It has become almost inevitable for an academic paper on philosophy to bring up postmodernism in one context or another. In truth, the philosophical movement has many different layers, thrusts, and contexts—so it is difficult to pinpoint just what we’re talking about when we use the term. Additionally, terms such as postmodernism have become inaccessible and ascribed to a sphere of academia not meant for most people. The language of these conversations is not meant for a mass audience, although the effect and decisions made certainly do have a bearing on this mass audience. So for the purposes of clarity, when I use postmodernism I mean the general irony and distrustfulness that accompanies our culture, the rejection of spirituality and faith in favor of reason and scientific consensus, and the ultimate truth that nothing truly has a factual backing—in other words, there is no such thing as truth. Centuries of philosophers’ have brought us to this point, highlight certain values and disregarding others. But in reality, postmodernism only accentuates a problem that already existed—the lack of conversation and necessity for trusting and good friendships. Reintroducing society to this ‘friendship paradigm’ described by many non-postmodern and non-cynical philosophers, such as Aristotle, would create a more fulfilling and equal society for all of us.
Although Immanuel Kant was probably the biggest influence on this drastic philosophical change in how we seek to produce and perform our cultural paradigm, Martin Luther and John Calvin played key roles in changing the way we approach faith, and subsequently the Western cultural paradigm. Martin Luther believed that, “friends, like neighbors, exist for aid; like other external goods, they can be treated as resources,”[i] (172). Morphing our concept of friendship into a utilitarian aim perverts exactly what friendship is. Friends exist to better each other’s lives for the other person’s sake. There is a good deal of reciprocal benevolence and selflessness in friendship that Luther completely ignores. Luther goes on to flatten the very concept of friendship in a multiplicity of manners, but he does have one idea to offer that I believe is important in the dynamic of friendship: “And if perchance displeasure and disagreement arise, we should renew and improve our love and friendship. For to love is not so great, but to remain in love (as Christ here says) is a real task and virtue,”[ii] (175). While Luther voices this opinion in the wake of an erroneous ‘love all indiscriminately’ attitude, he surprisingly finds a pithy sentiment about relationships. Holding the love we have for others is an important, and indeed selfless, endeavor.
John Calvin has a similar conception of friendship to Martin Luther. According to Thomas Heilke, “Calvin treats [friendship] as an instrumental function of social cohesion,”[iii] (178). Even in Calvin’s cynical view, he sees how important friendship is to the general formation of society. However, like Luther, Calvin believes that friendship should be absolutely indiscriminate: “Wherefore, if we would hold the true course in love, our first step must be to turn our eyes not to man, the sigh of whom might oftener produce hatred than love, but to God, who requires that the love which we bear to him be diffused among all mankind…”[iv] (179). This statement is wrong in two ways—that fellow men produce hatred more often than we produce love, which I believe is a product of mindset rather than essential qualities, and secondly that we cannot form personal individualized relationships. He believes that all friendships should be made within the context of religion and one’s relationship to God. But isn’t observing the inherent wickedness in man (the type of wickedness that can ‘produce hatred’) also perceiving inherent wickedness in God? I would be interested to see how Calvin answers that question.
Finally, Thomas Hobbes had one of the most destructive views of friendship to the polity. Though we have not internalized the full scale of his aims and beliefs, their nihilistic nucleus run true in society today. Ironically, Leviathan, perhaps Hobbes’ most famous work is dedicated to a friend.[v] However, Hobbes believes that humans are not naturally friends, and that the formation of friendship is artificial.[vi] Instead, Hobbes believes that by nature, all men are enemies, and that enmity is the essence of humanity.[vii] According to Hobbes, other humans could not be trusted: “In a condition of war where every man…is an enemy,” Hobbes explains, “there is no man [that] can hope by his own strength or wit to defend himself against destruction without the help of confederates…” (225)[viii]. However, he also holds that one can never know if a confederate is truly in his camp or whether he’s a spy for the other side. Hobbes uses this as a metaphor for the whole of society, seeing the range and differences of our desires as a war in which we are faced up against our fellow man, and that friendship is just a utilitarian tactic used in the grand scheme of this war. I do not believe I need to prove that this nihilistic model is destructive, and that the first casualty will be the one who holds it.
Thomas Heilke takes great pains to interpret non-Aristotelian mythic narrative, and what is has to say on friendship. He believes that these myths, such as Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad and The Epic of Gilgamesh hold friendship as vital to the maintenance of society: “friendship is central to the foundation and internal maintenance of the city; friendship redirects the spirit in constructive, civically salutary pursuits; friendship is a source of and perhaps even a spur to reflection; friendship arises among equals,”[ix] (166). This is a lofty quote, but I believe it underpins the crux of why philosophical approaches to friendship are so important. In one way, friendship redirects our energy towards general benevolence, which of course increases the fulfillment and success of any society (as selfishness polarizes and radicalizes the way we see in places such as the United States right now). Additionally, friendship allows us to truly see ourselves through others’ eyes, which allows us to grow. This reflects the idea that friends help us get in touch with ourselves, and getting in touch with ourselves helps us get in touch with God (or the divine), and getting in touch with God allows us to attain enlightenment. This enlightenment is what produces an egalitarian society. We understand truth in a way postmodernism does not allow us to do. In a time where we seek satisfactory and giving relationships, we can truly find equity in the world.
[i] Heyking, John von, Heilke, Thomas. Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Chapter 6.
[ii] Heyking, John von, Heilke, Thomas. Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Chapter 6.
[iii] Heyking, John von, Heilke, Thomas. Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2008.
[iv] Heyking, John von, Heilke, Thomas. Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2008.
[v] Heyking, John von, Smith, Travis D. Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Chapter 8.
[vi] Heyking, John von, Smith, Travis D. Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Chapter 8.
[vii] Heyking, John von, Smith, Travis D. Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Chapter 8.
[viii] Heyking, John von, Smith, Travis D. Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Chapter 8.
[ix] Heyking, John von, Heilke, Thomas. Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Chapter 6.