Parmenides Publishing

Titles by Xavier Márquez

A Stranger's Knowledge:
Statesmanship, Philosophy & Law in Plato's Statesman

June 2012
ISBN: 978-1-930972-79-7
418 pages • 6 x 9 • Paperback
  Xavier Márquez
Xavier Márquez

teaches political theory and political science at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand. He specializes in the history of political thought, and has published pieces on ancient as well as modern thinkers. He is a native of Caracas, Venezuela.

Personal website

The Statesman is a difficult and puzzling Platonic dialogue. In A Stranger's Knowledge Márquez argues that Plato abandons here the classic idea, prominent in the Republic, that the philosopher, qua philosopher, is qualified to rule. Instead, the dialogue presents the statesman as different from the philosopher, the possessor of a specialist expertise that cannot be reduced to philosophy. The expertise is of how to make a city resilient against internal and external conflict in light of the imperfect sociality of human beings and the poverty of their reason. This expertise, however, cannot be produced on demand: one cannot train statesmen like one might train carpenters. Worse, it cannot be made acceptable to the citizens, or operate in ways that are not deeply destructive to the city's stability. Even as the political community requires his knowledge for its preservation, the genuine statesman must remain a stranger to the city.

Marquez shows how this impasse is the key to understanding the ambiguous reevaluation of the rule of law that is the most striking feature of the political philosophy of the Statesman. The law appears here as a mere approximation of the expertise of the inevitably absent statesman, dim images and static snapshots of the clear and dynamic expertise required to steer the ship of state across the storms of the political world. Yet such laws, even when they are not created by genuine statesmen, can often provide the city with a limited form of cognitive capital that enables it to preserve itself in the long run, so long as citizens, and especially leaders, retain a "philosophical" attitude towards them. It is only when rulers know that they do not know better than the laws what is just or good (and yet want to know what is just and good) that the city can be preserved. The dialogue is thus, in a sense, the vindication of the philosopher-king in the absence of genuine political knowledge.

The book contains an illuminating discussion of the Eleatic Stranger ’s initial divisions and his treatment of the statesman as a shepherd of human beings. Márquez persuasively argues that the bizarre details and conclusions of this discussion are in fact crucial for understanding important aspects of states- manship that are only fully developed later in the dialogue. (Full text here)
—Christina Tarnopolsky
McGill University
The Review of Politics, Volume 76, Issue 01
(Winter 2014), pp 136-140

"Xavier Márquez has produced a remarkable study, original and challenging, of what is perhaps Plato's most mysterious and forbidding dialogue. His reading shows the often elusive unity of the Statesman without sacrificing any of its complexity. In addition to this the Statesman is shown to suggest larger unifying themes and problems in Plato's political thought in a way that not only illuminates the dialogues, but political reality itself. A Stranger's Knowledge succeeds in doing what political theory at its best can do, and it is rarely done so well."

—V. Bradley Lewis
Associate Professor of Philosophy
The Catholic University of America

"Marquez's book is engaging, insightful, and stimulating—altogether a most welcome contribution to the growing body of scholarship on the Statesman."
—Jacob Howland
McFarlin Professor of Philosophy
University of Tulsa

"'The Statesman is the great Platonic reflection on the necessary imperfection of the political world.' The author fully justifies this concluding sentence of his subtle, lucid, and unusually sympathetic interpretation of and reflection on perhaps the most difficult of all the dialogues. Márquez has an exquisite feel for Plato's interweaving of enthusiasm for political reform with a resigned alienation in the face of reform's gritty and often violent necessities. The author maps the dialogue's twists and turns onto the concerns of distinguished political thinkers of our own time —Oakeshott, Arendt, Rawls, —and so reveals how Plato's anxieties should also be our own. Like the Statesman itself, this book will exhilarate readers even as it chastens them."
—David O'Connor
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Classics
University of Notre Dame