by Peter Saint-Andre


A few months ago, Eric Hoel published a fascinating post about the nature of 21st-century society (read the whole thing, linked below, as background to what I write here). Hoel used Hegel (by way of Francis Fukuyama) and Nietzsche (by way of James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg) as the jumping-off points for an analysis of what ails us. His dialectical thesis is the centrality of mob psychology in our current moment, and his antithesis is the sovereign individual who can rise above the mob.

But where can we find a synthesis that will enable us to move beyond these unpalatable alternatives?

One clue is that today's superstar sovereign individuals (think Elon Musk or Taylor Swift) can rise above only through the adulation of a large percentage of the very mob they putatively oppose. Incurring a fundamental dependence on the mob is neither a realistic nor a sustainable path to wholeness.

Instead, we need to identify a beautifully right mid-range that does justice to human sociality without sacrificing personal dignity and intellectual independence. If you ask me, we don't have far to look: Aristotle's concept of civic friendship, or in old-fashioned terminology the ideal of brotherhood.

Interestingly, Aristotle observes that true political leaders value friendship even above justice, because it binds people together into a more cohesive (yet still loosely organized) community. Granted, this was all much easier in ancient Greece, where city-states typically contained less than 10,000 people (Athens was exceptionally large for its time, since it was home to ~30,000 men with rights of citizenship plus another ~200,000 women, children, foreigners, and slaves). Scaling up brotherhood to even a small modern nation (say, Lithuania, which has less than 3 million people) is less straightforward, although ethnic solidarity usually plays a major role. It's even more difficult to build bonds in a large, multi-ethnic society like the USA, which is why it's no surprise that America is such a fractious place.

Yet there are countless opportunities for strengthening ties closer to home, such as in your neighborhood, town, county, or metropolitan area. Another worthy challenge is cultivating an attitude of civic friendship, brotherhood, and benevolence toward people in your community, state, or nation - even or especially the foks you disagree with politically, because deeper than the surface politics of parties and factions is what Aristotle called the shared work (koinon ergon) underlying the multifarious activities that citizens engage in to fulfill the way of life they pursue together. This isn't easy and I can't claim to excel at it, but it's an area in which I'm trying to improve...

(Cross-posted at


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