Civic Friendship

Given the general atmosphere of the Philippines these days, I was prompted to write this letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The paper published it October 18, 2016.

Some 2,300 years ago, Aristotle wrote in his Nichomachean Ethics: “Friendship seems to hold states together and lawgivers to care more for it than for justice.”

Aristotle thought that the glue that ought to bind a society together is friendship. This is the quality that inheres in the citizens of a state so that they wish the good for their fellow citizens for their own sake and for the sake of the entire political body. This civic friendship differs from personal friendship because it encompasses more people and the entire society. It is based on shared goals, ideals, values and a sense of justice. Aristotle thought that in the most unjust societies (e.g., tyrannies), there is the least amount of friendship.

I find this idea very current and relevant to our present time and circumstances. The idea of friendship as the bond that can make a state survive and thrive is not a very common and welcome one for some modern thinkers. Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher of the 17th century, thought that the citizens’ fear and self-interest are the binding forces that will keep a society going. Hobbes lived in a century that saw many wars in England, and so the poor man thought that such was the natural state of man: strife and war. Homo homini lupus, man is a wolf to man, so he said.

It seems to me that our society is turning out to be Hobbesian, one where fear is the predominant sentiment among the citizens, and where there is continual strife among our politicians, the police and the citizens, the Muslim rebels and the military—and, now, the drugs war. Killings are the order of the day. I used to think that Filipinos are a smiling, friendly and peace-loving people. What is happening to us?

Friendship is based on justice. Aristotle thought that if citizens practiced civic friendship, they will want what is good for their fellow citizens; they will want justice for them. It seems to me that at present there are too many killings so that one can think or even doubt: Does justice still exist? We are getting used to see and hear every day of people just getting killed. It does not help the people to hear from their President the oft-repeated phrase, “I will kill you.” This sets the tone for their mindsets and actions. It nullifies the very basic principle of justice regarding respect for the life of any person and the fifth commandment of the Decalogue.

Please do not misunderstand me. I agree with the drive to eradicate drugs from our country. I agree with the campaign to lessen the crime incidence. I want peace and development for us. But as the wise have said, Pax opus iustitiae, peace is the work of justice. Let us practice justice: Respect people’s rights, follow the due process of law, subscribe to the rule of reasonableness and law.

Aristotle could be right when he wrote that civic friendship is an even better ideal to work for. Christianity gave an even higher ambition: caritas, that is, love of neighbor for his own sake and for the sake of the love of God. Since we are a Christian nation, I would remind our citizens: Let’s be charitable.

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