Book Review: The Perpetual Immigrant and the Limits of Athenian Democracy, by Demetra Kasimis

Published date01 June 2021
Date01 June 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
512 Political Theory 49(3)
liberalism. In Chamberlain’s work society, everything is work—domestic
and household maintenance, volunteering time to community organizations,
and alienated wage labor all fall within the sphere of work. Such a broad
brush skips over the fine conceptual distinctions, such as between labor and
work, that thinkers like Arendt have noticed. To take one example, the capa-
cious definition of work keeps at a remove the concept of alienation, one idea
that might have driven home the tragedy of the work society. The ideology of
the work society sustains a kind of ontological alienation, reinforcing the idea
that individuals create community rather than the other way around.
Despite these limitations, Chamberlain’s book provides an important chal-
lenge to our assumptions about work and its place in society. Even as it moves
quickly over Marx’s ideas about human nature, it offers an implicit challenge
to the post-Marxist Left to spend less time analyzing late capitalism and more
time understanding Marx’s critique of alienation. Chamberlain never says it
outright, but his book reminds readers throughout that Marx was just as much
a theorist of “species-being” as of homo faber. We are part of a society,
whether we work or not. We don’t create society through our work; our social
nature inspires us to imagine and create. Perhaps getting back in touch with
the concept of “species-being” could show the way toward the perennially
appealing vision of organizing our lives just as we have a mind to do.
The Perpetual Immigrant and the Limits of Athenian Democracy, by Demetra Kasimis.
Cambridge University Press, 2018, xvii + 206 pp.
Reviewed by: Geoff Bakewell, Greek and Roman Studies, Rhodes College, Memphis,
DOI: 10.1177/0090591720949472
Metics formed a large segment of the population of ancient Athens. Juridically
speaking, they were free noncitizens who resided in Attica under a variety of
constraints and received some legal protections. Athenian metics were a het-
erogeneous group. Some were people of wealth and privilege, others poor;
some of them were also former slaves. Moreover, while many metics were
lifelong inhabitants of the city, others were simply visitors in town for a
month (the legal threshold) or more, on business or for other reasons. And
although many metics were ethnically Greek, others hailed from surrounding
regions like Thrace, Macedonia, Caria, Phoenicia, Egypt, and Carthage.
Kasimis’s book concerns itself with a subset of this varied population—
namely, those “perpetual immigrants” who closely resembled the Athenian

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