Aristotelian civic friendship has the potential to make modern liberal political theory more descriptively accurate with respect to how Americans actually live, as well as more normatively attractive to us. That is the contention of Paul W. Ludwig in his detailed, scholarly book, Rediscovering Political Friendship: Aristotle’s Theory and Modern Identity, Community, and Equality (Cambridge, 2020). Liberal theory bolstered by civic friendship will be able to explain, for instance, why the numerous civic associations in the United States exist—it’s not only because of self-interest—and why they are valuable. It will also have the capacity to protect liberal theory from itself, because liberalism has the tendency to warp those citizens under its sway by forming them to value only part of what makes human life valuable: self-interest. “[L]iberalism is living off stored-up moral capital that liberalism cannot itself create,” and Ludwig argues that it needs civic friendship to broaden and enrich Americans’ character to include the public-spiritedness that love of one’s fellow citizens elicits.
Ludwig aims for a broad audience that includes both scholars and the general reader. Many parts of the book are accessible to educated lay readers. He begins with an anecdote open to all Americans who have visited Washington, D.C. Ludwig and his son enkindle a relationship with what appear to be complete strangers from Utah. “[W]e struck up a conversation about where they had visited in the nation’s capital. The conversation became animated and heartfelt and lasted for two hours.” And yet, perhaps these people were actually friends, but friends of a sort that modern liberal theory has difficulty explaining: civic friends.
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