Placing things in the middle

When Aristotle, discussing government, said:

the deliberative factor is sovereign about war and peace and the formation and dissolution of alliances, and about laws, and about sentences of death and exile and confiscation of property, and about the audits of magistrates. And necessarily either all these decisions must be assigned to all the citizens, or all to some of them or different ones to different magistracies, or some of them to all the citizens and some to certain persons. (Politics, 1298a5)

he meant exactly what he wrote.

True citizenship is operational only within the limits of public space. The discovery of the public thing or ‘res publica’ by ancient Greek and Rome was catastrophic to the idea that all space is divided between competing jurisdiction and that personal rule is the ultimate rule of the land. Private land, that is.

The public space is not just a concept diametrically opposed to that of private space. It is a space of mediation. The ancient Greeks had a word for it, in fact two words: es meson. It means ‘in the middle’ and, in the age of Athenian democracy, the expression carried the idea of putting things in the public domain to be constested, discussed, challenged, voted on, adopted, rejected, or simply scrutinised with the help of reason and rhetoric. The agora, the forum, the marketplace, call it as you wish, was the place where ideas came to be traded, exchanged and tested for the good of all present, unlike the unilateral or bilateral commercial agreements current in non res-publican cultures and polities. When the citizens came together on the Acropolis or on the marble steps of the Roman Forum, they didn’t come only as private individuals seeking their own benefit, but as something more than that – as parts of the res-publica with the res-publica itself placed right in the middle.

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