One of the most penetrating essays on the commons that I have encountered in the last few years was published this year by Italian comparative law professor Ugo Mattei, who teaches at the International University College of Turin (Italy) and the University of California, Hastings College of Law. Professor Mattei deals with a topic that gets very little attention – how the commons relates to the State and Market – and does so in the broadest philosophical scope imaginable and with great sophistication.
So far as I can tell, Mattei’s essay, “The State, the Market, and Some Preliminary Question about the Commons,” (in English and French) written this year, has not been published in any scholarly journal. This is not entirely surprising: the short essay is too cutting-edge for in its theorizing, and the commons itself elicits limited interest in mainstream academic disciplines beyond the ritualistic flogging of Hardin’s “tragedy” essay.
Professor Mattei starts by pointing out how the categories of “public” and “private” impoverish the possibilities of modern political life. The former is seen as the realm of the State and citizens, and the latter is the realm of the market and private property. All of politics is framed by this axis, casting us as “for” or “against” the Market or the State, respectively. But the very idea of “public vs. private” is, as Mattei puts it, “a distinction without a difference,” one that furthermore shuts down other ways of being, knowing and seeking change.