands more from its interpreter. If the common begins in the borders of the private, there must be an alternate sphere where the private exercises its dominion. The common only exists when it is possible to make this journey to the end of the private. The two poles of the phrase are essential: he who remains in the private will never gain access to the common, but also he who does not have something of his own cannot look out to that outside which is the common. From this derives a consequence about which all the theorists of the community are silent: those who do not have something of their own do not own something in common. One needs one’s own in order for the common to exist. This statement, central to the understanding of the concept that concerns me, allows us to elucidate the logical-topological structure that binds what is one’s own and the common. From a logical-spatial point of view, what is one’s own precedes the common. We should not derive from this a chronology that allows us to imagine a foundational narrative where the private came first. But it does exorcise, as will be seen below, the mythology that attempts to affirm the opposite: the first form of property known to humans was the common. If there is any priority that corresponds to the common,[26] since it cannot claim it either from a chronological or topological point of view, it is the normative one, since it is in the common that the intelligibility[27] that allows the right to one’s own and to property to be recognized is produced.

In The Coming Community, Giorgio Agamben, following in the footsteps of Guy Debord, diagnoses with great acuity the character of spectacle that public space acquires when it is privatized: “The spectacle is capital in such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image[. . . ]The extreme form of this appropriation  of the Common is the spectacle”. But his good insight fails when he concludes: “being expropriated is the very possibility of the common good (52). The expropriated—I know this first hand because I come from a country where they were legion—live in the open, where there is no interior but also no exterior. Beyond that outside there is only the enemy and, in our case, the sea. Those who live out in the open cannot access that outside of what is owned, of the interior, which is the common, the exterior, because there is nothing for them to conceive themselves as owners.

The veto that defines the common—no one can appropriate this space—is meaningless for those to whom the right to claim something as property is alien.  A right cannot be vetoed for those who do not have it.

Fidel Castro’s entrance to Havana on January 8, 1959 (PHOTO Perfecto Romero).


The definition of the term community is derived by both Roberto Esposito and Laval and Dardot[28] from the etymology proposed for this term by Emile Benveniste in his book Dictionary of Indo-European Institutions. “If mūnus is a gift carrying the obligation of an exchange, inmūnis is he who does not fulfill his obligation to make due return[…] Consequently, communis does not  mean ‘ he who shares the duties’ but really ‘ he who has munia in common’. Now if the system of compensation is active within one and the same circle, this determines a ‘community,’ a group of persons united by this bond of reciprocity”( 69) The importance of debt and gift is emphasized in order to understand munus, which, as a lexeme, contributes the greatest semantic load to the concept of community. To these concepts of gift and duty is added, in the interpretation given by the Italian philosopher, a sacrificial character[29] that is absent in Benveniste and that comes from the Christian concept of koinonia. The sense of community derives, from this perspective, from a radical lack or shortage, the emblem of which is human mortality. It is this dimension of the human that is exposed, including the risk of life itself, in the being together that the common entails and it is exactly that which tries to be countered, sterilized, anesthetized through the modern paradigm of immunity. However, it is not mentioned, and this silence is very relevant, that the whole system of reciprocal debts and exchanges that characterizes the munus is defined, in Benveniste’s book, from its semantic parallel with the concept of hospitality. Hospitality was the figure that in the ancient world codified dealings with others. This institution had a contractual character[30] because both the one who received and the one who was received exchanged gifts. Both found themselves in this space, that of hospitality and munus, to the extent that they assumed the strangeness inherent in it. Hospes, guest, comes from the same etymological root of hostis, foreigner and enemy, from which it is inferred that both, the host and the guest, concur in a space marked by a radical strangeness that was cushioned by the gifts that were exchanged. The common does not designate those traits shared by equals[31] but the bridges that are built towards the other, the one who is different. The common happens when those who leave their own find the way to coincide in the strange. Those who coincide in the munus—and that is where the prefix cum comes from—do so because they are capable of giving up something that belongs to them. But for this gift to be possible, for this concept to be imaginable, it is necessary to possess something that can be donated.


The fictions of origin with respect to the political have an axiomatic value, they serve to decide which normative framework will be used to analyze the State.  Of all the views on a supposed original community where property does not exist, perhaps the most lucid is that of Hobbes. Hobbes was able to see, perhaps better than anyone else, that the world was not given to us as a property that was at the same time of common use, for all humans, and privative, since it is assumed that everything was created for our species. The human comes to this world, like other living beings, to fight for his survival.  In the state of nature[32] described by Hobbes in his books De Cive and Leviathan, one lives in a gregarious solitude, because every man is an enemy of his fellow man and cannot distinguish between what is his own and what belongs to others. This gregarious solitude cannot be defined as life in common. Life in common is never natural; if anything characterizes it, it is its political character, which for Hobbes means artificial, rationally agreed upon. On the other hand, because the meaning of property has not been established, the indispensable conditions to establish a meaningful distance from the herd do not exist, which prevents the emergence of individuals. All property, moreover, since it cannot be claimed as one’s own, is the subject of litigation and there is a war of all against all for survival. Before what is owned existed, things were not available for common use but were exposed and anyone, with sufficient force, could take them away. The common, like what is owned, is not a pre-juridical category,[33] but is established when some kind of political community has already been configured. To declare the privative use of something, it is not enough that it be the fruit of the body’s own labor.[34] The recognition of others is essential for a good to be defined as property. What is obtained in the state of nature is not recognized as legitimate property, individual or communal, and therefore can be taken away by anyone. Dominion can only be exercised by the strongest, and this condition is always temporary, since there is a perpetual possibility that someone with more power may appear. Everyone, in this state, has a random and contingent relationship with the goods since there is no way in which their possession can be justified other than by force. In short, the theorists of community are right when they affirm that the common cannot be defined on the basis of a reification of characteristic traits that are considered eternal, but they are absolutely wrong when they try to find the meaning of community in the lack of property.[35]

The common is metaikhmion, as Solon well knew. No one can appropriate it but all approach it from a ground they can define as their own.

‘El Quijote de la farola’, Aldo Soler Pérez, 2018.


The politician as a figure of thought, according to Plato, is the possessor of a science (episteme) through which he can define a metron, a norm, a means that regulates the extremes. The science of the politician is metretike: the art of measurement.[36] Politics is the techne that postulates an absolute measure, that which defines the normativity with respect to which one can say the excesses and defects that are found in everything there is. There are excesses and defects in what exists not only from a comparative point of view—this is more or less than that—but also? in relation to the absolute measure which is that which metretike postulates and it is from it that one can speak of laws, of normativity. Things are more or less than they should be because there is a measure, a legality, which is postulated to regulate everything that exists.

The politician[37] creates the norm against which the concrete is measured, but he also forces the norm not to cloister itself in a universal abstract rule, he compels it always to open itself to the novelty and singularity that each concrete case suggests to it. The norm defines what is outside it, the pluses and minuses of the real, but, at the same time, it is always besieged by these forces, its hegemony is always in dispute, it is always threatened by the powers that swarm outside it. Therefore, the art of politics is also the art of prudence (phronesis),[38] of judgment, because it has to deal with the becoming—always more or less than it should be—of reality. It always forces the law, the abstract and universal rule, to listen to the many and the few with which the real is configured.[39]

It is this ideal zone—though always surrounded by conflicts—which is placed by Plato in the middle ground, against which everything is measured, that defines the common.


The ideal locus that defines the common is not necessarily located in the center of the city. Summoning the people to the main civic square of a country does not guarantee that a space will be opened to the common.

On September 2, 1960, Fidel Castro summoned the people to what would later be known as Revolution Square. The purpose of this call was to discredit the declaration made in August, during the OAS meeting in Costa Rica, which condemned Cuba for requesting military support from the Soviet Union and establishing diplomatic relations with China. In this speech, Castro proposes a new democratic model for the island and calls it the General People’s Assembly.[40] Sovereignty is granted to the people, but the people are considered to be those who mobilize to the civic square when summoned. The people (the demos) turns to the political arena and participates in what is defined as: “[a] direct, universal and public suffrage.” By gathering “all” the people in the square, the general will is articulated there. What is decided in that space and before all acquires the character of law: “Can there be anything purer than a meeting of all the people? […] we can indeed speak of democracy; we can indeed immediately gather the people and let the people decide […] he who does not gather the people together […] is not a democrat!” Every time the leader meets with his people a Constituent Assembly is declared. It is not a question of all the people being represented in it, it is the representative system itself that is under attack. The people as a whole are there present in person. The only one who can say that he speaks on behalf of the people is the one who has them in front of him and questions them. To represent, from that moment on, will mean to speak with the voice of the people and only he who summons them, harangues them and expects them to answer in unison with their approval, speaks with their voice. The foreign ministers of the OAS who met in Costa Rica lack legitimacy, in Castro’s opinion, since they do not represent their people, because they did not gather them in their entirety in some square and informed them, in a loud voice, what was agreed upon at the OAS meeting.

The legitimacy of the laws, of the democratic process, derives, from now on, from the ability to gather the people as a whole and consult directly with them on the measures to be enacted. The leader gathers the people in the civic square and harangues them for three hours while submitting to a popular vote a series of measures that his government had already decided upon. The system of approval consists of the following: the measure is enunciated and the people shout their support or raise their hands in favor of it. The possibility of a vote against or abstention is not contemplated. In the People’s General Assembly everything is unanimous.

The speech closes with the reading of a proclamation that the maximum leader of the Revolution has written and entitled First Declaration of Havana in which he condemns the Declaration produced by the OAS in Costa Rica. In this declaration, through the mouth and pen of the leader, the people speak. The National General Assembly of the People, which has been founded in this political meeting, is the one who declares, who speaks. The isegoria, the free access to the word and parrhesia,[41] to speak in one’s own name, with total freedom of expression and with the prerogative to tell the truth to power, the two pillars on which any agora is based, are achieved here by the absolute fusion of the sovereign body of the people and that of its charismatic leader. The commander does not speak for the people, the commander is the People.

Inside—as one soul, with the same breath—the people and their leader speak, outside, and against, their enemies lurk. In the middle, where the common should begin, there is nothing left.


[1] Michel Foucault in his 1982-1983 seminar, The Government of the Self and Others, defines, as its title states, the point that unites the sovereign and the philosopher: only he who can govern himself can govern others. The coincidence does not occur between the rationality of political and philosophical discourse, but in the type of subjectivity that both the philosopher and the politician must configure: “You will see that there is no coincidence of contents, isomorphism of rationalities, identity of philosophical discourse and political discourse, but identity of the philosophizing subject with the governing subject […] the soul of the prince must be able to govern himself truly according to true philosophy, in order to be able to govern others according to a just policy” (303).

[2] Of all the possible connotations of the concept of the golden mean: cosmic, moral, political; I privilege the latter. From a cosmic point of view, whenever there is an imbalance in the order of things, when there is a hubris, the Cosmos tries to restore harmony, equilibrium and, with a view to this, forces are unleashed that force things to return to their established channels. With respect to morality, virtue designates the middle point between two extremes. For example, courage means the middle point between two excesses such as cowardice and recklessness. The political concept of the golden mean will be the one that will be developed in the text, so there is no need for me to explain it in this note.

[3] “Neither Drako nor Solon used the classical term νόμοι as the collective nouns descriptive of their laws. Both legislators used the older term θεσμοί; a term whose semantic field included a wide range of prescription that both νόμοι in its classical meaning, or the English noun ‘laws’ in its juridical sense. It encompassed such concepts such as customs or customary usage, rites, ancient or ancestral usage, and social mores where those mores might require some stronger social sanction” (Owens, Solon of Athens, 47).

[4] The literature on the impact of Solon’s reforms on Athenian citizenship is vast. Brook Manville, for example, in his text The Origins of Citizenship in Ancient Athens states: “For our purposes, Solon can be identified more simply: he is the man who established the Athenian polis, and thereby created the beginnings of a formal citizenship” (124). Svaitoslav Dmitriev, for his part, in The Birth of the Athenian Community alleges: “[…] Solon homogenized the Athenian kinship community and further distinguished it from the rest of the population of Attica by giving the same social and legal status to all its members, astoi [native citizens], cutting across their territorial, clan and household divisions. In this fashion, his reform effectively created a legal community which later Greek and modern authors defined as a politeia […] These concepts were applied to Solon’s reform in retrospect: the earliest mention of the word politeia were made in Pseudo-Xenophon’s Athenian Politeia […]” (93). Citizenship, from Solon onwards, is not only acquired by birth, but can also be obtained by decree. Dmitriev himself clarifies: “A person could be an astos, a member of the kinship community, and at the same time a polites (citizen) by ‘nature’ that is by virtue of his origins as legitimately born (gnesios). Or, if he was not a gnesios and, hence, he stood outside the kinship community of the astoi, he could still be a polites ‘by decree’ […] and, therefore, occupy the same legal and social status as the astoi” (106). Moreover, one should not overlook the difficulty of translating Greek terms such as astos and polites with the modern concept of citizenship. Citizenship in its modern sense is defined on the basis of a series of civil, social and political rights. In the political sphere, for example, citizenship is defined by the right to vote, to participate in political office, etc. Women in Greece could be politides, but they did not have any political rights: they were not allowed to participate in the assembly, they were not entitled to hold a magistracy or serve as a judge, etc. Regarding the current debates on the concept of citizenship in contemporary societies, the article by José Emilio Estebán Enguita: “Política del reconocimiento y tipos de ciudadanía” is very useful.

[5] “He was highly esteemed also for his law concerning wills. Before his time, no will could be made, but the entire estate of the deceased must remain in his family. Whereas he, by permitting a  man who had no children to give his property to whom he wished, ranked friendship above kinship, and favour above necessity, and made a man’s possessions his own property” (Plutarch, Parallel Lives. Volume I). The political vocation of Solon’s reforms is well summarized in the principle outlined by Plutarch: to hold friendship (the great political filia) in higher esteem than kinship (tribal ties).

[6] The cancellation of debts is referred to in Greek as σεισάχθεια whose literal translation would be “to remove burdens.”

[7] It is worth noting here that almost every political creation, every substantial reform of laws, customs and institutions, is accompanied with quotas, not equated with each other, of emancipation and submission. From the laws of Solon, the freedom of the Athenians was instituted as a public right. It was forbidden for anyone, because of his debts, to be sold or expelled from the community. However, this also meant a clearer and more substantial legal distinction between those who were citizens and those who were not: “The development of such public and standard rights helped to distinguish the citizen from the non-citizen; the privileges now starkly separated an ‘in-group’ from the ‘out-group'” (Manville, 133).

[8] “Solon endowed all Athenians with a share in the process of justice, whether as jurors, defendants, or prosecutors in the interest of the common good. Private wrongs could now be public wrongs and justice belonged to every member of the community who accepted his moral responsibility as a citizen” (Manville, 152).

[9] I place the term amendment in quotation marks because, as Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring clarifies in his book on the subject: “the Platt Amendment was not, as many supposed, an ‘amendment’ to the Cuban Constitution. It was indeed an ‘amendment’ presented before the United States Senate by the senator from Connecticut, Orville H. Platt, on February 25, 1901, to the bill (H.R. 14017) […] It is, then, the so-called Platt Amendment, an ‘amendment’, not to the Cuban Constitution, but to an American law; an ‘appendix’, yes, to the Cuban Constitution of 1901″ (1-3). This “amendment,” moreover, did not contemplate the sole jurisdiction of the Cuban territory as it existed under Spanish rule. The Isle of Pines, known today as the Isle of Youth, was ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris with Spain in 1898 and sovereignty over this island was not returned to Cuba until 1925.

[10] He is a modern expert, if there is one, in unearthing secret archives, conspiracies that actually took place. To prove my point, suffice it to mention his books, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana (UNC Press, 2014), The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 and The Iran-Contra Scandal: The Declassified History, Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba, all published by the New Press.

[11] I learned about this song through an interview Juan Carlos Quintero Herencia gave about his book La máquina de la salsa. Tránsitos del sabor.

[12] They are not great warriors, but builders of a social order, people of peace, of dialogue, of the city and of justice. Perhaps we can see them as heroes, in their bourgeois way, in a more prosaic world in which triumph is no longer achieved through feats of war and the roar of dazzling weapons, but through skill and intelligence in civilized treatment. (García Gual, 2007, 8). Nietzsche captures in a phrase the uniqueness of this type of cultural hero in contrast with other peoples: “Other people have saints; the Greeks have sages.”

[13] Cicero in his text On the Republic where he defends a purely civil concept of philosophical exercise proposes the Seven Wise Men as models of this and defines them in the following terms: “Those seven men whom the Greeks named ‘‘wise,’’ I observe, were almost all deeply involved in public affairs. And there is nothing in which human virtue approaches the divine more closely than in the founding of new states or the preservation of existing ones (Book I, 12)(43).

[14] In most cases, all that is known about them are their gnomei, wisdom summarized in sentences: “Nothing in excess””, “Know thyself”, “Be honest”, etc., which were easy to memorize and served as exhortation formulas for righteous behavior.

[15] The list of the sages varies. Plato in the Protagoras includes: “”  Thales of Miletus, and Pittacus of Mytilene, and Bias of Priene, and our own Solon, and Cleobulus of Lindus, and Myson of Chenae ((343ª1-5). Where the absence of Periander stands out for clear moral reasons due to his tyrannical character and his very objectionable habits. Diogenes Laertius, for his part, mentions Thales, Solon, Periander, Cleobulus, Chilon, Bias and Pittacus and adds to the list Anacharsis the Scythian, Myson of Chenae, Pherecydes of Syros and Epimenides of Cnossos.

[16] I only mention the most obvious limitations, there are many more.

[17] For this concept see Nicole Loraux’s excellent essay “Solon  in the middle of the fight” in her book The Civil War in Athens. There she states: ” Solon forbids the belligerents on both sides to cross a boundary that, symbolically, separates two armies. A marking boundary, it is the vivid reminder that the space in which it is inserted belongs to no one […] Or, if one prefers, to both armies at the same time, without winners or losers. Such a space, unthinkable in a military context in which there is always a winner…, evidently comes from the political sphere, the only sphere in which it can be admitted that a disputed land will have no owner because it belongs to the city. But, since this ownerless space is an image, it is necessary to renounce any realistic interpretation. The disputed land to which Solon prevents access to the two armies could well be nothing less than the city. By limiting this metaikhmion-like terrain. Solon alone embodies the political power that belongs only to the collectivity.”(184-5). The text of Solon where this concept acquires more prominence appears in the Constitution of Athens “But I stood in no-man’s-land between them like a boundary marker”. The original Greek reads, “ἐγὼ δὲ τούτων ὥσπερ ἐν μεταιχμίωι ὅρος κατέστην.”

[18] The reader of these pages may be aware by now of do not say anything regarding the debate between communitarians and liberals. The reservation I maintain in relation to this discussion is due to the fact that the issues that define it do not turn out to be essential to the topic under discussion here: how and where the common is founded. The main theses that characterize the quarrel between communitarians and liberals are the following:  the controversy over whether a collective notion of what is a good life is necessary for the functioning of a republic or whether the state should remain neutral in this respect and honor individual choices on this issue; whether freedom should be defined on the basis of one’s participation in government and its institutions and in relation to the common good that a society generates or whether what is relevant to this concept is the absence of external obstacles that impede the agency of individuals; the relevance, or lack thereof, of the definition of certain political virtues for the proper functioning of the republic; the need that community sentiments such as solidarity and patriotism may have for the functioning of the state, and the consequences that derive from this: understanding the political community as a simple contractual relationship between individual entities moved only by personal interests or emphasizing the importance of sharing certain political passions to strengthen the cohesion of the community and add to its proper functioning.  The bibliography on this subject is extensive. A good summary can be found in Charles Taylor’s article “Cross-Purposes: The Liberal-Communitarian Debate” included in his book Philosophical Arguments.

[19] The mysticism of these community thinkers, at least those belonging to the Italian Theory (Agamben, Esposito, Negri), is assimilated by Piero Paolo Portinaro—in his book Le mani su Machiavelli: Una critica dell’ “Italian Theory”—to Tertullian’s credo quia absurdum.

[20] Giorgio Agamben proposes his concept of community on the basis of a notion of being that denies the predicates used to define its essence, which leaves it deprived of a nature of its own and, at the same time, recovers all its attributes on the plane of existence but assuming them as improper: “This would be the only correct way to understand negative theology: neither this nor that, neither thus nor thus— but thus, as it is, with all its predicates( all is predicates is not a predicate) (92-93)” (63).In very similar terms Roberto Esposito defines the common in his book Communitas: :.[ the common is not characterized by what is proper but by what is improper”(7)

[21] I do not intend in this essay, nor do I think it advisable, to do justice to the thinkers of the common and the community I mention. I read their texts as symptoms of how these concepts have become an occasion for fraud in contemporary thought. On the other hand, it would be worthwhile to analyze, although I do not have space for it in this essay, an analogous gesture: the rescue of the concept of the commune as another attempt to save the imaginary of the common after the resounding failure of real communisms. The commune is used both, this would be the case of Pierre Laval and Christian Dardot in their book Common, as a critique and alternative to state communisms and, and here I refer to the work of Bruno Bosteels and Kristin Ross, an alternative genealogy for communist utopias.

[22] Pierre Laval and Christian Dardot’s book, Common: On Revolution in the 21st Century, mixes a fiery tone with that of a sociological-historical-philosophical treatise, perhaps the most exhaustive of all, on the theme of the common. I do not stop in this essay to dialogue with this text because the most important idea it raises, the concept of constituent power, is dealt with in another of my writings.

[23] At different moments of this essay, I approach the problem of the common using a vocabulary that privileges one of the authors mentioned in the body of the text. You will notice that in the three sentences that precede this note my prose has become rarefied. This is because I am speaking in the manner of Jean Luc Nancy. This French author’s communauté désoeuvrée would be the best example of mystification of the concept of community, were it not for texts such as Giorgio Agamben’s La communità che viene or Maurice Blanchot’s La communauté inavouable.  For Jean Luc Nancy, man thought of as an immanent being is the main stumbling block to thinking about the community. To conceive of something as immanent presupposes that one imagines an entity capable of appropriating its limit, since the border is conceived as the space that circumscribes a regime of legibility. This is what Nancy will define as the work; a territory constituted by an autonomous form of legibility. The community is inoperative, transcendent, because it understands the limit in an opposite way: the place where the fullness of a meaning is expressed that never comes to be realized—or that is only realized insofar as it fails—that never comes to dominate its own border, to be conceived as absolute, to become a work. This conceptual move is intended to achieve two different things. First, to prevent the common from being understood as an identity, a datum, a form of legibility that is specific and irreducible to everything that surrounds it, and with this gesture he is trying to exorcise any fundamentalism of the concept of community, as happened with Nazism. Secondly, by conceiving community as a power that defines itself in its own non-realization, non-actualization, an attempt is made to save the redemptive promise of communism without taking responsibility for the genocides that were committed in its name.

[24] Esposito, for example, states in the first paragraph of his book Communitas: “Nothing sees more appropriate today that thinking community; nothing more necessary, demanded and heralded by a situation that joins in a unique epochal knot the failure of all communisms with the misery of new individualisms” (21).

[25] The slogan launched by Fidel Castro in his famous speech Palabras a los intelectuales leaves no room for doubt: “within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing.” The phrase summarizes the spaces of legitimacy, the access to the public, as defined by the leader of the Cuban revolution: everything that is not inside is against. From Fidel Castro’s rhetorical manipulation of the opposition Inside/Outside by transforming it into Inside/Against, a spatial distinction is transfigured into the essential opposition of political discourse: for-against, friend-enemy. Antonio José Ponte, in La fiesta vigilada, traces the political genealogy of this phrase that takes us from the Scala of Milan to the National Library of Cuba: “Under the appearance of providing a magnanimous width, the important thing was to officially enclose artistic thought. Within the revolution, everything. Against the revolution, nothing (‘La nostra formulae questa: tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contra lo Stato,’ Benito Mussolini would have pronounced in 1925, also in a theater, at La Scala in Milan)” (Ponte, 101). As the quotation shows, rather than rhetorical invocation, one could speak, in this case, of mistranslation or an attempt to mask and, at the same time, make il Duce’s phrase more succinct, and powerful.

[26] This idea is presented in many ways. Three of the most influential philosophers—Locke, Rousseau and Marx—have their own version on this subject. In this paper only my position on this issue will be contrasted with Locke’s because of the relevance this counterpoint has for my argument.

[27] The following idea—central to thinking about the relationship between ontology and politics—derives from the above: that the common and what is owned by people can only be claimed as arche, as the ontological foundation of the political community, if the mutual interdependence and simultaneity that welds these concepts together is understood.

[28] It should be noted that Dardot and Laval’s reading of this term has a political-pragmatic character as opposed to the ontological slant that Esposito gives to it.

[29] It cannot be denied that the two traditions on which the West rest upon, the Judeo-Christian and the Greco-Latin, associate the foundation of the city with a form of sacrifice: fratricide. Cain and Romulus, the two great founders of cities, of political communities, kill their respective brothers. It is worthwhile, however, to dwell for a moment on the figure of Romulus in order to better understand the relationship that the sacrificial element could have with the founding of the community. In the story of Romulus and Remus, as told by Titus Livy, the fact of creating boundaries, borders, undertaken by Romulus is the first political act and by mocking and not respecting these limits, Remus, violates the code that will govern the new coexistence pact. “ It is the murder of Remus by his brother Romulus that reveals the formality of the political overlapping that of the family, since it arises from the subversion of the family fate or, in other words, of the law of the city – its impassable limit – imposing itself on the bond of blood: in the political society, in the city, citizens are more neighbors than brothers” (Marín, 107). What must be questioned in the act of Remo is the abolition of previous filiations, brotherhood and kinship ties, in function of the new form that will govern the new model of coexistence, the neighborhood—based on borders that distinguish between what is one’s own by someone and what is not—which will be the code, the norm, that will organize civil life.   If the myth of Antigone teaches us anything, it is the impossibility of suspending previous filiations as a function of a new coexistence pact. Abolishing the forms of filiation regulated by tradition and founding a new origin on the basis of the filiation that activates the new coexistence pact institutes the archeology of the revolutionary gesture. In a later note we will analyze the relationship that crime has with the foundation of the political community contrasted with the notion of the State of Nature in Hobbes.

[30] Regarding the contractual character that the gift acquires within the institution of hospitality, Benveniste states: “It is not merely a present, a disinterested gift: it is a gift qua contractual prestation imposed by the obligation of a pact, an alliance, a friendship, or a bond of hospitality: the obligation of the xeînos( of the guest), of the subjects towards their king or god and also the prestation implied by an alliance”( 47) .

[31] The concept of the common designates a form of equality that can only be accessed by compensation: “The primitive notion coveyed by hostis is that of equality by compensation: a hostis is one who repays my gift with a counter-gift”(” (61).  The one who welcomes and the one who is welcomed are not on an equal footing, there is a clear relationship of hierarchy between them. It is the respective gifts that are exchanged that create the common space in which they meet. Hospitality creates a relationship in which two different people or groups become equal, building a commonality, based on a series of exchanges and rituals that guarantee reciprocity.

[32] It is important to clarify that my reading of the state of nature in Hobbes differs, in almost all points, from that proposed by Roberto Esposito in the book I have quoted several times in these pages. The Italian philosopher states the following regarding this concept in Hobbes: ““ What men have in common, what makes them more like each other than anything else, is their generalized capacity to be killed: the fact that anyone can be killed by anyone else. This is what Hobbes sees in the dark depths of the community; this is how he interprets community’s indecipherable law: the communitas carries within it a gift of death”  (41). Hobbes, at least in the reading that seems correct to me, imagines the foundation of the political community from the creation of the fiction of sovereignty: that representative apparatus that allows to unify in will and intention those who lived in a gregarious and belligerent solitude. Sovereignty, the political community, does not have a monopoly on the cum, the act of being together, an essential part of the concept of community, but prior to it all forms of association only have the reality of randomness.  The myth of the origin of the community and of the political proposed by Hobbes differs from others such as the Old Testament myth or Freud’s myth in Totem and Taboo, where the passage from the original community to the political is imagined through a crime: “Crimes presides over the birth of the group, of history, of language” ” (Eugène Enríquez quoted by  Blanchot, 39). This sacrificial notion of the political community has great importance, as we have already seen, for the concept of community handled by authors such as Bataille, Nancy, Blanchot and Esposito.

[33] This position separates itself from all religious, juridical and political attempts to imagine an original community where things would have been common to all men.

[34] I am referring here to the argument proposed by John Locke, regarding property, in his Second Treatise of Government: “Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature has provided, and left it in, he has mixed his labor with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature has placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.” According to this perspective, things were created by the maker of the world for common use and it is labor as the human source of creation that gives men the right of ownership. The only thing that God grants to each human being as their belongings are his body and the use of his reason. The benefits generated by the work of his body and reason he can claim as rightfully his own. This power of appropriation is limited by necessity and use. The human being can appropriate whatever he needs to survive. As can be observed from what is argued in the body of the text, this essay argues that we can only refer to property, strictly speaking, when there is recognition by others, since this is what gives value to work, and there is only property when a public value has been established for things, which can only be achieved in civil society and through laws, whether oral or written. The recognition of others is what gives the juridical character of property to what I own, on this aspect see the chapter that will be dedicated in this book to Hegel’s Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts.

[35] The one who most firmly attempts to reinvent the concept of community from what is not own is Giorgio Agamben in his book La comunità che viene (The Coming Community). There he asserts: “The coming being is whatever being(9). Whatever being, Agamben continues: “The lover wants the loved one with all of its predicates” (10), without privileging any of them, without designating them as its own. Whatever being does not claim any predicate as its property and places itself before all of them on equal terms, desiring what they have of improper. . In very similar terms Roberto Esposito defines the common in the book already cited in this chapter: “the common is not characterized by what is proper but by what is improper, or even more drastically, by the other; by a voiding, be it partial or a whole, of property into its negative[…] Not subjects. Or subjects of their own proper lack”(7)   . What these theorists are trying to do, and I quote now the words of Jean Luc Nancy, is to think the concept of community after the experience of Nazism put: “an end to any possibility of relying on any data of the common being (blood, substance, affiliation, essence, origin, nature, consecration, choice, organic or mystical identity). In fact, it is even what put an end to the possibility of thinking a common being under any model of a ‘being’, under any model of a ‘being’ in general”. (7-8). It is worth clarifying that in the text with which Agamben closes his Homo Sacer cycle, The Use of Bodies, a more dialectical relation to the self is postulated. Hölderlin’s phrase that serves as a motto for this text leaves no doubt in this regard: “The free use of the proper is the most difficult thing”.” An attempt is made in this work to trace the philosophical and political returns of a form of life with respect to which no qualifiers are spared, the properties: it is defined as private, intimate, clandestine, singular; a trait that deserves special attention since it appears within a group of works that stand out for attempting to dismantle the whole scaffolding that sustains the concept of sovereignty in the Western political imaginary based on the concept of a life without attributes, the nude life or naked life whose defining element is its permanent exclusion of all property. I cannot do justice here to this significant turn in his thought.

[36] I am referring here to his dialogue The Statesman. In the seminar that Cornelius Castoriadis devotes to this dialogue he states: That’s what Plato calls the metrion. We therefore have two “metretic” and, two arts of measure, of mensuration: the quantitative and athose that concern quality, which Plato characterizes by using several terms: the metrion, which means quite strictly that which obeys a measure; the metron, that’s the measure; metrion, that’s the measured in the two senses of the term, the measured as past participle and the measured as adjective (wise, prudent). There’s also (the Greek) prepon, what ought to be, the German Sollen, or the [Greek] deon (what should be, what is fitting or suitable), or kairos, the propitious, appropriate instant, and the instant in relation to measure. (87).

[37] In the argumentative structure of The Statesman, extravagance and confusion are mixed. Three definitions of the statesman are proposed, two of them are abandoned, without explaining very well why, and the third one is accepted—the one presented in the body of this essay—without clearly expressing the reasons that sustain this option. The dialogue proposes two options to its exegete: to be faithful to the labyrinthine structure proposed by his discourse or to choose one of the definitions in play and try to supply the reasons that validate this choice. I have chosen the latter variant and I have done it through Philebus; a dialogue of the same period and with similar themes, but with a much clearer and more convincing rhetorical-argumentative structure. I agree with Donald Davidson regarding the productivity of the exegetical approach of placing Philebus in the imaginary place that should have been occupied by the never finished dialogue, the Philosopher, which would complete the trilogy of figures of thought, together with the Sophist and the Statesman, that Plato proposed at the end of his work.  Philebus is the second best option we have to approach the ultimate truths that Plato should have proposed in his abandoned text, the Philosopher. It is worth clarifying, however, that with respect to ultimate truths only the second best options are available.

[38] It is important, in order to know where we stand in relation to the dialogues of this last stage of Plato’s work, to understand that the emphasis has shifted from the opposition between episteme and doxa, science and opinion, to the counterpoint between episteme and phronesis (prudence or capacity to judge). Castoriadis, in the seminar I have already quoted in this essay, states the following with respect to this last period of Plato’s work: “to which the Statesman fully belong, a period that could be called the period of the mixed, where, to put it brutally, the irreducibility of total being to the Idea of being crops up more and more. Total being is not only eidos; it’s a composition of hulê and eidos, of matter and form”(103). And about phronesis he says: So, if statesmanship appertains to something from this point of view, it obviously isn’t to têchne or epistêmê  but quite obviously to all that brings phrónēsis into play, that is to say, the faculty of judging and of orienting oneself (another Kantian term, moreover)— for, in the end, that’s what separating the pertinent from the non pertinent is— in relation to human affairs, to the real things in society((36).

[39] In Philebus and the Statesman, Plato pursues what he calls the common life (κοινὸν βίον), that where one enjoys and suffers, the life that belongs to men as opposed to the gods who are subject neither to pain nor to pleasure. This life is accessed, as is made clear in Philebus, through the mixture (μικτὴ) of the unlimited (ápeiron) and the limit (péras). Or to be more precise, this is the genre where all the unlimited—the unlimited for the Greek world are always multiple and threaten the order or the norm as they leave it open to the more and the less of the becoming of the living—”remain subject by the limit.”

[40] “The executive structure of the state of exception was part of an abandonment of the representative and electoral mechanisms of democracy, which accelerated in Cuba between 1960 and 1962. In September 1960, the First Declaration of Havana, with a strong nationalist content, was voted by a show of hands by a National General Assembly of the People of Cuba, meeting in the Plaza de la Revolución. That same Assembly met again in February 1962, to vote the Second Declaration of Havana, already more inscribed in the doctrinal horizon of Marxism-Leninism. By then, the socialist character of the Revolution had been declared, the rupture of relations with the United States had taken place, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the creation of the single party, first called Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI) and then the United Party of the Socialist Revolution of Cuba (PURSC)” (Rafael Rojas, “La soledad constitucional del socialismo cubano” (Rafael Rojas, “La soledad constitucional del socialismo cubano”, “The constitutional solitude of Cuban socialism”).

[41] The best studies I know of on parrhesia are the seminars given by Michel Foucault at the College de France in the academic years 1982-1983 and 1983-84 entitled, respectively, The Government of the Self and the Government of Others and The Courage of Truth. Regarding the distinction between isegoria and parrhesia, see the aforementioned seminars by Foucault and the essay by Teresa Bejan entitled “Two concepts of Freedom (of Speech).”

Jorge Brioso. Professor of Peninsular and Latin American literature at Carleton College. He has published El privilegio de pensar (Casa Vacía, 2020). He has translated and edited the poetry and essays of José Lezama Lima with James Irby in the volume A Poetic Order of Excess (Green Integer, 2019).


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