Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, February 3, 2012

On Friendship and Political Philosophy

THE REDOUBTABLE DANTE WRITES in his Divine Comedy about the "bond of love which nature makes," lo vinco d’amor che fa natura. In this phrase, Dante invokes the whole tradition of classical philosophy and Catholic social teaching on the natural basis for social and civil life among men: friendship. To the idea of natural friendship, the Christian adds his ideal of supernatural love.

Aristotle observed long ago that friendship was both an important individual trait as well as a public trait. The happiness for the individual, that is, his end, Aristotle insisted, is the same as that of the city, the polis, the larger political society in which he lived. Indeed, Aristotle conceives of the citizens of a polis as a body or network of friends, or, perhaps more accurately, of a network of groups of friends, friends who share a common life, friends in which there is no opposition, but rather a commonality of interests. This has to be so since a friend is "another self." In the polity, there "arise . . . family connections, brotherhoods, common sacrifices, amusements which draw men together. But these are created by friendship, for the will to live together is friendship. The end of the state is the good life, and these are the means to it." Politics 1280b35. Friendship and justice are all tied to a community: "To the same extent that a community exists, friendship also exists, and likewise justice." Some degree of friendship must exist for there to be justice. Politics, 1159b29-31 and 1160a7-8. Friends are a practical necessity, since man being neither a god nor a beast, but a "political creature and one whose nature is to live with others." Nicomachean Ethics, 1169b18; Politics 1253a2.

This is also the theme of St. Thomas Aquinas, who, of course, relied on Aristotle and conformed him to a Christian ethos. In his explanation of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, St. Thomas has the following to say:

There is also a natural friendship between people of the same race who have common customs and social life. There is above all that natural friendship of all men for one another by reason of their likeness in specific nature. . . . . He [Aristotle] offers the fourth reason, pointing out that cities seem to be preserved by friendship. Hence legislators have greater zeal for maintaining friendship among citizens than even justice itself which is sometimes omitted, for example, in the infliction of punishment, lest dissension be stirred up. This is clear from the fact that concord and friendship are similar. Certainly lawmakers especially want this harmony and eliminate from the citizenry as much as possible contention inimical to the security of the city. Because the whole of ethics seems to be ordered to the good of the state, as was said at the beginning, it pertains to ethics to treat friendship.*

There is, then, a natural bond between men, a natural affection, what we call a civil friendship. This is the foundation of social life, and it must pre-exist the organs and institutions of the state. "The profound meaning of all civil and political life does not arise immediately from the list of personal rights and duties." (Compendium, No. 390) Rather, these personal rights and duties are founded upon lo vinco d’amor che fa natura, the chain of love or friendship that is found in the nature of man. "Life in society takes on all of its significance when it is based on civil friendship and on fraternity." (Compendium, No. 390) Neither Aristotle nor the Church entertain the Hobbesian theory that in a state of nature every man is an enemy to every man.

The motto of the State of Texas is "Friendship"
(The word Texas comes from the Caddo Indian word
"teyshas" which means "friends" or "allies")

The Compendium therefore distinguishes between the "sphere of friendship" and the "sphere of rights." The "sphere of rights," which is built upon either individualistic or collectivist ideologies, is concerned with extrinsic rights. It is a world of "safeguarded interests, external respect, the protection of material goods and their distribution according to established rules." The "sphere of friendship" on the other hand is based upon "selflessness, detachment from material goods, giving freely, and [the] inner acceptance of the needs of others." (Compendium, No. 390)

The "sphere of friendship" is more basic and more fundamental that the "sphere of rights." Anyone who tries to build a civil polity based upon a "sphere of rights" alone, as the liberal West seems to be inclined to doing in its hankering after multiculturalism and pluralism, is doomed to failure. There has to be something more viscous, a little "blood," i.e., friendship, to thicken the cement of civil and political union. An insipid and thin "water," i.e., rights, especially positive rights, simply will not serve to form a people, and much less a people into a polity.

In fact, relying only upon a "sphere of rights" to build a state, and ignoring the "sphere of friendship" is a recipe for tyranny. As St. Thomas writes in his book On Kingship to the King of Cyprus:
Now all friendship is concluded upon the basis of something common among those who are to be friends, for we see that those are united in friendship who have in common either their natural origin, or some similarity in habits of life, or any kind of social interests. Consequently there can be little or no friendship between tyrants and their subjects.**
If friendship exits stage left, tyranny enters stage right.

In the same vein, the Compendium states that civil friendship--and not mere reliance upon civil rights--is what will preserve freedom and proper equality among citizens.

Civil friendship . . . is the most genuine actualization of the principle of fraternity, which is inseparable from that of freedom and equality. In large part, this principle has not been put into practice in the concrete circumstances of modern political society, above all because of the influence of individualistic and collectivistic ideologies.***

(Compendium, No. 390)

Those whose political philosophy is limited to the "sphere of rights" see each man as an atom, an individual, unattached by ties to others except as they may obtain advantage of it. Those of a collectivist bent, seek to have all these atomistic individuals compressed into a collective. In either case, those whose vision is limited to the "sphere of rights" have an inadequate notion of human nature and an inadequate philosophy of the human as a person.

Those who, without denying the reality of the "sphere of rights," recognize that there must be something deeper, a "sphere of friendship" to support the "sphere of rights," understand man not as an individual, but as a person. "No man is an island entire of itself," says the poet John Donne. Man does not live in the "sphere of rights." No, "every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main," the main which is the "sphere of friendship."

A person has an intrinsic dignity which arises from his freedom, his reason, and the end to which he is called. The Compendium explains:
The human being is a person, not just an individual. The term "person" indicates "a nature endowed with intelligence and free will": he is therefore a reality that is far superior to that of a subject defined by the needs arising solely from his material dimension. The human person, in fact, although participating actively in projects designed to satisfy his needs within the family and within civil and political society, does not find complete self-fulfillment until he moves beyond the mentality of needs and enters into that of gratuitousness and gift, which fully corresponds to his essence and community vocation.
(Compendium, No. 391)

Civil society and its political institutions must therefore view things not solely from an individualistic or collectivistic "sphere of rights" point of vantage. Their vision, like Moses' view from Mount Pisgah, must be aimed at the "sphere of friendship," which will allow for a political philosophy which is integrally and substantially personal:

A community has solid foundations when it tends toward the integral promotion of the person and of the common good. In such cases, law is defined, respected and lived according to the manner of solidarity and dedication towards one's neighbor.

(Compendium, No. 391)

If we move from the "sphere of rights" to the "sphere of friendship," we realize how limited "justice" is at preserving a polity. We realize ultimately that justice is the bare minimum, the lowest boundary, the least common denominator of social life. There is something much greater than justice which is required for a flourishing polis: friendship, even love.
Justice requires that everyone should be able to enjoy their own goods and rights; this can be considered the minimum measure of love. Social life becomes more human the more it is characterized by efforts to bring about a more mature awareness of the ideal towards which it should be oriented, which is the "civilization of love."
(Compendium, No. 391)

If friendship, a natural form of love, is admitted into political philosophy, then it becomes open to the possibility of the Gospel. A polity based upon a narrow political philosophy of "rights," will speak "rights talk." There will be no "friendship talk," and much less "love talk." This is the great social contribution of the Gospel:

The gospel precept of charity enlightens Christians as to the deepest meaning of political life. In order to make it truly human, "no better way exists . . . than by fostering an inner sense of justice, benevolence and service for the common good, and by strengthening basic beliefs about the true nature of the political community and about the proper exercise and limits of public authority." [VII, GS, 73] The goal which believers must put before themselves is that of establishing community relationships among people. The Christian vision of political society places paramount importance on the value of community, both as a model for organizing life in society and as a style of everyday living.

(Compendium, No. 392)

*Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Sententiae Octavi Libri Ethicorum, VIII, lect. 1: Ed. Leon. 47, 443: "Est enim naturalis amicitia inter eos qui sunt unius gentis ad invicem, inquantum communicant in moribus et convictu. . . . . Quartam rationem ponit ibi: Videtur autem et civitates continere amicitia. Et dicit quod per amicitiam videntur conservari civitates. Unde legislatores magis student ad amicitiam conservandam inter cives quam etiam ad iustitiam, quam quandoque intermittunt, puta in poenis inferendis, ne dissensio oriatur. Et hoc patet per hoc quod concordia assimulatur amicitiae, quam quidem, scilicet concordiam, legislatores maxime appetunt, contentionem autem civium maxime expellunt, quasi inimicam salutis civitatis. Et quia tota moralis philosophia videtur ordinari ad bonum civile, ut in principio dictum est, pertinet ad moralem considerare de amicitia." For English translation see
Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, De Regno. Ad Regem Cypri, I, 10: Ed. Leon. 42, 461: "Omnis autem amicitia super aliqua communione firmatur: eos enim qui conveniunt uel per nature originem uel per morum similitudinem vel per cuiuscumque communionem, videmus amicitia coniungi... Non enim conservatur amore, cum parva vel nulla sit amicitia subiecte multitudinis ad tyrannum, ut prehabitis patet." For English translation see
***That is the great defect behind the French Revolution's motto: Liberté, égalité, fraternité, "Liberty, equality, fraternity." Unless built upon a "sphere of friendship" perfected by the love of the Gospel, a state will not flourish. In vanum laboraverunt qui aedificant eam nisi Dominus custodierit civitatem. Frustra vigilat qui custodit eam. (Psalm 127(126):1) "Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build. [Unless the LORD guard the city,] in vain does the guard keep watch." That is why Pope John Paul insisted in his first visit to France (Homily at Le Bourget (June 1, 1980): "In the final analysis, these [words, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity] are Christian ideas." A civil polity based upon the "rights of man" is a corruption of the Christian ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity understood within the context of friendship and of Christian love of God and love of neighbor as self.

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