Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Daniel Weintraub Friendship: It’s What You Make of it defines Nepotism as “The practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs”. They say that in politics, it’s who you know. and throughout history, those “who know” have given inumerable profits to connected figures. This is true whether they be business-people, politicians, diplomats, family, friends, etc. Nepotism also implies that whomever is favored is generally unqualified. And whatever their reward may be, they achieve this position due to the connections they have, rather than genuine criteria. Nepotism is present in ties- personal ties, business ties, family ties. However, this is a paper on friendship. Going off the assumption that friendship is a relationship between two people, which benefits each member to at least a small extent, all instances of Nepotism are rooted in friendship.

How can this be? One can simply state that friendship is positive, and nepotism negative. While I cannot argue this point, friendship has proven to be one of the most fluid things in the world. “It was him, and it was me” (Mahallati 2/5/19) is one of the few definitions that can even hope to encapsulate friendship. So when Napoleon Bonaparte, one of history’s most famous Nepotists, gave his brothers rule over countries France took over, was this really an instance of friendship? Yes, it was. Friendship is not simply a discussion of morality; Napoleon’s brothers benefited from their newfound power while he himself found solace in the joy given to his family. And in 2005, when President George W. Bush nominated Harriet Miers, his personal lawyer for a seat in the U.S. Supreme Court- “A decision the New York Times described as ‘very much in character with the president’s tendency to reward familiarity and loyalty over independence and a reputation for excellence,” (Nehamas 38) this was also an act of friendship.

The previous examples outline the Christian rejection to friendship as based on the idea of preferential love. Kierkegaard even said  “To distinguish one person from the rest of the world, to love in preference to the other is a mockery of G-d” (Nehamas 57). This does not mean I agree with Kierkegaard in saying that friendship cannot be inherently moral. Rather, friendship is a reciprocal relationship. But reciprocal is not always positive, and the moral compass of a friendship lends itself to the agency of its members. Consider “an eye for an eye,” a belief that has maintained the cycle of violence in many societies and cultures.

By now, you’d probably assume I disagree with the Aristotelian claim that only the virtuous can be friends. This reiterates my point that friendship is not rooted solely in morality. After all, criminals form strong and lasting friendships all the time. The European Journal of Criminology elaborated that “decades of research that show that association with delinquent peers influences the criminal behavior of influences” (Eur J Criminol). Think of popular examples in movies and TV. Bonnie and Clyde provides one of the most famous examples of friendship. They had a loving relationship, but were surely criminals. Likewise, famous politicians exemplify a cycle of corruption in the age-old saying. “If you scratch my back- I scratch yours.” This parallels Mahallati, who stated that “Friendship makes the good virtuous and the bad worse” (Mahallati 4/25/19).

Friendship can be the best thing in the world- it can also be toxic. Though perfect friendship does not exist, one should strive to give a friend everything they can. Bonnie and Clyde did just that- wanting to love and give each other the best possible friendship. Still, “Even the best of friendships sometimes conflict with the morally right thing to do” (Nehamas 6). While Bonnie and Clyde provides one of the most loved examples of popular friendship between criminals, it is not always so drastic. Countless instances of bullying have arisen with generally well-behaved children who mimic the cruel actions of their friends. Thusly, every friendship provides a different side to oneself.

When one decides to violate the system however, the reason for doing so must outweigh the transgression itself. Steal medicine for a dying friend who doesn’t have healthcare, do not steal a material good for oneself. But what if the material good is a wedding ring for a partner you love more than anything, but you are unemployed and cannot afford it. What if the friend doesn’t have healthcare because they formerly gambled away all their money? I cannot answer whether stealing in these cases, or in any case, is right or wrong. Nor may I say that friendship can provide purpose solely for the virtuous, and not the wicked as well.

But I can say that If we consider most people to have an inclination to evil, surely friendship fosters evil among these like-minded criminals. I can also say, with full and unceasing belief, that humans in general have a natural inclination towards good. Nepotism has been around for a long time- so has friendship based purely on equality and fairness. Instances of one do not signal an end to the other. Friendship is what you make of it. Not only good for your friend, but good for your society, yourself, and your world. That is the true spirit of friendship.


Mahalati, Class Lectures, 2/5/19, 4/25/19, Oberlin College.

Nehamas Alexander, On Friendship, 2016, Basic Books

Eur J Criminol, How Friends’ Involvement In Crime Affects the Risk of Offending and Victimization,  2016, SAGE

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