Opinion article written by André Barata, Professor at FCSH-UBI, within the scope of the project “Jovens na Política – Participar para a Cidadania Global (2ª Ed.)” (Youth in Politics – Participating for Global Citizenship (2nd Ed.)).
Politics comes from the Greek word polis, whose most literal meaning is the city and, by extension, the state itself, which, in ancient Greece, largely coincided with the city. Aristotle wrote Ta politika, a study of matters relating to the polis or, more elaborately, the art or science of government and state affairs. It is in Aristotle’s Politics that one reads, in Book 1, that man is, by nature, a political animal (zoon politikón) in the sense that, by nature, he is interdependent and must live in polis, in society. Therefore, polis meant much more the group of citizens than the geography where they live.
Before that, Plato’s great work, Politeia, had appeared, which we learned to call the Republic in its Latin version. This translation of the polis as public thing (res publica) is consecrated centuries later by the great Marcus Tullius Cicero, as the people’s thing (res populi), together in a multitude associated under a legal consensus. And not just for reasons of necessity – the joint defense of external threats – but for the free and fulfilling exercise of the natural sociability mentioned by Aristotle. Politics was conceived as a good. Far, therefore, from the conceptions, which would emerge much later in history, of politics as a lesser evil, necessary to guarantee our security.
A polis is justified where there are citizens, whether in a city, a state, between states. For a cosmopolitan, the whole world is a polis and all people are citizens of it. Recognizing citizenship is the first gesture of politics. One is not a citizen alone in the world and one is not genuinely accompanied without a presumption of equality and dignity. In the original sense, being in company is being among equals with those who share the same bread (com, panis).
At its roots, politics is a greater good, which fulfills us. The polis is a community as large as our ability to recognize others with equal dignity, regardless of differences. In a global world, increasingly interdependent in the sharing of resources and the consequences of the choices we make, we are all together, north and south, rich and poor, citizen and stateless. The planet is our polis.
By André Barata, Professor of Philosophy at the Faculty of Arts and Letters of the University of Beira Interior (FAL-UBI).