Tag Archives: civic friendship

Citizenship and the emotions: The glue that keeps democratic societies together

The question I want to ask is if emotions can and do have any role in forming and regulating democratic citizenship. We can ask if emotions and feelings might have any positive role in politics in general. This is a good and reasonable question, but I want to narrow it down and approach it from the point of view of citizenship in a democratic society. This means I must give an account of citizenship in a democratic context and of feelings and emotions and how they might possibly contribute to citizenship in democracy, establish and strengthen the glue that is necessary to prevent faction and strife getting out of hand.

I guess the traditional view is that feelings and emotions are causes of strife rather than contributors to a well-functioning democracy. This view may be justified by the distinction between reason and feelings, reason being the calm voice of unity and feelings being the uncontrolled and irrational force causing disruption and chaos. But when emotions and feelings are properly analysed and understood they are not uncontrollable and irrational even though they may be resistant to the voice of reason. When everything is normal, they work in unison with reason, they are part of a well-ordered human rationality forming a whole human being. This does not mean that reason is the overarching, supreme psychological faculty that must reign and be respected but it means that emotions and feelings are part of the make-up of every human being, and they serve an important purpose in a good life just like reason.

Citizen and citizenship

A citizen is an individual located in and a member of a political entity, usually a state, the relation to the political entity is called citizenship. This must be an authoritative political entity controlling a territory because being a member of a social group like a football club does not entitle us to claim citizenship. This sort of social group is not of the right type. Being a citizen is complex and it varies from state to state, what conditions must be fulfilled for a person to become a citizen. Usually, we think of citizenship as a binary concept, either one is a citizen or not a citizen. But the world of citizenship is more complex than that. States confer citizenship on the individuals living within their territories. Two conditions for citizenship are common, if a child is born on the state´s territory it is entitled to become a citizen, if the parents are citizens of the state where a child is born it is entitled to citizenship in this state. Sometimes a state gives persons a right to stay in its territory if that person has lived for a certain number of years within its boundaries or her right to stay may be dependent on relations with a citizen or somebody who has a right to stay. Those who have a right to stay and those who have dependent rights do not usually have a right to vote, for example, and are therefore not full citizens in modern democratic states.

Being a citizen is usually limited to fully mature human beings and it varies between states when individuals become fully mature, 16 years, 18 years or even 20 years. In modern democracies being able to vote is aligned with ideas about moral maturity. So, children do not have the right to vote, and the idea is that they have not achieved the understanding necessary to know what electing a representative involves. Animals do not have a right in democratic politics and no standing as citizens and the same applies to nature. But children have interests just like animals and nature and decisions by democratic politicians can have serious consequences for them. Hence, it has been argued that these groups should be able to influence the political process however we try to bring that about. If the arguments for including these groups in the political process are successful, then the number of citizens increases and the interests that need to be considered in the political process will multiply. This is mentioned here just to point out that in modern philosophy and politics the notion of who is a citizen seems to be changing.

This leads naturally to a question about what kind of concept the concept of citizen is. It seems to me that there is a clear central example that demonstrates the accepted meaning of citizenship which is the example of the citizen of a state. Admittedly, citizenship is complex and there are examples where it is not quite clear if they are instances of citizenship or not, but this does not justify claiming that the concept of citizenship is essentially contested (Cohen & Ghosh, 2019). It is certainly contested and the scope of the meaning of the concept seems to be widening but the notion of essentially contested concepts is suspect (Kristjánsson, 2022, 1-2). I take it that citizenship is a contested concept but not essentially so and we can rationally analyse its core and discuss its boundaries, its evolution, and changes.

I think it is also important to distinguish between the concepts we use and the social arrangements and structures that develop around the referents of these concepts. It is not obvious that social structures and social arrangements affect the meaning of social terms or categories. It seems to me that the meaning of social terms like rights or citizenship is independent of social structures and arrangements even though we adopt the conferral view of social properties (Ásta, 2018, 7-9). The basic idea in the conferral view is that others confer on us social properties, being popular is a social property constituted by the attitudes of others to us. The feelings of many others towards us confer on us the property of being popular. This view of social properties does not necessarily lead to the view that social terms or social concepts change their meaning when the constitution of social properties changes, e.g. if we come to the view that social properties are response-dependent rather than conferred by others.

It is sometimes argued that the meaning of citizenship has changed when social arrangements changed, for example, when women were accepted as citizens with the same rights as men. It hardly needs saying that this acknowledgement was only the first step on a longer road to full equality with men dealing with all the structures and social arrangements that prevented women from being citizens in the same way as men. The first thing to notice is that saying the meaning of citizenship has changed because of this development is ambivalent. The meaning in the sense of the role citizenship plays in the lives of men and women who are citizens has changed, women nowadays have the same responsibilities and the same political status as men and the social arrangements preventing women from living their lives as full citizens are slowly changing. In the Nordic countries this is true and in other European countries but in other parts of the world there is a different story to be told. The second thing to notice is that this development has not changed the meaning of the concept of citizenship. The extension of the concept has widened because of this change in law and the development of the social standing of women has gradually enabled them to enjoy the benefits of citizenship. But the meaning of the concept of citizenship has not changed.

In an anarchical state with open borders it makes sense to talk about citizenship. In such a state the social arrangements for the citizens as a group would certainly be different from what we see in the nation states of the present world. In a tyranny citizenship is very different from a democracy. Despite this it seems to me in all these cases it would make sense to talk about citizens and citizenship.

My suggestion for a core meaning of the concept of citizenship is that being a citizen is a status or standing in a political entity. Being a citizen means that your residence in a territory, your being born in that territory or your having parents that live in that territory, to name some prominent examples, fulfil the conditions required by that political entity, most often a state, and your citizenship consists in a relation to that political entity. The conditions for being a citizen can vary enormously from one political entity to another, but it seems to me that in practically all the cases considered we are talking about a relation between an individual and a political entity like a state.

What does this relation involve? As should be clear by now that the content of citizenship can vary radically between one constitutional order and another. In an anarchy the content would be minimal, you only owe it to the population at large not to attempt to coerce others to perform actions they would otherwise not have performed, the freedom of each and all of us and our right to non-intervention by others must be respected by others. In a tyranny you would have obligations to follow the decisions of the state but no rights against the state, the most prominent obligation would be to obey the orders of the state and not to resist them, however evil they might be. But in the typical case the relation to the state would involve a mixture of rights and obligations, a right to protection and security, to justice, and obligations to pay taxes, follow the law and in many cases bear arms. In most constitutional orders we would expect to find a mixture of rights and obligation.

In modern democracies the mixture of rights and obligations does typically include the right to free expression of one´s views, to freedom of association and the right to participate in governing the society where you live and the obligations to pay taxes, reject violence, use evidence and truth to convince others of your views, and in some modern democracies there is an obligation to participate by voting. One thing to notice about the rights mentioned here is that they are typical human rights and most of them are included in many modern human rights contracts. It is a fundamental feature of the modern conception of human rights that they are rights of individuals, and these rights are considered to be independent of the constitutional order where the individuals live. Citizenship, as described here, is different from human rights, it is a relation between an individual and a political entity and it depends on the constitutional order of that entity how citizenship is understood, in some constitutional orders it only includes obligations, in others it includes both rights and obligations. The conditions each political entity lays down as necessary for citizenship determine who can count as a citizen and who cannot count as a citizen in that political demos or polity. Many of the concepts we use have a clear meaning and the speakers know the referents of the concept. Others do not have clear boundaries but do not cause any problems for speakers in understanding what is being talked about. The boundaries of the concept of citizenship are in many respects not clear even though the legal processes for establishing citizenship clear up the issue who is a citizen and who is not. The legal processes are social arrangements the polity in question has decided to use for clarifying who is a citizen and who is not. These legal processes can be used when non-citizens want to enter the territory being controlled by the polity. A polity with clear legal practices on who counts as a citizen can adopt an open border policy. The experience of those who are citizens and those who are not can be shaped by the social arrangements for good or ill but the distinction between the concepts citizens and non-citizens is not an automatic foundation for these arrangements.


Democracy has been the dominant social order in many parts of the world for over a century and spread all over the globe in the last decades of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty first. Yet its prospects are not good, oligarchy and tyranny are on the rise in the world and violence and destructive tendencies like populism are gaining ground in established democracies. Economic growth is no longer a pacifier for democratic orders because it has serious negative consequences for the natural world and democratic governments are more reluctant to redistribute increased personal and social wealth. These developments in modern democracies raise many questions and one of the more important ones is about citizenship: What is the role of the citizen in a democracy? When confronting this question, we must address the fact that democracy is in some ways a special case in the varieties of the constitutional orders. Usually, the major threat to the established order is the possibility of faction, dissension or even revolt. In an oligarchy or tyranny this problem is dealt with by imprisoning those disagreeing with the authorities or even killing them. But it is a basic fact about democracy that it encourages differences of opinions, we expect that every citizen can form her own opinion and voice it if she pleases. This can easily lead to heated discussions, deep differences of opinion and social unrest, in extreme cases to revolts or revolutions. This is a consequence of the rights of democratic citizens, they have the right to form their own opinions and express them, they have the right to establish any associations they want, even revolutionary ones, if they operate within the rules of the democratic order. This raises the question what holds democracies together, how can they survive if it is part of their structure to encourage divisions of these sorts? One way of investigating this is to ask: How should we understand democratic citizenship? Do feelings and emotions contribute to democratic citizenship? Answers to these questions might throw light on how democracies survive turbulent times and can be more resilient than tyrannies and oligarchies.

There are various ways of understanding democratic citizenship. First, it needs pointing out that the basic idea in democracy is that the political power is rooted in the will of the citizens. The obvious question about this statement is: How do the citizens express their will? There are different ways of doing that, talking publicly at meetings, writing articles in newspapers, creating podcasts, or expressing your opinions on social media. In normal times those expressing their views should not have to worry about their lives, jobs, or careers if their views are within reasonable bounds. But the expression of views in media of whichever type does not create a general will of the citizens. We need a more formal procedure for enabling the general will to form. We might create a forum for rational discussion of all interested citizens and aim for unanimity about an issue being discussed at the end. We might conduct an election about a particular issue or a general election in which political parties took part. These two types of elections are the most common methods to try to figure out the general will of the citizens. All the possibilities mentioned here are imperfect ways of figuring out the general will. Rational discussion about one proposal is a lengthy way of forming the general will and there is no guarantee it will lead to a definite conclusion. Elections about issues simplify complex matters, usually we are asked to say yes or no to a specific issue, and political parties offer a mix of views and attitudes to citizens and citizens may find it difficult to figure out where they stand and what to choose.

How should a citizen make up her mind when deciding how to vote? I think it is fair to say that no modern democracy is possible without voting, any polity that says it is democratic but never votes on anything may not be contradicting itself, but it is saying something that in practice does not seem to be possible. So, it is reasonable to ask how a citizen in a democracy should make up her mind when deciding to vote.

One way of trying to understand how a citizen should conduct herself as part of the power base of democracy is to use her reason and think of herself as guided by self-interest. The basic idea is then that when all citizens have made up their minds about an issue or how to vote in an election then we get a rational collective decision based on the rational evaluation of the self-interest of every citizen. There is no denying that this model of citizens and their behaviour can be a powerful explanatory tool. But it has its problems. First, it is only a model, citizens make up their minds on various grounds, some on self-interested ones, others on other-interested ones. Second, one of the logical consequences of this model is that the citizen cannot have a rational reason to vote, the costs of trying to understand issues and going to vote always outweigh the possible benefits to the self-interested citizen. This means that the citizen never or hardly ever has a motive to vote and a strong motive to be ignorant of the public issues in her polity. Third, if it is only self-interest that is in play in public decisions there is no way to discern the importance of public issues except by counting votes. This is highly counterintuitive. I suggest that we put this model of the citizen aside.

I think we should start by some assumptions that can be reasonably made about most citizens in modern democracies. The first assumption is that people who live in a democracy share a way of living together. The reason is that democracy is a way of living together, not only in the sense of living close to each other as we do in cities, but in the sense that we are asked to take part in common practices to take common decisions, a central feature of democracy. In the common liberal order of modern democracies, we might want to say that we are offered to take part even though there are actual liberal states requiring citizens to vote, for example. But it is much more common to consider the citizens free to vote rather than obliged to vote. But I think it is reasonable to say that they are asked to take part in democratic practices like voting because democracies die if the citizens are unwilling to take part in important democratic practices like voting. The second assumption is that the citizens come to the democratic practices endowed with different skills, viewpoints, and knowledge. The democratic order has some obligations to its citizens such as securing education for them enabling them to take part in the democratic practices and to have something to offer on the economic market of modern democracies. But just as importantly these various points of view and different knowledge are valuable for democracy and need to be reflected in the democratic processes. The third assumption is that it is reasonable to expect a modern democracy to support a welfare system for the citizens, this can be realised in very different ways in the context of modern nation states. The fourth assumption is that citizens can be sked to take part in public discussions that are conducted for the citizens to inform and enlighten them. They need to approach these democratic practices with an open mind, not in the sense that they must be willing to change their opinions when discussing with others but willing to take the views and interests of others into account.

These four assumptions are intended to flesh out certain conditions necessary for modern democracy. They are not meant to be a fully-fledged theory of democracy. My reason for introducing these assumptions is to throw some light on what can be expected of citizens in modern democracies and what it is that can make democracy a stable order, what keeps democracies together, even though it encourages citizens to express their views and act on them if the occasion arises. This starting point of democracy seems more likely to lead to faction and strife than a stable social order.

In modern social theories social capital is believed to contribute to the stability of democracy. The idea of social capital was first formulated by Bourdieu and Robert Putnam (1993; Siisiäinen, 2000). Putnam´s idea includes trust between citizens, social support, membership of free associations, common language and common culture. If these things are in place, we can expect an integrative network of relations to form between citizens enabling democratic society to function well. Putnam´s concept of social capital is helpful to understand the background of a well-functioning democracy. The important parts for us here are trust and social support. Trust is something that you earn by your words and your actions showing that you take others´ points of view into account and you are careful not to harm them or their interests. Social support is either something the citizens do or contribute to or the polity supplies. It creates conditions for friendly interactions between citizens and friendly communication. We might say that these two things along with others create solidarity in a polity.

But solidarity, what is that? Solidarity is a fellow feeling based on common attitudes or interests of citizens. In any modern democracy the citizens have different and varied interests, sometimes they are opposed to the interests of others, sometimes not. Sometimes opposed interests develop into class struggles that can be dangerous for democracy. It is not the case that democracy cannot tolerate conflicts and friction; they are natural parts of modern democracy, but there are certain limits to how democratic conflicts can be conducted. A certain amount of coercion can be tolerated if it is based on legitimate interests but as soon as it leads to physical injuries or death it has crossed reasonable limits. But hard struggles among groups in democracies do not normally damage democratic solidarity.

I hope these explanations have illuminated what it means to say that democracy is a way of living together.

Emotions and democracy

Solidarity is certainly a feeling and an attitude, and they are on display in certain democratic practices. It was pointed out earlier that democracy is a way of living together in the sense that we must take part in collective actions if democracy is to work. This means that any citizen must interact with other citizens, communicate, and discuss with them the points at issue, agree and disagree, and attempt to conclude what is fair and just and the majority supports. We must ask how do we do this? We do this by obtaining information about the issue, evaluating the possible resolutions of the issue by taking part in the discussion or at least by forming an opinion for ourselves about the issue. In doing that we use as best we can our abilities to think critically and our feelings and emotions. It is a general truth about human beings that they are endowed with feelings and emotions and with intellectual abilities and reason. It is sometimes assumed that feelings and emotions are independent of reason and are regularly contrary to reason, the view that they are necessarily irrational has a long history. But the theoretical view of feelings and emotions has been changing and it is generally accepted that reason and emotions are connected, and emotions are rational in the sense, for example, when we are afraid, we are afraid of something that might be dangerous to us. Emotions can be rational in the sense of representing the world correctly and in the sense of motivating our response to the danger at hand (Scarantino, & de Sousa, 2021). It is not relevant in the context of this essay to discuss emotions and their rationality in depth but because they are an inevitable part of our cognitive make-up they must be considered when discussing political issues and how we conduct our lives in democracy. Living with others in democracy is living with the emotions of others.

The question then becomes what role do emotions play in democratic practices and deliberations? The emotions play the cognitive role of representing the world and they are especially sensitive to the moral qualities of situations and issues. This perceptual function is in turn a key to the motivating role of emotions. There is an historical model available to us of reason and emotions including how they play out in politics. This is Aristotle´s virtue theory. In the last part of this essay, I will concentrate on Aristotle´s views.

Aristotle´s key idea is that all emotions are infused with reason, all emotions represent reality, and they motivate actions. They are closely involved with the intellectual virtue practical wisdom or phronesis which does not control emotions by suppressing them but by making them parts of our virtues. This means that emotions tend to guide us towards actions that are good or are fitting in any situation. If our moral education has been successful emotions are sufficient to hit upon the right or appropriate action. But in difficult situations where emotions point us in different directions and virtues clash phronesis decides on the right or appropriate action.

There are two ideas about citizens in Aristotle´s work that are important in this context. The first is his idea that friendship is the glue of societies (Aristotle, 2014), the second is his idea that when the citizens come together, they are wiser than all citizens are alone (Aristotle, 1996). I shall discuss them in turn.

As I mentioned before there are certain social practices and social structures that contribute to the good functioning of modern democracy. Aristotle had a similar idea. He says in his Nichomachean ethics (2014, 1155a23-29):

“Friendship seems also to hold cities together, and lawgivers to care more about it than about justice; for concord seems to be something like friendship, and this is what they aim at most of all, while taking special pains to eliminate civil conflict as something hostile. And when people are friends, they have no need of justice, while when they are just, they need friendship as well; and the highest form of justice seems to be a matter of friendship.”

The idea that friendship holds societies together may strike us moderns as fanciful, inappropriate, not helpful. It seems to me that the reason for this is that we think of friendship as a relation between people we know, family and those we are well acquainted with. Modern societies are so large that it is impossible for an individual to know every citizen personally, this applies even in a small society like Iceland. Hence, friendship has no place in explaining how modern democratic societies arrange their democratic ways of living together, how they are more than a collection of individuals, a community.

This would be a too hasty rejection of Aristotle´s view of friendship. The meaning of his Greek word for friendship, philia, is much broader than our modern notion of friendship. Its scope is not limited to our close family and acquaintances but can include a much larger group of people, even all the citizens of a Greek polis, including thousands of people. This is the term Aristotle uses and adds that concord which lawgivers aim at most of all is something like friendship and civil conflict is something hostile to the polis and concord helps to eliminate that. If we interpret Aristotle´s philia as fellow feeling, civic friendship, when discussing the political context of the polity, then there does seem to be a truth in what he says. When democratic authorities treat their citizens well and protect their security and welfare this helps to establish a stable society and causes general satisfaction among the polity. Yet, in democracy dissident voices are always to be expected but they do not cause any problems or strife unless there is an issue addressed that is controversial. But the controversy, if it arises, is not among strangers but among citizens who are friends, a group that has social capital that should ensure that any controversy will not develop into destructive strife. There seems to be a caring attitude among citizens of the same polity. In some modern democracies this caring attitude seems to be lacking and causing all sorts of problems for them, sometimes so deep that democratic practices become difficult, even impossible (Dworkin, 2006).

There is more to Aristotle´s concept of friendship than it being a relation among citizens. Friendship is also a moral virtue. Aristotle´s notion of virtue brings with it most of the key elements in his moral theory. Each moral virtue has its typical middle and extremes and friendship is no different (Aristotle, 2014, 1126b11-1127a13). One extreme is obsequiousness or flattery, the tendency to praise everything and never to obstruct or object to what the other says to avoid causing discomfort or pain. The opposite extreme is the one who objects to and obstructs everything her interlocutor says and thinks nothing of the pain she might be causing. This extreme is called belligerence or bad temper. The mean has no name, but it involves the agent accepting the right things in the right way and reject them likewise, this seems to be praiseworthy and “most like friendship” and the person exhibiting these characteristics seems to be a good friend. The good friend aims for what is noble in her interactions with her friends, so whenever it is noble to add to the pleasure of her friend she does so and whenever her friend says ignoble things or wants to perform ignoble actions she objects and obstructs. She acts in this way because that is how her character is.

This is the virtue of friendship but like all the other moral virtues it brings with it feelings, emotions, and reason. Emotions and feelings in friendship revolve around our friends, the relationship with our friends is the typical object of the virtue of friendship and the feelings of love and care are the attitudes central to friendship. Good upbringing is necessary to make the emotions aim at what is good and noble and reason or phronesis is a part of all the moral virtues deciding when a doubt arises which emotion is appropriate in the context in question.

What this means in general for emotions and feelings in politics is that the feelings must be based on something we know, and they need to be appropriate to the object. Uncontrolled outbursts of strong feelings are to be discouraged, not because they are never appropriate, but because they can easily have consequences that are worse than the original cause of the emotional outbursts. In our modern lives lived in the social media it has become nearly impossible in many instances to find out if the original cause of anger, for instance, is a fact or a fake. The Aristotelian virtue of moderation is one of the most important virtues in modern politics and he thinks that the notion of the good man and the good citizen coincide in some respect (Johnson, 1984). But how does Aristotle think about friendship in our roles as citizens?

Friendship and modern democracy

Aristotle distinguishes between three types of friendship (Aristotle, 2014, 1156a6-9), friendship for utility, friendship for pleasure and true friendship or character friendship. Friendship for utility is based on how useful people can be to each other either in supplying goods for each other or services. Friendship for pleasure involves friends being pleasant to each other. Both these types of friendship change when the circumstances of the friends change, they do not outlast the pleasure or utility the friendship is based on, if they stop the friendship stops. But character friendship is long lasting because the friends aim to do whatever is good for their friend rather then what is useful or pleasant for her. Aristotle thinks that friendship of this last kind is rare “because people of this kind are few” (Aristotle, 2014, 1156b25-26). People who are fully morally mature are not many according to Aristotle and hence character friendship does not occur often, friendship for utility and pleasure are more frequent.

Aristotle thinks that civic friendship holds cities together and that concord seems like friendship as it says in the quotation cited earlier. I suggest that if friendship is to serve this function in a state it must be long lasting, like character friendship, but it will also be like friendship for utility because the state offers its citizens important goods like peace, security and welfare that are necessary for a good life, these goods are useful for every citizen. Civic friendship is long lasting, useful and requires strong loyalty, the state is worthy of love, and it reciprocates the love of the citizens by aiming to make them good (Aristotle, 2014, 1155b28-33). Civic friendship does not seem to fit into any of the three types Aristotle discerns. Character friendship is long lasting, but its maintenance costs are high, its devotion and intimacy require much time (Kristjánsson, 2022, 40). Civic friendship is long lasting if it is to serve the role Aristotle wants it to serve and it is time consuming, citizens in a democracy must spend considerable time on the affairs of state in peace time and this completes the good life, and it requires a strong sense of obligation and devotion if the polis goes to war. Civic friendship can require the ultimate sacrifice of your life in times of war. The Greek city states in ancient times relied on their male population to defend its territory and to conquer and destroy other states. War was a regular feature of both male and female lives in ancient times as it still is in many parts of the modern world. Even though many modern armies are professional institutions the citizens are often obliged to enter the army if the political authorities judge it necessary. So, if civic friendship is keeping societies together as Aristotle believed then it can require the ultimate sacrifice of the citizens now as it did in ancient times. This makes it different from the other types that Aristotle identifies.

It is not my intention to write an essay on how to explain Aristotle´s notion of friendship, especially civic friendship, and how it is related to virtue, but I wanted to show how Aristotle´s civic friendship opens up the possibility of a role for emotions and feelings in responding to political events and actions and how emotions and feeling can contribute to the cohesiveness of society. This way of approaching the role of feelings in modern democratic life goes against the current because most of the time feelings are believed to be a destructive force in politics. The reason for this is that strong feelings easily lead to strife and deep disagreements in politics. It is also the case that unscrupulous politicians use emotive issues to stir up strong feelings that lead people to go into the streets and cause serious unrest that the police must settle. There is another reason for this repugnance of emotions in politics, it is the belief that emotions are somehow necessarily irrational. So strong emotions are taken to indicate the absence of reason. This tendency in modern public life should be resisted.

Aristotle demonstrates how feelings and emotions shape our perception of the moral qualities of the context of our actions and through this perception influence what we think and how we respond and act. The key insight is that emotions and feelings are not free floating, irrational entities that can be stirred when someone thinks it appropriate. There must be a story about something bad or unjust to cause anger among the citizens. Poverty or bad treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers often evokes strong feelings in European countries, police violence and killing of innocent citizens causes strong reaction in other countries like USA and Iran. If this is what really happened, it is entirely rational and reasonable to express strong feelings publicly. The problem for demonstrators is to take care that people are not hurt, and only limited damage caused. This can be difficult, if not impossible, to control in a large group. Often there are persons taking part in the demonstration that are not interested in the issue being objected to but just want to cause trouble. Often it is the sheer number of people taking part that make it impossible to control. All this is a fact of life for anyone taking part in protests in modern democracies. If we look at this from the point of view of Aristotle´s theory of civic friendship, then these responses are rational in so far as they are a response to an injustice because it is the role of civic friends to tell the authorities if they are either planning or performing ignoble acts and causing injustice to innocent people.

Problems for reason and emotions in modern democracy

I do not want to minimize the role of reason in modern democracies. Rational deliberations among experts, politicians and citizens are necessary for any democracy if it is to govern itself well and establish a good context for the lives of its citizens. The experts share their specialist knowledge with the politicians and the citizens and suggest some of the logical inferences to be drawn from the established knowledge. They must also point out weaknesses in the established knowledge and how they must be avoided or taken care of. The citizens with the politicians must decide what to do based on the best knowledge but most often in modern democracies the representatives decide what to do. They are not experts but as a group, citizens and the representatives or just the representatives, are well placed to decide on the general aims, and also on what to do because “the many are better judges than a single man of music and poetry; for some understand one part, and some another, and among them they understand the whole” (Aristotle, 1996, 76, 1281b7-9). This seems to imply that the citizens can be in the position of judging an issue and coming to a conclusion about it based on the best argument, i.e., rational deliberation among citizens is possible and it could serve this epistemic function in ancient Athens. Many modern political theorists believe that rational deliberation is possible among citizens, and it can possibly serve the same function in modern democracies as in Athens. If it is the representatives who are deliberating in preparation for taking a good decision, they must represent the whole of citizens (Anderson, 2006).

But there are two facts that seem to tell against this. The first is that in modern democratic politics you cannot trust either the citizens or the representatives to respect the truth and conduct their deliberations on what the truth is, not even on what they think the truth is, because deliberate lying has become a commonplace in political discussions. Political cultures vary in this respect, some are more corrupt than others. The second point is that intellectual division of labour in politics is an inevitable fact of modern societies, so knowledge and skill is distributed unequally but citizens are considered equal in democracies and the aim must be that their influence on some decisions should be equal. But if rational deliberation and judgement ought to track the best argument and approach the truth then it seems that those in the know, the experts, should carry more weight in coming to a rational conclusion than the ordinary citizen. She is likely to misunderstand the key issues and not appreciate the most important facts and come to a view that does not track the best argument. Experts do not always agree and when two groups of experts argue their case for the citizens it is probable that they do not understand the issue fully and hence their judgements do not track the best argument. The same applies to representatives who must decide on a lot of issues on which they have no specialist knowledge. If their judgements track the best argument, it may be fortunate coincidence rather than a clear understanding of the concepts, inferences, and facts of the case (Christiano, 1996, 123-127). It is more likely that their judgements do not track the best argument and the best view of what is true and therefore the decision will not be the right one producing the best consequences. These two facts of modern democracies conspire against the possible epistemic benefits of rational deliberations of the many and the wise.

Taking part in rational deliberations engages the emotions and feelings of the citizens. Rationality is not the only thing that matters because the motivation for taking part is stronger if the feelings are engaged. If your point of view does not carry the day in the deliberation and you end up in the minority you must always evaluate your arguments, your inferences, your presentation, and the truth of your point of view. The question must be: Did I lose because I was wrong or did I lose because of something else? Your losing does not necessarily mean you were wrong even though Rousseau thought so. If you believe you were wrong about some major matter your opinions change, but this does not necessarily mean that your emotions and feelings change as well. It seems that Aristotle did not realise that emotions and feelings might behave differently from opinions and judgements and the Stoics opposed his ideas on the ground that feelings and emotions were uncontrollable and had a life of their own and Aristotle was wrong about their moderation (Sherman, 1997, pp. 101-102). Emotions and feelings are more recalcitrant to change than opinions and this can cause problems for citizens in their lives, but it seems to me wrong to say that they are uncontrollable. Aristotle was right in saying that emotions and feeling are parts of our rational mental make-up and respond to events and facts in the world and are an important part of a well-rounded happy life.

It is well to remember that Aristotle argued that education should be public and the same for all (Curren, 2000). Public, rational deliberation on the common good requires that the citizens are equipped to take part in and profit from such deliberation. In his time, as in ours, education is a key condition for any citizen enabling her to execute her duties as a citizen. Enabling pupils to read and write were foundational parts of education in ancient Greece just as it is in our modern time. Illiteracy has now become a much more serious liability than in Aristotle´s time because the volume of information is much bigger and most of it is put in writing. It is practically impossible for anyone who is illiterate to participate in public life in the modern world. Education shapes our mental life including our emotions and feelings and enables them to relate to the world in ways closed to the uneducated. Education moderates the emotions by illuminating the complexity of the world and the differences of viewpoints. Reason grows with education just like emotions and feelings do. Citizenship is subject to the influence of emotions and feelings and if the constitution is democratic, education is necessary to strengthen and preserve the democracy.


I wanted to answer the question: What is or should be the role of feelings and emotions in modern democracy? I have argued that the concept of citizenship has a meaning and is contested. It is essentially a relation between an individual and a political authority and in a democracy all political power is derived from the citizens. Citizenship can be considered a relation like friendship as Aristotle argued especially in the light of the necessity of social capital in modern democracies. Citizens are human beings governed by feeling and reason shaped by social trust and fellow feeling towards other citizens. Feelings are a natural fact of human life; in a good life they should be infused with reason and can and should be controlled in the common life of democracy. But feelings, like reason, must deal with corruptions in modern democracies like the lack of commitment to truth



Anderson, E. (2006). The epistemology of democracy. Episteme, 3(1-2), 8-22.

Aristotle. (2014). Nicomachean ethics. (Translated and edited by Roger Crisp.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Aristotle. (1996). Politics and the constitution of Athens. (S. Everson ed., revised student edition.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ásta. (2018). Categories we live by: The construction of sex, gender, race, and other social categories. New York: Oxford University Press.

Christiano, T. (1996). The rule of the many. Fundamental issues in democratic theory. Boulder: Westview Press.

Cohen, E. F. & Ghosh, C. (2019). Citizenship. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Curren, R. R. (2000). Aristotle on the necessity of public education. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Ltd.

Dworkin, R. (2006). Is democraccy possible here? Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Johnson, C. (1984). Who is Aristotle´s citizen? Phronesis, 29(1), 73-90.

Kristjánsson, K. (2022). Friendship for virtue. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Putnam, R. (1993). Making democracy work: Civic traditions in modern Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Scarantino, A. & de Sousa, R. (Summer 2021 Edition). Emotion. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2021/entries/emotion/>.

Sherman, N. (1997). Making a necessity of virtue. Aristotle and Kant on virtue. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Siisiäinen, M. (2000). Two Concepts of Social Capital: Bourdieu vs. Putnam. Paper presented at ISTR Fourth International Conference “The Third Sector: For What and for Whom?” Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.


Political Cohesion, Friendship and Hostility

In a pluralist democracy, with different values ​​and interests, with different social classes and political organizations holding different ideologies, political cohesion is essential as the groups should all work for progress and security for the whole political body, despite all divergences. With regard to political cohesion, a large literature focalizes on group identities and on emotions as catalysts for group-based political action. The broad consensus is that political cohesion is based on the development of strong and subjective identities that are central in the construction of a socio-political membership.[1]

According to Henri Tajfel, a social identity implies “knowledge of his (individual) membership in a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to the membership.”[2] In other words, the starting point of political cohesion, i.e. social identity, is a set of beliefs forming a collective consciousness and a set of emotional states.

It is also necessary to consider that in today’s Western societies the consequences of globalization have exacerbated the disparities linked to social, economic, cultural and ethnic situations and weakened the bonds of affinity and solidarity between individuals. Social fragmentation and weak civic trust impact negatively on perceptions of the political body, since weak social cohesion hinders the development of civic engagement and collective political action.

Division of labour, objective solidarity and equality formed the prevailing conceptual framework used for thinking about socio-political cohesion and social identity in most of the countries of Western Europe during the years that the French economist Jean Fourastié called les “trente glorieuses”,[3] This conceptual horizon changed at the beginning of the 1980s, when words such as solidarity and equality disappeared from the socio-political discourse.

To understand the new system of thought we can refer fruitfully to the analysis that M. Foucault developed in the courses held between 1977 and 1979 at the Collège de France on the new form of liberal political rationality that he called neo-liberalism.[4] According to Foucault the specificness of this form of liberalism lies in a new function of the market: the market’s operating mechanisms now correct public and social policies, whereas before public policy had the task of correcting any negative effects of the market. The key to the new function of the market is competition, which in turn becomes the regulating principle of social, public and private behaviour.

Competition is not thought of as a natural fact whose development can be sustained by eliminating obstacles, correcting deviations. Competition, according to Foucault, is an idea to be implemented with a continuous action at all levels, public and private. The state must ensure that its members acquire the ability to sustain competition, even by competing with each other. Competition, continues Foucault, is a “formal game between inequalities”.[5] Competition breaks the bonds of interdependence that underlie social cohesion based on the division of labour. Competition implies a logic of separation that leads groups, whether economic, ethnic or religious, to close the groups in on themselves in order to defend their chances of survival or their cultural values.

We can say with Robert Castel[6] that the old social question is reformulated in a new framework: namely that the problems are always the same: poverty, unemployment, and marginalization of the weakest groups, immigrants etc., but that the way in which these problems put society at risk has changed. As has been observed, it is no longer a matter of class conflict in the name of political and social equality, but of an internal destabilization coming from the outside, for example, from international competition (arriving immigrants, the employment effects of offshoring etc.). It follows that the perception of social identity changes. It can no longer be based on class-consciousness, solidarity among individuals and common interests. All of this raises an important question regarding the conditions under which political cohesion can be generated. Since the collective conscience based on solidarity, interest and the common good is no longer valid, it is necessary to address or to accentuate the emotional bonds of belonging.


Civic friendship

It seems that the need for a cohesive society, above all politically, brought back a relationship that modern thought had almost always relegated to the private sphere of the I-you relationship. The close relationship between philia and politiké, characterizing the ancient world and broken in modernity, is rethought nowadays through different theoretical expressions and numerous figures: from fraternity to solidarity, from partner to comrade. These figures and expressions seem to be united by direct reciprocity and elective affinity. Above all, these interactions among individuals seem characterized by a special form of affectivity, that “calm” feeling of mutual sympathy which is friendship. Friendship is defined as the product of a choice that equal subjects make in favour of a harmonious sharing that gives rise to collaborative relationships. The political body would then be cemented by friendly feelings able to form a “we” that would make of individuals fellow citizens because it would promote understanding, solidarity and mutual support. So, numerous political studies turn to friendship, starting with the Communitarians such as McIntyre and Sanders. This new philia should recompose the complex differentiations characterizing contemporary liberal-democratic societies. According to McIntyre, friendship is the emotional tie that expresses the interrelation of civic virtues that make possible the recognition of the common good. Friendship is the bond that unites citizens: “the kind of bond between citizens which, on Aristotle’s view, constitutes polis …is the bond of friendship and friendship is itself a virtue”[7]

Interestingly, the political relevance of friendship has been highlighted not only by communitarians, but also by liberals. Already in the last parts of A Theory of Justice, Rawls suggests that the obligations and duties that the principles of justice require may not be sufficient to ensure the best possible good in a just and equitable society. Such a society must be based on the sharing of the conception of justice, and this sharing is expressed in the “civic friendship”: “Among individuals with disparate aims and purposes a shared conception of justice establishes the bonds of civic friendship”.[8] So the government of a just and fair society is not only based on rules and procedures, it requires also a sharing of values ​​and friendly interpersonal relationships. Inspired by Rawls’ observations, other liberal thinkers emphasized the role of friendship in the formation of public morality and public spirit, both essential for the liberal democracy. They range from Jason Scorza[9] who inserts references to Emerson on the Aristotelian reflection, to Thomas A. Spragens[10] who criticizes the civic friendship proposed by Rawls as a completely impersonal form, and turns to the Aristotelian idea of ​​friendship as a virtue. Spragens elaborates a form of civil friendship that would allow him to meet the aspirations of the four schools of liberalism he had previously analyzed: liberal realism, libertarianism, liberal egalitarianism and the liberalism of difference. He calls his new way “civic liberalism”, which seeks to achieve the liberal goals of security and tolerance, prosperity and limited government, the reduction of social discrimination and economic inequality. The key ingredient in Spragens’s formulation of liberalism is the “civic friendship” which, as “a condition of mutual enjoyment, affection, and good will among [citizens]”[11], could fill the shortcomings of the abovementioned forms of liberalism.

However, Spragens does not agree with the thesis of other liberal thinkers who believe that the friendship should relate strictly to the private sphere. On the contrary, he develops the argument that civic friendship represents a recovery of a dimension of liberal aspirations. According to Spragens, civic friendship enhances society’s stability, its economic performance and its capacity to mobilize community.[12] In short, civic friendship should improve the most important liberal virtues: “Responsible self-reliance, respect for the human dignity of all fellow citizens, law-abiding self-restraint, democratic humility, reasonableness and good judgment, neighbourly eunoia, and the public-spirited willingness to participate in civic service.”[13]

Nevertheless, this friendship may be hard to put into practice, since Spragens’s proposal does not clarify how such friendship would be institutionalized. Friendship thus assumes an ambiguous position between the private and public sphere, between the moral and the political horizon, between a horizon of spontaneity and autonomy and one of normativity.

Turning to the history of political doctrines, civic or political friendship has almost always had this ambiguous status, perhaps with one exception: the Jacobin Saint Just, friend of Robespierre, “the incorruptible” creator of the republic of virtue.


Political friendship between hostility and unconditional hospitality: from Louis Antoine de Saint Just and Carl Schmitt to Jacques Derrida

Who undoubtedly overcomes these ambiguities is Saint Just, who proposes what I’d call a radically utopian and “exclusive” model of civil friendship. In the effort of building republican institutions suited to form a “Patrie”, develop citizen’s resistance to moral corruption, and its intolerance toward injustice, Saint Just turns to friendship as a manifestation of the virtue and as a means of replacing all other interests with the public interest.[14] Saint Just replaces the social role of the family and the institution of marriage with a new one: friendship. He institutionalizes friendship and makes it the revolutionary instrument for establishing a society of equals, where citizens voluntarily cooperate, “so who declares not to believe in friendship”- Saint Just says- “must be banned”. [15]

In the paragraph “Des Affections” in the sixth fragment of Institutions républicains, Saint Just describes the ideal Republic where every man (here intended as the male) at the majority of 21, that means when he becomes fully a citoyen, has to declare at the Temple who his friends are. This declaration must be renewed every year during the month of Ventôse. This is a compulsory bond and subject to sanctions, because who deserts a friend, without a public justification, or who doesn’t respect friendship, is banned from the Republic. Friendship is the virtuous bond par excellence, and it must be present throughout the citizen’s life; it is thus strongly regulated: the tutors of children will be chosen among their fathers’ friends, preparing the funeral is an assignment of friends, and their remains are put in the same tomb. It is also prescribed that friends will cry for each other.

Friends have a legal role: contracts must be drawn up only in the presence of friends; legal disputes between two citizens have to be brought to trial in front of friends of both sides. Friends are responsible for their friend’s crimes and are banished from the republic with him.

It is interesting that alongside this normative approach to friendship, Saint Just presents marriage in an absolute individualistic and free perspective. Marriage has just to obey the laws of love, and the bond remains private until a pregnancy occurs. Moreover, when the couple presents itself in front of the civil registrar, he has the simple role of witness. The marriage bond includes few juridical requirements outside the mutual consent that rules the community or division of property and that can establish the end of it. The marriage loses its legal and civil character, all that remains are the rights to inherit, and this is restricted to the nuclear family. The foundation of society is not marriage and the family, both now absolutely privatized. Friendship is the fundamental cement of the society and the State and assumes a strong public meaning. Friendship is the real bond of the Republic, and at the same time it is the instrument by which the civil society will be reformed. Friendship is the relationship that has to exist among the citizens, and what makes selfish and competitive individuals into virtuous and altruistic citizens.

As a public and permanent bond, friendship has a substantial impact on improving the Republic’s political cohesion. He who doesn’t believe in friendship, he who has no friends, is not a friend of virtue and is therefore not a friend of the Republic; consequently, he is a stranger, and he is considered to be a foreigner. Saint Just tells us that the foreigner made civil respect disappear and leads citizens to have contempt for, and to be afraid of, each other, thus establishing a principle of jealousy between them[16]. The foreigner is the enemy of the Republic; he wages war from the outside and undermines the Republic’s stability from the inside. The stranger, the foreigner is the enemy and he is therefore banned (or very probably guillotined): friendship appears to be more and more a tool of social homogenization. The Republic can thus become a community of virtuous friends, united by affectional bonds. In this way the moral and normative horizon substitutes the political bond based on the contract: the ethics takes the place of politics, not, however, without practical and juridical consequences. We have seen that citizens are legally liable for their friends’ criminal behaviour and will also be banned from the Republic. Friends have thus a mutual duty of control and censure, all the time wondering where the false friend who threatens the security of the Republic is hiding. Therefore the Republic becomes a reign of denunciation and mistrust: the reign of Terror. The Republic becomes a community of virtuous friends with mutual emotional bonds that consolidate and guarantee membership in the social body. But this entails excluding anyone who has no friend, and considering him a hostis, i.e. an enemy of the state, a traitor, a stranger and foreigner.

And so, instead of wondering who and what make “us” citizens belonging to the same political body, we are only wondering how to identify the “non friend”, the other, the enemy. Individuals are bonded by a common sentiment, yes, but by a sentiment of resentment and hostility. And thus happens what Tocqueville expressed so concisely: “In politics shared hatreds are almost always the basis of friendships”[17]

Thus a series of questions arise in face of today’s reproposal – albeit with some variations – of friendship as the foundation of social-political cohesion.

How far can a friendship be an “open” relationship? As well as in the interpersonal friendship “I-you”, the other is an unwelcome element, at worst a stranger; even in politics whoever is outside the group, class, nation, or state is the “other”, the foreigner, arousing astonishment, anxiety and suspicion. Can the sentiment of friendship assert itself in the political body without having to point out a common hostis, in the double sense of foreigner and enemy?

The reference to Carl Schmitt’s most famous thesis is immediate: it reminds us that in politics the concept of friend recalls the term “enemy”. According to Schmitt, what specifies the nature of ‘the political’ is the distinction between friend (Freund) and enemy (Fiend): “the specific political distinction … is that between friend and enemy.” And its function is to denote “the utmost degree of intensity of an union or separation, of an association or dissociation.”[18]

Political friendship does not therefore lead to the end of hostility and divisions in the political body. On the contrary it implies enmity, since the friend / enemy dialectic is constitutive of the political. Focusing on friendship risks only accentuating the conflict between “who is with me / us and who is against me / us”. In politics friendship would be understood only within this polarization. The more friends there are, the more enemies there are, or better, the more enemies will be created. And one will use all the argumentative power in defining the enemy, the other, rather than defining “us”. We wonder if just who has little awareness of “us”, has to evoke with greater hostility an “other”, characterized as an enemy. It is no coincidence that Schmitt talks a lot about the enemy and very little about the friend! The enemy is “…nevertheless, the other, the stranger; and it is sufficient for his nature that he is, in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible. These can neither be decided by a previously determined general norm nor by the judgment of a disinterested and therefore neutral third party[19]

And he goes on to say that it is up to the one who is within the conflict to decide whether this otherness means the negation of one’s own kind of existence and therefore, once identified as an enemy, it is therefore a stranger that must be denied in his existential totality.[20] That is to say that the stranger may be subdued or destroyed.

Jacques Derrida’s crucial work from 1994, Politiques de l’amitié,[21] is a first attempt to find an answer to our questions. Searching for social cement beyond the bond of laws and the link of common interests, Derrida examines the political history of the idea of friendship, wondering if it is constitutive of the political. Derrida’s analysis moves by “a deconstruction of the genealogical schema, a paradoxical deconstruction”[22] of the current meaning of political friendship. To do this, Derrida starts from a quotation, attributed to Aristotle by Montaigne: ‘O my friends, there is no friend’ and advances by opening it to many interpretations. He finds the genealogical history of this quotation from Aristotle to Kant, Cicero, Montaigne, Nietzsche and through to Carl Schmitt.

He analyzes the “canonical” interpretation of friendship and he highlights that it is fundamentally ambiguous. From one side, since this interpretation emphasises what friends are, or do in common, it excludes the different. According to the canonical interpretation of friendship, the friend is “another self”. And Derrida underlines that its structure is egoistic, and narcissistic: the friend is “A narcissistic projection of the ideal image, of its own ideal image”.[23]

On the other side, friendship turns toward the “other”. This is the reason that the French revolutionaries linked friendship with politics in the form of universal fraternity. Friends are as brothers, i.e. they are bound by blood or by nature, and Derrida underlines that the structure of friendship is androcentric. What, he asks, about sisters and sexual difference? What about countless diversities characteristic of “humanity”? “Canonical” friendship implies that: ”the figure of the friend, so regularly coming back on stage with the features of the brother…  seems spontaneously to belong to a familial, fraternalist and thus androcentric configuration of politics”. [24] And thus (we can say) an exclusivist configuration of politics.

Friendship therefore seems to imply an internal contradictory logic that leads us to an outbreak of hostilities. At this point Derrida has to confront Schmitt and his interpretation of the political based on the conceptual couple friend / enemy.

According to Schmitt, this antinomian friend / enemy logic would operate everywhere in politics, both outside and inside the State. It would therefore not be true that the more friendship, the less hostility. The greatest hostility is between friends or brothers. The generalization of political friendship or fraternity thus acts to the contrary: friendship is not the remedy of hostility, because it always implies separating friends from enemies. The political is based, according to Schmitt, on the ability to identify enemies from friends; in fact, if the two were identical, the political itself would disappear. Hence, as Derrida points out, Schmitt dwells a great deal on the definition of the enemy. He warns that the enemy in politics is always the public enemy. We don’t have to mix the private and the public enemy. The hostis is not the inimicus, i.e. /who we have a personal relationship of enmity. But, as Derrida observes, this strict distinction makes Schmitt’s argument collapse. Because we can wage war on our friend, a real war, i.e. we can destroy our friend and at the same time, privately, love him. Hence Derrida finds a first semantic slip and inversion: the friend (amicus) can be an enemy (hostis).[25] But in this way we can’t tell the friend and the enemy apart and the political collapses.

Without here deepening Derrida’s deconstructive reading of the Concept of the Political, I just want to recall the results of the deconstruction of the friend / enemy antinomy.

In an attempt to dismantle the idea of ​​friendship as a fraternal union based on the mirror image of oneself, Derrida observes that friendship is not the ability to define and talk about who is a friend, and therefore to exclude who are enemies. It is not a matter of asking, “Who is a friend?” (And therefore “who is an enemy?”). It is a matter of asking “what is…?” According to Derrida, this question “what is…” always supposes: “…this friendship prior to friendships, this anterior affirmation of being-together in allocution. Such an affirmation does not allow itself to be simply incorporated and, above all, to be presented as a present-being (substance, subject, essence or existence) in the space of an ontology, precisely because it opens this space up.”[26]

Friendship is linked to being together without wanting to find a common definition. On the contrary, only in the incommensurable space, that is to say, in being together without any common measure, one turns to the radical otherness of the other, which presents himself no longer as an enemy (hostis) but as an unexpected and unknown guest.

The Derridean deconstruction of Schmitt’s political dichotomy friend /enemy leads us to a concept of friendship that coincides with unconditional hospitality. Is this too angelic a solution? Maybe. Certainly, Derrida’s proposal does not seem to be heard much today and indeed seems completely impracticable.

In conclusion, we move at this point between two radical and divergent positions of political theory. On the one hand the definition of the nature of the “political” by means of the “friend / enemy” antinomy, a simple but effective definition, leads us to look for real or constructed enemies to make the group cohesive. And so in place of that calm affection of industrious harmony peculiar to friendship, another sentiment, hostility, prevails in society. On the other hand, the proposal coming from the deconstruction of the Schmittian antinomy replacing the political friendship with the ethics of unconditional hospitality seems truly utopian today, as we face increasingly restrictive States, increasingly closed in their internal logic.

Our question arises again: can friendship be the emotional foundation of social-political cohesion in a modern state?

It is not a question of seeking the “we” of the Aristotelian polis, a narrow community, nor the “we” of a polis that would coincide with all mankind, the cosmopolitan community, a Cosmo polis. For this reason the question arises again and again, despite the theories with which we have tried to give an answer.

This motivates us to search backwards, returning to modern thought to evaluate other formulations.


Back through history

 We will not follow the path that starts from Hobbes. According to him, in the wake of the idea of ​​man’s innate unsociability, friendship is an alliance based on personal interest, like the state, of course, but it is only a private agreement: “By nature then we are not looking for friends but for honour and advantage from them. This is what we are primarily after; friends are secondary”[27] In fact, between the two covenants there is a fundamental difference; the state is formed by a contract that gives life to mutual obligations, while friendship is based on the gift that does not commit the other party to reciprocate:

When the transferring of right is not mutual, but one of the parties transferreth in hope to gain thereby friendship or service from another, or from his friends; or in hope to gain the reputation of charity, or magnanimity; or to deliver his mind from the pain of compassion; or in hope of reward in heaven; this is not contract, but gift, free gift, grace: which words signify one and the same thing.[28]

Therefore, we cannot turn to Hobbes, who, from the beginning, excludes that friendship may have a public role.  And so Hobbes starts a trend that impacts modern political thinking: friendship is only an individual, private relationship and not a public relationship among citizens.

One thinker, who, in modern political thought, reflected on the public role of friendship, was Rousseau. We know that for the contractualist Rousseau, founding our mutual social duties only on reason was too abstract. It was therefore necessary to find the sentimental roots of social virtues. He found their origin in the piety that controls the “amour de soi“, from which friendship also derives, since friendship is the “partage” of the positive self-love. And civil friendship, as a model of non-conflictual relationships, allows the development of a sense of belonging that integrates the individual into the political body.[29]

Rousseau is certainly the inspiring source of Saint-Just.  Undoubtedly, Saint-Just radicalizes, and greatly so, Rousseau’s conception of civil friendship. However, even in the variant expressed by Rousseau, the public role of friendship isn’t free from the dangers we have previously highlighted. The political body, based on that kind of friendship, implies hostility towards the foreigner, as indeed Rousseau himself expressed clearly in the Emile:

Every patriot is harsh to foreigners; they are only men, and nothing in his eyes. This is drawback inevitable but not compelling. The essential thing is to be good to the people with whom one lives. Abroad, the Spartan was ambitious, avaricious and iniquitous; but disinterestedness, equity and concord reigned within his walls. Distrust those cosmopolitans who go to great length in their books to discover duties they do not deign to fulfil around them. Such philosophers love the Tartars so as to be spared from loving their neighbours.[30]

Civil friendship is set up among fellow citizens; the others are strangers. Here again we find the exclusion that inclusion based on civil friendship brings with it. We understand how the Jacobin leader Saint Just was a faithful disciple of Rousseau. And yet it is not possible to ignore the emotional foundation motivating social and political behaviour. Actually, holding together the social body necessitates not only reason, but also common sentiments. This is an idea that Rousseau inherited from Spinoza, among others. And it is a Spinozistic lesson as well that these affections have to be regulated and governed appropriately.

At first sight Spinoza seems to indicate – just like Rousseau- what feelings are the most suitable for the construction of the body politic. These would be identified when Spinoza in the Ethics mentions friendship. Spinoza doesn’t define friendship, even if the term already appears in the third part of Ethics.[31] At first sight it would seem that friendship is a characteristic bond, which connects wise human beings who live according to reason. The desire to join with other persons in friendship is what characterises “generositas”, an active affect[32] that, together with courage (animositas), belongs to the strength of character (fortitudo): a characteristic affection of the human being led by reason.

Generosity and its derivations, modestia, clementia, and so on, are forms of virtue, not because of their presumed ability to stop selfish passions. In fact, for Spinoza, it is happiness that produces virtue, not vice versa. Generosity and the other virtues are positive affects in which the essential desire to continue to exist and enhance oneself (cupiditas) makes clear and intelligible that it cannot be disjoined from the desire to help other human beings. The relationship between generosity and self-conservation is not immediate and direct. During our life we are exposed to meetings with other things or individuals that can hinder or strengthen our effort of being. Now what strengthens our being is that which is in accordance (convenire) with our own nature. And, Spinoza continues, nothing is in accordance with our nature more than other human beings, and so there is nothing in Nature more useful to a human being than the other human beings  – homini nihil homine utilius – .[33]

This is the reason why “utilitas” is to be understood in a strong sense: what is most useful to us is not simply what the other human beings possess or the favours they  can do for us, but what they are. From here it follows that the desire to join in friendship with other human beings is a desire of accordance; it is the desire that one’s being is in accordance with that of the other human being, and friendship itself is a desire of accordance. Moreover, because of what we previously said, what is useful for the conservation of oneself coincides with the good and the utility of our fellow beings. This consideration is the basis on which the virtuous circle of reason is delineated, so that all the virtues (let’s remember that for Spinoza virtue means power to act) that facilitate the accord among human beings, such as piety, justice, loyalty or honesty, can come from the research of accordance, can come from friendship. The utility that a virtuous man searches under the guide of reason is the good that human beings desire one for the other, and for which they cooperate with a power equal to the sum of all individual powers. Therefore it would seem that friendship, so understood, means the rational desire to be in accordance, convenire, with other human beings, and is the very basis of the social and political union. In this, Spinoza’s position would be very close to that of Rousseau and Saint-Just.

But Spinoza’s analysis of friendship does not end here. Indeed, two clarifications are required. The first rises from the question of whether friendship, for Spinoza, is only inherent to the free and virtuous human being. The second concerns the relationship that the human being who lives under the aegis of reason has with the State and its laws.

Let’s briefly answer the first question. Desire (cupiditas) lies in all levels of human life from the passionate through the rational and to intellectual love. So it does not seem coherent to think that the desire of friendship is an exclusive prerogative of the rational man. All individuals strive to persevere in and to enhance their being, and they desire accordance with other individuals. Indeed in E3p35 the passionate form of desire for friendship appears at first in a tight relationship with the desire of recognition and of exclusivity.  Not only does the passionate friendship want mutual love in an exclusive way, but it also wants the monopoly of preferences.  An essence is for Spinoza always singular and igenium indicates this singularity. The passionate human being as res singularis judges the good and the evil according to his/her opinion, ex suo ingenio, and he/she often takes only his/her personal interest into account.[34] In this form of friendship the passionate man strives to impose on the friend his own opinion about good and evil, thus turning out to be particularly irritating. For this reason passionate friendship is a changeable relationship that can easily turn to hate and envy; it is a relationship exposed to fluctuatio animi, to the vacillation of feelings. Yet friendship is a relationship possible for everyone, both for the passionate being and for the wise man.

Moreover, friendship as desire for accordance with the others can, for the passionate human being, be a source of joy that, as positive sentiment, can begin the “virtuous circle” of the active affects and so help the individual to become rational. But does this mean that friendship can be considered the basis of the political body? Can the state stir up friendships to make citizens rational and free? All the virtues of the wise man: doing good for others, seeking harmony, helping others and desiring to unite them with friendship, are “inner” personal conditions. They have a value in external behaviour, and therefore in social bonds, but under no circumstances can they be directed from the outside. The State cannot produce fortitude or generosity in its citizens. The rational human being by his own essence desires (cupit) to observe the criteria of common life and collective utility, and consequently desires (cupit) to live according to social rules and norms. But if all human beings were rational, living together in harmony and following the collective utility would be a natural automatism coming from the spontaneous cohesion of everyone’s cupiditas and we would not need the State. But not all human beings are rational; on the contrary, all human beings are “passionibus obnoxious”, “traversed by passions”[35], including the wise man. Therefore, living freely according to reason is never an acquired state once and for all, but is a continuous realisation, an effort that always fluctuates between self- strengthening (rationality) and deprivation. Spinoza tells us that we are all “ut maris undae[36], “as waves in the sea”, exposed to passions, to illnesses, to death.

So here is the “naturaliter” need of the political Community, whose laws cannot, however, prescribe that its citizens be rational and thus free. “Freedom of spirit or strength of Mind is the virtue of a private citizen: the virtue of a state is its security.”[37] The State cannot impose on me to become rational and free, the State cannot impose on me to desire to make friends with other human beings, as it will happen for the Jacobins! The State must guarantee the security that permits the citizens can become rational and free!  This is the meaning of The Theological Political Treatise’s statement saying the aim of the State is security and freedom. Neither can the State entrust its stability only to the honesty of its administrators. According to Spinoza, the State will be very precarious when its security depends on the honesty of an individual and when affairs can be well led only if they are in honest hands. On the other hand, it is necessary that public affairs are organized so that who directs them, whether passionate or rational human beings, administrate public affairs in a good way.[38]

Lastly, let us try to outline what kind of socio-political union we can develop by focusing only on public friendship. Spinoza tells us something very disturbing.[39] He says that friendship, understood as the basis of politics, can provoke a process that leads to the dissolution of the state whose purpose is security and freedom. For example, we could think of a group of people living close to each other. These people do not use reason. They recognize as human beings only those who are perceived as similar on the basis of characteristics that the instinctive inclination of the group makes them admire. Based on this admiration, these individuals are bound by a feeling of passionate friendship. If one of them becomes the real or imaginary victim of an injustice, the others can respond with indignation, that is, with hatred against the one who has wronged the one they recognize as one of their own group. Hatred and hostility will be the more intense the more the real or imaginary guilty party is dissimilar from the group. The desire for revenge is born; revenge is a consequence of hatred and hostility. The mimesis of the affects triggers off in everyone the desire for revenge and for joining the others with the same purpose. So the collective power of a multitude is realized: an “imperium democraticum“, a democratic power. This power is exercised informally by a multitude. This power is collective and is united by a common affection of hostility, born of passionate friendship. Undoubtedly, this union is not idyllic. What is disturbing in the Spinozistic lesson is that the instinctive and affective form of political union based on private feelings could be lynching. Can we consider this “imperium democraticum” – characterized by the power of summary executions on the basis of citizen’s private sentiments, without prior judicial condemnation – a state whose purpose must be to guarantee security and freedom?

Spinoza is drastic. He tells us that hate and hostility and all affects related to them, such as Derision, Contempt, Wrath, Revenge, are intrinsically bad. “Hatred can never be good.”[40] . And when we wish to destroy the enemy we hate, this desire is shameful from the private point of view, and unjust from the public civil point of view.[41]So by trying to destroy the enemy, we first destroy ourselves and our civitas. Hate and hostility are sad affections that diminish the power of the individual and immobilize him in irrationality and social servitude. In a community dominated by impotence and disintegration, citizens are more committed to finding and banning enemies rather than to building institutional systems that help good governance.

Although Spinoza states that there cannot be a political body without an affective cohesion, he doesn’t indicate one sentiment as more suitable than others to make a people cohesive. Any sentiment used to maintain the cohesion of a political community, even the most noble, has its limits and dangers, including friendship. He notes its effectiveness, but also its limits. A fortiori this leads us to reflect on the dangers of thinking the antinomy friend / enemy as constitutive of the politics: it is ultimately more disruptive than aggregating. On the other hand, the proposal of universal hospitality would imply that all human beings were rational and wise, which they are not.

Spinoza helps us reformulate our implicit initial question. We need to understand the emotional causes underlying tyranny, superstition, nationalism and demagogy. But instead of proposing other emotional means for uniting and directing a political community, it is necessary to ask ourselves how to fight the sad passions in politics to try to develop institutions that are more effective because they are more rational.



Castel, Robert: “Le insidie dell’esclusione”, in Assistenza Sociale n.3-4, 2003

de Cuzzani, Paola: “Forskjellene og indignasjonen: Toleranse mulige veier”, in LOS-notater 9620, Bergen,1996

Derrida, Jacques: Politiques de l’amitié, Galilée, Paris, 1994 english translation: J. Derrida, Politics of friendship trans. George Collins, London & New York: Verso,1997

Foucault, Michel: Cours au Collège de France 1977-78, Gallimard, Paris, 2004

Fortunet, Françoise: “L’amitié et le droit selon Saint-Just”, Annales historique de la Revolution Française, 1982 – N° 248, p. 181-195

Hobbes, Thomas: On the Citizen Edited by Richard Tuck, Michael Silverthorne,  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998

Hobbes, Thomas: Leviathan: With selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668, Edited, with introduction by E. Curley, Hackett Publishing Company,  Indianapolis Cambridge, 1994

Huddy, Leonie: “From Group Identity to Political Cohesion and Commitment”, in Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, Leonie Huddy, David O. Sears, and Jack Levy (Eds.), New York: Oxford University Press, 2013

Lepan, Géraldine: «L’amitié selon Rousseau, de l’expérience douloureuse au projet politique», in Consecutio Rerum,  2, nr.3, 2017, pp. 226-255

MacIntyre, Alasdair: After Virtue, Bloomsbury, London, New Delhi, New York, Sidney

Matheron, Alexandre: “L’indignation et le conatus de l’État spinoziste”, in Spinoza : puissance et ontologie, ed. M. Revault d’Allonnes, de H. Rizk Kimé, Paris, 1994,

Rawls, John: A Theory of Justice” the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques: Emile: or On Education, The Collected Writings of Rousseau v. 13, translated and edited by Christopher Kelly and Allan Bloom, University press of New England, Hanover and London, 2010

Saint-Just, Louis-Antoine de: Fragments sur les institutions républicaines, Transcription d’un cahier manuscrit déposé à la Bibliothèque nationale, Éditions 10/18, collection Fait et cause, Paris  2003

Schmitt, Carl: The concept of the political, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago London, 2007

Scorza, Jason:  Strong Liberalism Habits of Mind for Democratic Citizenship, Tuft University Press, Medford, 2007

Spinoza, Opera. Im Auftrag der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften hrsg. von Carl Gebhardt. Vier Bände, Heidelberg, Carl Winter-Verlag, 1925, English translation: Spinoza: Complete Works, with the translation of S. Shirley, ed. By M.L.Morgan, Hackett publishing Company, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 2002

Spragens, Thomas. A. Jr.: Civic Liberalism: Reflections on Our Democratic Ideals, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999 , p.71



[1] Cf. Leonie Huddy, “From Group Identity to Political Cohesion and Commitment”, in Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, Leonie Huddy, David O. Sears, and Jack Levy (Eds.), New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.pp. 511-558.

[2] Henri Tajfel, Human groups and social categories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981, p.255, quoted by L. Huddy, “From group identity”, Id. p.514.

[3] It is the period from the end of the Second World War to the first oil crisis of ’73, characterized by the great economic and social development of the industrialized countries.

[4] Michel Foucault, Cours au Collège de France 1977-78, Gallimard, Paris, 2004.

[5] Id, p. 124.

[6] Robert Castel, Le insidie dell’esclusione”, in Assistenza Sociale n.3-4, 2003.

[7] Alasdair MacIntyre,  After Virtue, Bloomsbury, London, New Delhi, New York, Sidney p. 182.

[8] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999, p. 5; cf. also p. 90, p.205,p. 417, p. 454, and p. 470.

[9] Jason Scorza, Strong Liberalism Habits of Mind for Democratic Citizenship, Tuft University Press, Medford, 2007.

[10] Cf. Thomas A. Spragens Jr., Civic Liberalism: Reflections on Our Democratic Ideals, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999, p.71.

[11] id. p. 179.

[12] id. p.188.

[13] id. p. 229.

[14] Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, Fragments sur les institutions républicaines, Transcription d’un cahier manuscrit déposé à la Bibliothèque nationale, Éditions 10/18, collection Fait et cause, Paris  2003, p.4

[15] id., p. 28. Cf. Françoise Fortunet, “L’amitié et le droit selon Saint-Just”, A.H.F.R., 1982 – N° 248, p. 181-195.

[16] Saint Just, op. cit. P. 19-20.

[17]  Alexis de Tocqueville, Souvenirs, Calmann Levy, Paris, 1893, p.10.

[18] Carl Schmitt, The concept of the political, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago London, 2007, p.26.

[19] Id. p.27

[20] Id. p. 30

[21] Jacques Derrida, Politiques de l’amitié, Galilée, Paris, 1994

[22] Jacques Derrida, Politics of friendship trans. George Collins ,London & New York: Verso, 1997, p. 105

[23] id.p.3

[24]  id. p. viii

[25] id. p. 88

[26] Id.p.249

[27] Thomas Hobbes : On the Citizen Edited by Richard Tuck,  Michael Silverthorne,  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998, p. 22.

[28] Thomas Hobbes Leviathan chap. XIV, 14,82 , Edited, with introduction by E. Curley, Hackett Publishing Company,  Indianapolis Cambridge, 1994, p. 79.

[29] Cf. Géraldine Lepan, « L’amitié selon Rousseau, de l’expérience douloureuse au projet politique », in Consecutio Rerum,  2, nr.3, 2017, pp.  226-255

[30] Jean Jaques Rousseau, Emile: or On Education, The Collected Writings of Rousseau v. 13, translated and edited by Christopher Kelly and Allan Bloom, University press of New England, Hanover and London, 2010, p. 164

[31] Spinoza, Opera. Im Auftrag der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften hrsg. von Carl Gebhardt, Heidelberg, Carl Winter-Verlag, 1925, B. II, Ethica III, prop. 59,sch.pp.188-189

[32] Spinoza distinguishes the terms affect and affection. The term “affectio” designates a change occurring within a being due to an internal or external cause. The term “affect” (affectus) designates the modification produced in a body (and in the mind) by an interaction with another body. This interaction can increases (joy) or diminishes (sadness)  the body’s power of activity (potentia agendi): ”By affect I understand affections of the body by which the power of acting of the body itself is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, together with the ideas of these affections”.(Ethics, III,def.3, transl. by William Hale White). Thus we will use affect for “affectus” in relationship with Spinoza thinking of emotions.

[33] Spinoza, Opera,op.cit.  Ethica IV, 18.sch. p.223

[34] id. Eth., part IV, prop. 37, sc. II, G. II, p. 237.

[35]  For the translation of the term “obnoxious” see P. Cristofolini, «Piccolo lessico ragionato», in B. Spinoza, Trattato politico, ETS, Pisa 2000, p. 241. For the English translation see V. Molfino, Plural Temporality: Transindividuality and Aleatory between Spinoza and Althusser.Brill, Leiden, Boston, 2014, p. 63.

[36] Spinoza, Opera, op. cit. Eth. III, p. LIX, sch.G.II, p.189

[37] Spinoza, Complete Works, with the translation of S. Shirley, ed. By M.L.Morgan, Hackett publishing Company, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 2002, p. 682.“Libertas, seu fortitudo privata virtus est; at imperii virtus securitas” ( Spinoza, Opera, Tractatus Politicus, 1,6, G. III, p. 275) see also Francesca Bonicalzi, L’impensato della politica: Spinoza e il vincolo civile , Napoli, Guida 2006.

[38] Ibidem.

[39] For this interpretation see Alexandre Matheron, ” L’indignation et le conatus de l’État spinoziste “, in Spinoza : puissance et ontologie, ed.  M. Revault d’Allonnes, de H. Rizk Kimé, Paris, 1994, where A. Matheron explains the incompleteness of the Tractatus Politicus because Spinoza would  hesitate to disclose a shocking truth: that ” the very origin” of the political society and the state is “something irremediably bad” since “the basic form of democracy, according to Spinoza, is lynching” Id., pp. 159-164. See also mine Paola de Cuzzani, “Forskjellene og indignasjonen: Toleranse mulige veier”, in LOS-notater 9620, Bergen, 1996.

[40] Spinoza: Complete Works , op. cit. p.344.  “Odium nunquam potest esse bonum” (Spinoza Opera, Eth.IV.p XLV, G. II, p. 243)

[41] Cf. Spinoza Opera, E.IV, p. XLV corollarium, G.II, p. 244.