The Work in the Shire
David K. O’Connor
The collapse of friendship into citizenship
For Catholics, everything new is also renewed, and we embrace our work as
stewards of a precious inheritance. Every renewal is a return to our sources, and
ultimately to our One Great Source, Jesus Christ. Renewal by return: this is the
meaning of the motto of St. Pius X, a pope much admired by St. Josemaria Escriva:
“Renew all things in Christ!” When we look to friendship as a model for a “new”
citizenship, of course we also return to older sources of reflection on this topic.
If you graduate from college and you have not read Plato’s Republic, you should
demand your money back. As with so many of the great questions of political
philosophy, the question of how friendship can be a model for citizenship gets its start
in Plato’s book. Socrates argues that a political community will be better to the extent
that it is more unified, more like a single person. He argues that friendship is what
makes a political community unified. “Friends share everything in common,” as the
proverb says. This celebration of friendship as unity, above all other community goods,
sounds noble, idealistic, at least until Socrates follows it to its logical conclusion: There
should be nothing private at all, he suggests, and even spouses and children will be
community property. In the book that starts philosophical thought about politics in
Western culture, friendship is a model for citizenship by destroying ordinary private life,
and the ordinary connection people have to their work and their family. Solidarity with
all of one’s fellow citizens replaces utterly the subsidiary goods of private life.
Now, in this as in many other cases, if you are driven to a logical conclusion that
appears absurd, even immoral, you had better check your starting points.