Concord :)


Cooler King
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In Book 8 of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says that “Friendship holds political communities together, and lawgivers apparently devote more attention to it than to justice.” This civic friendship Aristotle calls concord, the goodwill and mutual affection that makes each citizen enter sympathetically into the concerns of his fellow-citizens and willingly exert himself on the whole community’s behalf. Modern liberalism tries largely to dispense with such moral and emotional supports to civic unity, but our civic life is in danger of fragmentation in the absence of any serious attention to cultivating concord.

What is the nature of concord, in Aristotle’s analysis, and how does this form of friendship compare to the other forms he describes and especially to perfect friendship? Concord is a problematic form of friendship, not necessarily involving virtue at all. It is shared by all citizens only in the best of times, but it also unites partisans in civic struggles. Indeed, concord seems to be merely a species of the lowest form of friendship, utilitarian friendship. Citizens or political allies care about the prosperity of their community or party because of the benefits they seek from it. Yet here more than in most utilitarian friendships, genuine goodwill or affection is present. Because of the magnitude of the objects with which political allies are concerned and because of the very efforts and sacrifices citizens of a small community must make for one another, cool thoughts of mutual utility are transformed to fervent fellow-feeling. An active civic life encourages civic friendship by encouraging citizens to take the affectionate pride in one another that benefactors take in their beneficiaries.

More importantly, the concord that unites a healthy community rises above simple utilitarian friendship because it rests necessarily on a commitment to justice. In Book 5 of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle describes the form of justice, reciprocity, that unites cities and creates civic harmony. May not a dedication to reciprocal justice elevate political friendship, in the best cases, to the level of the very highest friendships in Aristotle’s typology? An examination of reciprocity as Aristotle elaborates it in 5.5, however, shows its problematic character. The demand for reciprocity is in part a simple dedication to fairness, but it seems necessarily to involve also the demand for certain forms of honor and revenge that Aristotle shows are not wholly rational and that imbue political life with an inescapable harshness. Rather than trying to make political life more intense so as to make people more passionately devoted to their communities and to justice so understood, Aristotle’s teaching recommends a gentleness that is only possible when one gains a certain distance on politics and on the concern with honor and retribution. Thus the best friendships require other pursuits within the private realm that are richly engaging. These considerations put important limits on Aristotle’s embrace of communitarianism.

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