This online colloquium has been established to discuss Gabriella Slomp’s recent book, Hobbes Against Friendship.
We begin with an introduction to the text by the author, which will be followed by responses from Theodore Christov, Alexandra Chadwick, Nicholas Gooding , and finally a reply by Gabriella Slomp.
Many thanks to Palgrave Macmillan Publishing for supporting this colloquium.
Introduction of: Gabriella Slomp FRSA – University of St Andrews
I wish to thank very much Gonzalo Bustamante for the opportunity of introducing my book on Hobbes Against Friendship to the European Hobbes Society. What can I say to a potential reader?
I will start by addressing the two questions I ask myself every time I open a new book on Hobbes: (i) How does the author deal with the challenges presented by J.L. Austin ’s Law of Diminishing Fleas, according to which the secondary literature produces comments upon comments ad infinitum, without ever engaging with the original texts? (ii) How does the writer cope with the problem posed by the Anonymous’ Law of Hungry Midgets, according to which early interpreters of influential philosophers’ feast on choice pieces of their theories, while later commentators, if they want to eat at all, must be content with feeding on particles that are so small and insignificant that have escaped the attention of the fattest midgets?
I suspect that a critical reader might level criticisms against my handling of both laws. On the one hand, the reader might claim that my eagerness to avoid Austin’s Law of Diminishing Fleas has led me to engage too little with Hobbesian scholarship; on the other hand, the reader might point out that my choice of topic is a corroboration of the implacable Law of Hungry Midgets because Hobbes’s writings make frequent references to enmity, and not to friendship, and this demonstrates that my topic is largely irrelevant.
Regarding the second criticism, namely that my topic is unimportant, my line of defence is suggested by the subtitle of the work, which promises an exploration of the origins and reasons of the modern marginalisation of an ancient political concept. The book aims to show that an investigation of Hobbes’s stance on political friendship can advance our understanding of his theory in relation to ancient and medieval political thought and offer a fresh perspective on his contribution to modernity and liberalism.
An analysis of Hobbes’s views on friendship is a timely focus because recent times have seen a revival of interest in the concept of friendship among political theorists, sociologists, philosophers, historians and theorists of international relations. On the one hand, there seems to be consensus among writers that Hobbes was instrumental to the modern marginalisation of friendship – a concept that loomed large in ancient and medieval moral and political theory; on the other hand, to my knowledge the literature has shown little interest in addressing questions such as: Why did Hobbes, unlike Bodin, fail to talk about civic friendship in his theory of state sovereignty? Why was Hobbes’s neglect of friendship 3
influential? What can Hobbes’s theory contribute to contemporary debates about the feasibility and desirability of re-introducing friendship to the foreground of political studies?
In an attempt to answer the above questions, the book revisits the so-called ‘friendship tradition’ that Hobbes inherited and explores three notions and narratives within it: ‘negative friendship’ or friendship for security and defence; ‘positive friendship’ or friendship for the satisfaction of material and emotional needs; and ‘normative friendship’ or friendship for moral growth and flourishing.
Regarding negative and positive friendship, Hobbes does not deny its occurrence in the world of experience. Indeed Hobbes’s ‘leagues’, ‘alliances’ and ‘confederacies’ can be said to be forms of negative friendship – they are empowering relationships entailing mutual trust and good will and are based on self-interest; similarly, Hobbes’s ‘systems’, ‘corporations’ and partial societies are forms of positive friendship, namely utility-based relationships created and maintained for the advancement of ‘commodious living’. However, while Hobbes did not contest or oppose practices of positive or negative friendship, he rejected the idea that such practices can provide an explanation for the attainment and maintenance of peace; for Hobbes it is not friendship that delivers man from the state of nature and sheds light on the attainment of peace; it is not friendship that keeps and strengthens concord among citizens. Rather, it is the establishment of authority that brings and keeps peace among people. In other words, Hobbes reverses the order of creation he found in the tradition before him: it is not friendship that creates the conditions for the political; rather it is the political that creates the conditions for all forms of friendship.
Regarding normative friendship, Hobbes’s stance is particularly interesting. 4
Hobbes does not regard any friendship as necessarily virtuous; he does not deny that selflessness or altruism may occur among friends, but he rejects the view that self-sacrifice and selflessness are per se good, regardless of consequences. Revolutionaries may be more generous with friends than bankers and merchants but they are nevertheless bad citizens.
On the one hand, Hobbes rejected the ancient (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero) and medieval (Augustine, Aelrad, Aquinas) model of friendship that was triadic and entailed an external entity – the Good or God – that philosophers did not invent but discovered and that set boundaries to what friends could ask of each other; on the other hand, his theory opposes, indirectly but firmly, the modern model of friendship (Montaigne) that was dyadic and let the friends decide the terms and values of their relationship. Indeed, from a Hobbesian perspective, both models of friendship can undermine fidelity to law and endanger peace. In contrast, in Hobbes’s theory, we find a triadic model of friendship where the third entity is created by man: the state.
In my view, Hobbes’s stance on positive, negative and normative friendship was influential because it captured the spirit of modernity – its individualism, nominalism, materialism and its practical scepticism. I argue that Hobbes’s legacy has both a critical and a constructive component and lives on. Indeed, according to my account, contemporary liberal theories of civic friendship (such as Schwarzenbach 2010, Digeser 2016) do not escape the Hobbesian challenge but tacitly adopt Hobbes’s triadic model of friendship where the state is the third party that sets limits to what friends can ask of each other. In sum, Hobbes has much to tell us not just on issues of enmity and war but also on civic, international and global friendship.
Digeser, P. E. 2016. Friendship Reconsidered. What it Means and How it Matters to Politics.
New York: Columbia University Press. 5
Gooding, Nick and Hoekstra, Kinch. 2020. ‘Hobbes and Aristotle on the Foundations of Political Science’. In Hobbes’s On the Citizen: A Critical Guide, eds. Robin Douglass and Johan Olsthoorn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 31–50. Schwarzenbach, Sibyl. 2009. On Civic Friendship: Including Women in the State. New York:
Columbia University Press.
Slomp, Gabriella. 2019. ‘As Thick as Thieves: Exploring Thomas Hobbes’ Critique of Ancient Friendship and its Contemporary Relevance’. Political Studies 67(I): 191206.
Smith, Travis. 2008. ‘Hobbes on Getting by with Little Help from Friends’. In Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought, eds. John von Heyking and Richard Avramenko. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 221–47.
Stanlick, Nancy. 2002. ‘Hobbesian Friendship: Valuing Others for Oneself’. Journal of Social Philosophy 33(3): 345–59.
Among the exceptions, see Stanlick 2002, Smith 2008, Gooding and Hoekstra 2020. For my own contribution to this literature, see Slomp 2019.