Civic friendship

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Among recent studies of friendship, some (for example, those by A. C. Grayling, Gregory Jusdanis, and Alexander Nehamas) analyze it as a closed, self-referential relationship between two private individuals, while others as an open, civic-minded relationship between two free citizens. In the latter category particularly engaging are the following four books, written by scholars in political theory, philosophy, and sociology.

The Form of Politics argues that friendship as dwelling and dancing together is the authentic form of politics.
On Civic Friendship proposes that women perform the basic friendship-labor of democracy, and takes it as the foundation of a new theory of care.
Solidarity suggests that, as a virtue/excellence, democratic solidarity contributes to the common good and can sustain a global community.
Friendship in an Age of Economics opposes friendship as training in recognition, trust, and solidarity to the neoliberal economy of human relations.

The private and the civic kind of friendship are not mutually exclusive: on the contrary, they often contain enriching elements of each other. Neither are they to be compared in terms of strength or worth. As a person, I owe a lot to both kinds. My tremendous friendship with Pantelis Polychronidis, “a comrade in attunement,” testifies to their compatibility, and illustrates how private and civic aspects of friendship can be mutually supportive.

The current interest in civic friendship helps recall the early practices of fraternity
when, as I write elsewhere in this blog, “in the late eighteenth century, before becoming first revolutionaries in the barricades, then comrades in the parties, and eventually citizens in the assemblies, individuals who aspired to fashion new selves outside a court, military, or religious setting forged the first modern friendships seeking to balance personal feelings and public virtues. Two complementary pre-revolutionary types emerged who challenged the formal allegiances and reciprocal favors among the nobility with the civic duties of virtue: the rebel and the friend. They emerged together as they created one another. The rebel needed somebody by his side to fight tyranny. The friend needed somebody’s hand on his shoulder to save him from Werther’s sorrows. Together they overcame rank and sentiment to forge fraternité and fight for a higher purpose. The solidarity between rebel and friend produced a new agent, the revolutionary ethical man.”

September 1, 2016

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