Political and Friendship

“In his The Concept of the Political, Carl Schmitt uses the language of friendship and enmity to convey the essence of the political as apart from the economic, social, and religious aspects of life” ( Valk, ). Schmitt analyses the basic foundation or concept which are necessary elements of political. These elements are the key requirements for the existence of political, upon which everything else rests. He further emphasizes the presence of duality as an inherent characteristic in almost every aspect of life. “In the moral, it is good and bad. In the economic, it is profitable and unprofitable. In the aesthetic, it is beautiful and ugly, and so on. In the political, it is friend and enemy, and all politically significant concepts arises from this binary distinction” (Bland, 2003).

The categorization of friend and enemy has to do with relationship and involvement. They are like the two ends of the scale determining the nature of interaction and relationship. The enemies classify those relationships in which there is lack of involvement and trust; while there are many types of friends depending on the nature and depth of relationship and involvement. Friendship is the basis of association and common objective, a chord which ties people with purpose to merge with the way of life. Friends are those individuals who do not wish our destruction while enemy is the one who can kill. (Bland, 2003).

According to Schmittian theory the circle of political friends would include all those who are not in the category of enemy. Friends are those who do not wish or aim for our destruction and are not a threat to life and liberty. Friends are necessary for growth and success, the skill to acquire friends or to create friends of those who have become our enemies is highly regarded as the difficult and important political duty. The range of friends can vary greatly depending on the degree of harmony in the thinking, values and life. The spectrum of friendship can include those who share common goals and values with a sense of belonging and commitment to those who merely accept us with serious disagreements about our values and profound conflict of interest. In Schmittian perspective, “the identification of friends is just as political as the designation of enemies” (Bland, 2003).

Carl Schmitt emphasizes a very important role which friendship plays in the history of political theory, which is a very clear departure from the traditional approach. His concept of friendship is based on individuals who seek to establish authority within a political community, while testing the political will and potential within that community. He strongly emphasizes the need to cultivate constant awareness about the presence of friends and enemies within the political community, which is used as a mechanism to constitute power-relationship within the community ( Valk, ).

Schmitt, investigates into the question, which relates to the common convictions which bind the chord of friendship and for which one is willing to die. Based on his investigations he starkly questions “who are your friends? And For what convictions are you willing to die?” ( Valk, ). He questions the concept of friendship directly from the political standpoint and clearly investigates into the motive and intensity of unity in friendship. There is no such direct probing in the traditional philosophy which directs this question in such a straightforward and direct manner.

He questions the integrity and the sincerity of the friend, and side by side recognizes the presence of an enemy. In light of the recognition of enemy, he defines “friend” as “he who can be counted on to fight and die for the state.” ( Valk, ). The real test of friendship in the perfect political scenario occurs in those pressing times when the rule is challenged and the likelihood of death in the battle is looming. Schmitt analyses friendship in the light of political dimension which is separate from the influences of the traditional concepts like justice and the universal claims about “the good”.

He does make connection between the ethics and the concept of friend, which he thinks is an important consideration as friendship is needed to secure as a group the way of life of a particular community and the way of life has to have a moral dimension backed by ethical principles. But he also strongly contends that ethical cannot overshadow the definition and the concept of the friend. ( Valk, ).

He further states that identification of friends is an expression of the political will. He perceives friends in the light of the enemies, and understands that political friends cannot be chosen without choosing the enemies. There has to be presence of particular friend and enemy grouping to invoke political will. This is marked divergence from the traditional approach where recognition of friends does not necessarily require the identification of the enemy. He greatly emphasizes the importance of political moment as the dictating factor in the existence of identification of friends.

“One of the key points which Schmitt attempts in The Concept of the Political is to recognize the importance of the moment of decision and exception.” ( Valk, ). This decision regarding the friend/enemy grouping is the significant moment of politics. He strongly emphasizes the need for the sovereign authority who is vested with the power to make decisions and execute orders based on his decisions. He merges the political will with the sovereign authority in command and entrusts sovereignty as “the monopoly to decide” (1985a, p. 13) (Valk) Sovereign is entrusted with decisions related to political conflicts and does not get affected by the moral and economic issues, unless these issues cross the boundaries of domain to become political in nature. (Valk)

Carl Schmitt, takes his own independent stand on this issue of friend in the light of the political dimension. His concept is complete divergence from the traditional approach of Plato and Aristotle. He discusses the political dimension of friendship insisting upon the complete autonomy of the political. In the theory of Plato , “we find the concept of friendship linked with the concept of justice” (Hutter, 1978, p. 94) and in Aristotle we find the claim that “it is only between those who are good, and resemble one another in their goodness, that friendship is perfect,” (1955, p. 233) Schmitt clearly understands the political dimension of friendship to be categorically divorced from considerations of justice or universal claims about “the good””(Valk)

The history of political theory is full of references which elucidate in different context at different times the concept of friendship. The concept of friendship and its relationship with the other aspects of political implication is introduced in different light by different philosophers like “Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Aquinas, Montaign and Nietzsche or just implied as in case of Homer to Whitman— it is apparent that the history of the relationship between political theory and theories of friendship is rich and varied” (Valk)

Some of the insightful work done on this concept by different philosophers or historians are “Ethics” by Aristotle and “Zarathustra” by Nietzche. Carl Schmitt follows the order with a radical departure from the traditional concept. The most famous work by Carl Schmitt “The Concept of Political” talks about the role of the concept of friend in relation to the political area. He evaluates and expands on the concept of friendship more in the light of political sphere and away from the effects and influences of psychological, ethical and moral components. “Schmitt is able to use the concept of the friend as weapon against ways of understanding political activity that conflate politics with other fields of inquiry such as ethics, religion and economics”. (Valk)

The original concept of friendship and the state, with emphasis on the political implications was first mentioned by Aristotle. Aristotle does not mention friendship in his Politics, but covers a great deal in his Eudemian Ethics and the Nicomachean Ethics. The Nicomachean Ethics, covers a wide range of content on friendship. “Friendship (philia) was of central importance to the Greeks, and Aristotle notes that “those who frame the constitutions of states set more store by this feeling than by justice itself” (1955, p. 228).

Aristotle describes three basic forms that friendship can take, corresponding to the three objects of friendship he specifies: the useful, the pleasant, and the good.” (Valk) “Aristotle maintains that “it is only between those who are good, and resemble one another in their goodness, that friendship is perfect” (1955, p. 233). At the core of Aristotle’s conception of friendship are psychological and moral components. The political aspect of friendship is discussed against the framework of these non-political considerations” (Valk)

Aristotle talks about three kind of friendship: friendship of good people, friendship based on utility and friendship based on pleasure. He considers the friendship which is based on the common good between people as the most enduring kind of friendship “When Aristotle says that friendship is necessary for the ethical life, he is referring to complete, or virtuous friendship, since incomplete friendships are not essentially friendships of virtue”. (Thunder, 1996) He also states that friendship is necessary for good life and good life is essential for happiness which is the ultimate objective of life. The morals and the virtue guide towards this goal in life.

The Greek model of the concept of friendship is very different from the concept of friendship by Carl Schmitt. Plato talks about friendship as ‘philia’ in his book “Lysis”. According to him friendship was based on understanding between two individual, and could stand out as an outstanding relationship which was reciprocal, it was a larger phenomenon. In the theory of Plato , “we find the concept of friendship linked with the concept of justice” (Hutter, 1978, p. 94)(Valk) He strongly viewed friendship in the light of the role friendship played as a reflection or prerequisite of justice and political order within society.

The Concept of the Political, by Carl Schmitt is a revolutionary piece of work in its analysis and emphasis on the concept of friendship, which is in complete contrast of the model presented by the traditional Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. The Greek model of the concept of friendship took the society, culture and state including the value of ethics, virtue, justice and welfare of the state into account. Schmitt dismissed these broader perspectives which took into account the private concepts and looked at the concept of friendship only in the light of interaction between political entities. (Bland, 2003)

Works Cited

Bland, Byron (May 2003). Evil Enemies: The Convergence of Religion and Politics.

Valk, Frank Vander Decisions, Decisions: Carl Schmitt on Friends and Political Will

Thunder, David (1996). Friendship in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics: An essential component of the Good Life


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