Online Colloquium (2): Gabriella Slomp’s Hobbes Against Friendship: The Modern Marginalisation of an Ancient Political Concept, Response by Theodore Christov (George Washington University)
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.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.
Response by Theodore Christov (George Washington University)
I am grateful to Professor Slomp and Gonzalo Bustamante for the opportunity to provide a response to her book. References to the concept of friendship and how it operates within his larger corpus, the book shows, are not as frequent in the vast scholarship on Hobbes, as one might expect. After all, as Slomp reminds us, while Hobbes excelled in his humanist education, as his familiarity with the works of the ancients reveals, he did not make the concept of friendship a central (or even peripheral) pillar in his political philosophy. Instead his lack of general interest in friendship was motivated by political considerations given that his goal was the establishment of civil peace. Rather than seeing friendship as establishing the political, Slomp argues, “it is the political that creates the conditions for friendship.” Such a departure from the ancient view of friendship is nothing short of radical and Slomp’s book seeks to understand the significance of this transformation, not only in terms of Hobbes’s philosophy but also in helping us grasp the consequences for the modern self.
While the book presents a wide array of topics from antiquity to the present, three broad themes stand out in the consideration of Hobbes’s relationship to friendship.
Outside the security of political authority, Hobbesian agents, above all, seek security which will allow them to overcome fear of violent death. They stand in no relationship to one another except that of a master and a servant. The central question, as Hobbes states, is to determine under what conditions “one man may acquire right, that is to say, property or dominion, over the person of another.” The emergence of political relations and their firm establishment cannot proceed from any mutual affinities or personal friendships: the foundation of the civil state must first and foremost ground the conditions for solving security, without which there can be no security in friendly relations. Even though Hobbes recognizes the cultivation and pursuit of friendship as a mark of a decent life, he is largely uninterested in its practice outside the guarantees of the state.
Slomp concludes that, because goodwill, trust, reciprocity—largely taken to characterize friendship—do exist in the natural condition of mankind, “there is no doubt that Hobbesian alliances, leagues, and confederacies are forms of Hobbesian friendship.” I do wonder, however, whether such multitudes, driven solely by the need for the basic need for survival, in fact qualify for any type of friendship—whether positive or negative—if their mode of belonging is based on protection. While practices we commonly associate with friendship clearly abound in the state of nature, the fundamental human-to-human relationship is that of the dominion of a master and a servant. The natural state is populated by such multitudes in submission to their masters. To the extent that such relationships of a servant’s obedience in exchange for a master’s protection may exhibit elements of common mutuality, one could plausibly identify features that we associate with friendship. But the ultimate goal of any leviathan, as Hobbes continually reminds us, is to de-personify the nature and practice of authority, and in that sense, friendship is not only inconsistent with, but in fact antithetical to politics.
The interpersonal state of nature, exemplified by individuals seeking the protection of leagues and alliances, is just one example Hobbes uses to illustrate the main features we associate with the condition outside sovereignty. But he also makes use of the international domain to illustrate how agents interact in the absence of a single leviathan. Slomp briefly introduces the international sphere as an instantiation of, what she calls, a “negative” conception of friendship and highlights its “protective nature.” Alliances may indeed function as a form of protection against the enemy, especially in the case of small states in relation to great powers. But their inherent instability and shifting orientation make them last for a brief period only.
The essential analogy between the state of nature and the international domain is key to understanding the role friendship plays in Hobbes’s larger political project. His natural persons are indeed states since they exhibit the central features we associate with instituted sovereigns. At the same time, there are limitations to such an analogy given that international peace (unattainable in the long run, Hobbes seems to think) does not necessitate the establishment of a global leviathan. Friendship at the level of natural persons may enhance one’s security to the extent that such a friendship is reciprocally beneficial to the other, but at the level of artificial persons, such as states, friendship potentially promotes the stability of international order itself. Prosperity, the goal of any leviathan, can be partially derived from external peace and it is in the interest of states to develop friendly relations with other states. The cultivation of a circle of friendly states can help a state transform itself from a self-enclosed political unit to a valuable partner and strategic ally. Central to how Hobbes understands friendship is the creation of leagues of peace among states in their quest for security and the creation of a wide network of cooperative efforts between states.
Slomp concludes that for Hobbes, “it is not friendship that creates the conditions of the political; rather, it is the political that creates the conditions… for lasting friendships.” She emphasizes his radical departure from the ancients, especially from Aristotle’s noble view of the role friendship can play in the polis. There is much admiration for ancient attachments to the idea and practice of friendship, especially in its purest form of “another self,” as Aristotle famously proclaimed. And to some extent, as Slomp herself acknowledges, thinking through the concept of friendship necessarily evokes a range of emotions that are basic to human life. What Hobbes does, however, is to erase altogether its potential for the creation of the political. He does not deny that many, if not the majority of us have a natural propensity to seek out the company of another and avoid solitude at all costs.
The transformation of the idea of friendship from antiquity to the time of Hobbes also serves as a reminder of the kind of modern self we have inherited. Our modern self has left the noble aspirations of Aristotle’s centrality of friendship to the life of politics. The individual agent has emerged as the architectonic pillar of, what Hobbes called the new civic science. But that modern self has also facilitated possibilities for friendship among equals that would have been unfathomable to the ancients. While most male citizens would have affirmed Aristotle’s gesture toward a narrow slice of the social fabric, almost all females and children would have been excluded. It is precisely the task of this modern self with a distinct Hobbesian pedigree that calls for a transformation of politics that is inclusive and far-reaching.
Hobbes Against Friendship is a short but engaging book that traverses through centuries of political philosophy and recovers a neglected aspect of Hobbes’s thinking about human relations based in friendship. It can also enrich our understanding of the meaning Hobbes attaches to a deeply human emotion rooted in the pursuit of sociability and association, and ultimately peace.