Politics and Citizens
Ask anyone today what politics is and she or he will likely say: “It’s the struggle over how to allocate resources” or “It’s about who gets power.” All in all, today when we think about politics we think about competition, struggle, fighting, war. There’s nothing friendly or cooperative about it, unless we’re “bedfellows,” fellows of the sheets, frolicking and colluding to further our joint self-interest, which no doubt is at odds with someone else’s. Today this notion of politics seems so commonsensical that no one apparently thinks about it. But it hasn’t always been this way—which leads me to think that politics isn’t necessarily this way. Moreover, perhaps this view of politics is the product of some larger view we hold.
Over the years I have come to see a connection between our views about politics and our views about subjectivity or, roughly speaking, about how we come to be in the world. This is most apparent when I compare the Greeks’ views of subjectivity and politics with the moderns’ views on these matters. (When I invoke “the Greeks” I refer specifically to Pericles and other democrats of his time in Athens, rather than to Plato and Aristotle.) In the modern era (that is, since Descartes), we tend to think that selves are substances—not just our bodies but our psyches, if you will, immaterial “things.” The idea is that there is some “core self” that endures through time. This is what we allude to when we say things such as, “I want to get to know who I really am, to find myself,” or, less prosaically, “Know thyself.” These phrases point to a search for the psychic self as essential sub-