In Part 1, I asserted that we needed to recover a notion of the covenant as an operative principle of good relationships. A covenant is when two parties are willing to say: “I will do my part in this relationship, even if, for a time, you aren’t doing your part.” We can see in the Western tradition, this is modeled on the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 15, but we also got the intimation that it could act as a resistant force to the breakdown in the depth of relationship in the modern world. But how so? How is an over-reliance on contracts as embodying transactional and exchange relationships eroding our sense of thriving? It turns out, we need to make some important conceptual commitments in order to build up the architecture for freedom and thriving. As I have intimated elsewhere, the great practical thinker Hannah Arendt helps us do this.
This blog post will outline two principles of friendship: they are necessary and discovered. In part 3, two other principles will be outlined: their requiring maintenance and sustenance, and their eternal character.
Hannah Arendt and the source of our models for relationship
Hannah Arendt, in her seminal work of 1958, The Human Condition, analyzed three spheres of life that a human being ultimately lives in: the Private, the Social, and the Political. If we are to draw on the most obvious examples of covenant relationships that we could, we would reach into the private sphere of marriage and parent-child relationships. For Arendt, these relationships come out of the human being as the laboring animal – and these relationships find their source in the biological life of the species. These relationships are part of the recurring cycle of birth and death, and cannot be sharply distinguished from our basic biological pattern of laboring and consuming. To put it another way, the marital relationship is pressed upon us by our hormones, and the parent-child relationship is pressed upon us by our biological life cycle. Using these as models, as good as they are, and as many passages in the Bible that exemplify them in covenantal ways, won’t be enough to demonstrate the larger point – that covenantal relationships are a model we are called to in our public lives.
Instead, I’d like to now turn toward what I’ll call “spiritual friendships” as an important model of covenants for what we experience socially – the alienation from each other and in our practices of work, and the alienation we have from the planet, and, in the end, from our entire public lives.
In direct contrast to the recurring biological life cycle that is private – and frequently sheltered from public view – is, for Arendt, our political life, which is the realm of freedom. Our political life is characterized by the incredible diversity of actors who gather as equals and rule themselves. Their diversity (rather than their uniformity) is assured because their identities have been formed in their unique households. Her model for political life is ancient Athens. The interesting thing about such political life is that this is where freedom makes its appearance. When we act in the political world we can never really know what we are doing – and Arendt reminds us of the very political act of Jesus dying on the cross and the words he said there: “Lord, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Arendt interprets this as literal truth. Anytime we act into the world, a plethora of possible results, both anticipated and unanticipated, can result.
In the private world, where all actions are sheltered and attached to the recurring cycle of labor and consumption, of birth and death, any effort is measured by the cycle of extending effort, and relaxation – of labor and leisure. It is not what is meant by freedom because any efforts in the private realm are bound to this recurrent cycle. The political world, by contrast, is not bound by any recurrent cycle. We can act into it, and we can never really be sure what the results will be. Political action, for Arendt, has a definite beginning but no foreseeable end. Action is the behavior most closely associated with the political sphere. But such free action, because of the nearly infinite potential of possible outcomes of such action, needs to be checked. The only two features that remedy the inherent dangerousness of freedom, Arendt reminds us, are the capacity to forgive and to make promises. Making promises offers us islands of security in oceans of uncertainty, and forgiveness remedies what we could do wrong. In other words, promises are aimed at the future, and forgiveness at the past. Arendt calls these biblical teachings the most political of checks and balances; while they have their origins in the private sphere of our personal relationships, they really serve as political guarantors of freedom.
I say this as background to what I consider, along with Arendt, to be the colonization of both our political and our private lives by the social sphere. In her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, she makes this very point: totalitarian regimes are established and spread like an imperial and colonial power through the relatively sheltered process of the private life and the assured space of political action – what Jurgen Habermas and others have called the public sphere.
In this third sphere, the social world is largely constituted by the concept of work, which she distinguishes from labor. Unlike labor, which is intimately attached both conceptually and practically to the eternally recurrent and private life of labor and consumption and birth and death, work is notable for having a definite beginning and definite end. The bridge gets built, the railroad track is secure, the visual work of art is finished. Unlike the eternally recurring cycle of our biological lives in the private sphere, and unlike the unpredictable future of political life, work has a definite beginning and definite end. Work has a different conception of time built into it. If you can visualize it – the time of the private sphere is cyclical, the time of the political sphere is like a vector; but the time of work is a line segment, with a definite beginning and a definite end.
Now let’s return to the concepts of covenants and contracts. If we think of the time frame of work, with a beginning and an end, contracts are THE codification of relationships under the logic of the social world. The danger is if the logic of the social world colonizes our other vital spheres of life.
As you can tell, I am suggesting that instead of contracts, I would like to suggest that covenants can be a useful framework to act against the colonization of the social world into the realms of privacy and polity. So I would like us to consider, whether biblical covenant can be employed as a check and balance on the over-reach of social sphere?
I would like to suggest that the instructions for the building of the church in the book of Acts are a good place to start. After all, the church, along with educational institutions and the market, are pre-eminent social institutions. Let’s take our model for covenant from social relationships rather than the low-hanging fruit of marital and parent-child relationships.
It says in Acts 2 “They devoted themselves to fellowship.” Christian fellowship. Right away, we have a problem, because the word has been so trivialized and debased. When you think of fellowship, you think of punch and cookies after a worship service; you think of touring the Holy Land on a bus, and we’re having great fellowship. Because the word has been so debased, people nowadays use a different word for it. They talk about Christian community. That’s a much better word. Today, I’d like to use another word that’s not really better, but it’s a bit different. I think it’ll be a little more challenging and maybe even a little more practical. The Bible teaches us that the gospel of Jesus Christ creates and calls us into spiritual friendships. I got this word from a helpful twelfth-century book De spirituali amicitia (Spiritual Friendship) by Aelred of Rievaulx, an English monk. In other words, the gospel of Jesus Christ does not simply send you deeper into the heart of God than you ever thought you would go, or deeper into the heart of the hurting world than you ever thought you would go, but it sends you deeper into the heart of other brothers and sisters in Christ, giving you profundity and intimacy of relationships beyond anything you ever thought was possible with any other human being.
I want to do this by telling you about the apostle Paul in Tyre as recorded in Acts 20 and 21.
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me…. When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship. After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo. We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.
In the travelogue, this is all about friendship. Even though there are way too many principles to bring about, I’m going to give you four extremely important principles of spiritual friendship – and show how they live in real tension with the social world of contracts. According to this passage, there are four principles. Spiritual friendships are needed; they’re discovered, not just made; they’re made, not just discovered; and they’re forever. As I mentioned, let me deal with these first two in this blog post. I will deal with the latter two in the next blog post.
- They’re needed
Something is happening in Paul’s life here, and you don’t really get the picture of it unless you read the whole book of Acts, but let me give you the context. Starting here, Paul’s life changes forever. All the rest of his life becomes one crushing trouble after another. Before this point, Paul’s sort of in charge of his life. He makes his goals, he goes out, and he does all these missionary journeys. But in 20:22–23, Paul says the Spirit of God had shown him that he needs to go to Jerusalem. He knows if he goes to Jerusalem, he’ll be arrested and imprisoned. That’s exactly what happens. For the rest of his life, it’s just one trial after another trial, a narrow escape, an attack, his life is in danger, one more narrow escape, and he’s totally out of control. His life is one more crushing trouble after another. Starting here, you will see he spends an enormous amount of time with friends. Look carefully. Everywhere he goes, he’s surrounded by his friends. They walk with him to the beach. He’s spending hours and hours and hours weeping and discussing and talking and arguing, as we’re going to see. On and on and on. Suddenly, he begins to swim in friends. What does this tell us?
Here’s the first lesson. To need and to want deep friendships is not a sign of spiritual immaturity, but of maturity. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of health. When Adam was created in Genesis 2, we have one of the great theological “weirdnesses” in the Bible, because chapter 3 is when sin enters the world, and all bad things happen from Genesis 3 on, but in Genesis 1 and 2, we see humanity before the fall, before sin, when everything is great. As a result, all the way through those first two chapters we see God saying, “It is good. It is good. It is good. It is good.” Suddenly, we get to one thing before sin comes into the world which is not good, one thing God says is not good … Adam is alone. Here’s what this means. Adam was not lonely because he was imperfect, but because he was perfect. The ache for friends is the one ache that is not the result of sin. Every other ache, every other longing Adam ever had, that human beings ever had … the hunger ache, the sickness ache, the guilt ache, the lack of meaning in life ache … they all come from sin. This is one ache that is part of his perfection. Adam could not even enjoy paradise … God made us in such a way that we cannot enjoy paradise without friends. God made us in such a way that we cannot enjoy our joy without human friends. Adam had a perfect quiet time every day, 24 hours… and yet he needed companionship…
Let’s practically apply this. First, if you are lonely, if you want more friends, if you want closer friends, if you feel lonely, you are not dysfunctional; you are fine. You’re lonely because you’re not a tree. You’re lonely because you’re not a machine. You’re lonely because you’re built this way. That’s the first point. I’m going to show you, in a second, one of the reasons why you’re lonely (I have to be careful about this; let’s do a little self-analysis) is that you want friends. One of the reasons you want friends is that you don’t have many friends. One of the reasons you may not have friends may be because of sin, because of flaws, because of mistakes you’re making, but the passion for it, the need for it, the sense of lack is not wrong at all. That’s first. Secondly, some of you have learned or are learning, through semi-conscious decisions, not to want or need friends. There are all kinds of reasons why this happens. If you live in a modern city for more than four or five years, it’s a tremendous temptation. So many people have moved away, and you start to say, “I don’t want to get started again.” It’s also an age problem. As you get older, you realize how much time friends take, or just the fact of living in the world … people let you down, people disappoint you, and people hurt you. So, I would suggest, almost always, it’s not entirely conscious and deliberate. Very seldom do you explicitly say, “I am not going to need people anymore.” I hope you see an awful lot of us are doing that right now. You see, the less you want people, the less you want friends, the less like God you are, the less like Jesus you are. One of the things that amazes me is Paul wasn’t the only tremendously strong, great person who desperately needed friends; there was a greater One, and he had 12 friends. They never understood him, and they continually let him down. They were always hurting his feelings, and yet if you read the Gospels, you’ll see one of the reasons why the Gospels are so full is that he was constantly sharing his thoughts and his deepest heart with his friends, who didn’t even get it until after Pentecost. He’s always thinking out loud. He’s always sharing his thoughts. He’s always saying, “Would you please come and pray with me?” I
f you don’t need people … If you’re afraid of accountability, if you’re afraid of people looking inside if you’re afraid of people nosing into your business, if you’re afraid of love … The less you want friends, the less like God you are. Don’t you realize? What is the purpose of creation? What was the purpose of redemption? What is the purpose of everything God has done since creation? To make us friends. If you decide, “I think it’s just not worth it. I’m not going to need people,” look what you’re doing to yourself. One more thing. Lastly, please friends, let yourselves need people. Here’s the trouble. When you’re in trouble, it’s too late. Very few people walk around saying, “I love air. Oh, air. Air. What good is my brain without air? It wouldn’t work without air. What good is this food without air? It wouldn’t …” You don’t walk around saying, “Air. Oh my gosh. Air. What good would any of my life be …?” No. You only start to feel that way about air when you’re underwater. Then you start to say, “Wow! Air. Boy …” You don’t walk around saying, “I need friends,” usually, until you emotionally and personally go under. Then, it’s too late, if you don’t have them, if they’re not there. Spiritual friendships … you need them.
I find this very personal point to be imperative if we look at the state of the Christian University. For decades now, Christian universities across Canada and the United States are undergoing an existential crisis because of dwindling student numbers. They are laying off people who have been loyal to their institutions, and they are cutting departments. Often, what has happened is that they have committed to the principles of accounting which seek to balance the books and not run deficits, and then look to their private supporters to make up the deficits. However, the relationships that are cultivated with private supporters are contractual. We will accept $5 million if the money is used in a way dictated by the donor herself. If you use the money a different way, the donation will be withdrawn. This is the language of contracts. But once that is undertaken, the very nature of the donor relationship corrupts the need for friendship. It has become something else – it has become, in its very nature, instrumental – and this, of course, is the logic that is pressed upon us as social beings. A covenant would take a more holistic need as central, rather than a wealthy person’s interest and make it central.
- Spiritual friendships are discovered, not just made
One of the things I would never have known (and you wouldn’t either unless you’d read the commentators), but the people who know something about history and background and the original language and all that, the people who write commentaries, point out something. When Paul gets to Tyre he’s getting to a church he did not plant, he did not start. He’s getting to a place where he’s meeting Christians who, probably, he has never met before. They feel it is their right to rise up and to say, “Paul, you’re all wrong,” to confront him, to urge him through the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem, to get involved with his life, and to get involved in decision making. Astonishingly, if you watch very carefully, you’ll see that Paul lets them. He doesn’t say, “How dare you?” That’s just part of it. The point is people you have no natural affinity with, if you share Jesus Christ with them, there is a bond that exerts itself. In a sense, even the pagans understood this. One of the greatest works that was written on friendship was written by Cicero, a pagan Roman philosopher. Even in our own day, we have people like Emerson, who wasn’t a Christian, but they understood this. That is that the very essence of friendship is not to look at each other but to look at something in common. What makes you a friend is not that you’re kneeling before each other saying, “Don’t you want to be in a relationship with me?” What makes people friends is that you’re both kneeling before something else. The essence of friendship is to say not, “Do you love me?” but “Do you love the same truth?” What makes friendship happen is not that you’re looking at each other and saying, “How’s our relationship?” but you’re looking at something that has captured your heart. So even the pagans understood friends cannot be made from nothing. There must be some common passion, some common adoration.
See, with Christianity, we have an incredible possibility. Twice, Paul kneels and prays. Right there you have a physical picture of spiritual friendship. If you’re both kneeling before the same God, if you’re both adoring the same God, that pulls you together in astounding ways. Over and over, the Bible says the most formative possible experience you can have is an experience of the grace of Jesus Christ. When that comes in (this is what’s so great), there’s a friendship bond that is exerted. I even use the word automatic, though I’m going to show that you have to work at it. It says in Ephesians 4:3, “Maintain the spirit of unity in the bond of peace.” It doesn’t say, “Attain the spirit of unity in the bond of peace.” Maintain. You can’t attain it. You can’t create it. You can be a steward of it, but it comes, it’s a gift, and it’s there when two people fall in love with Jesus Christ. They are becoming friends, no matter who they used to be. When two people start to fall in love with Jesus Christ, they’re kneeling before him; they are becoming friends, no matter who they used to be.
In the city, we see each other on the streets, but we live absolutely parallel lives. We would want to remain anonymous unless we knew we had a common concern. but when Christ happens … you’re kneeling down together and worshipping Jesus Christ. It means there’s a bond there you don’t have with what used to be your own people. You’re a Christian first, and you’re anything else second. It doesn’t matter who your ancestors were. It doesn’t matter your race. It doesn’t matter what your experience is. It doesn’t matter whether you are a refugee of either war or of divorce culture. It doesn’t matter your age. Spiritual friendship is discovered first. I have to move on. See, in other words, there are possibilities for getting on inside the Christian church, between people … friendships that outside the Christian church would be impossible anywhere else. The Bible repeatedly (I don’t have time to go into it now) says this is the test that you have experienced grace. If you’ve experienced grace, you find yourself not just sort of getting along, but coming to love people that before you would have never wanted to even spend a moment with. Never. That’s one of the ways you know something has happened to you. If it isn’t happening to you and you can’t give me a list, what does it mean? Let me make this application. This is one of the reasons, this second principle, that friendships happen. They’re not something you can create de novo. They come from what you’re in love with. They happen with people who are most in love with the same thing you’re in love with. Spiritual friendship is discovered, not just made.
The language of common interests – even apart from all the Christian language – is enough to show the logic, and Hannah Arendt serves to demonstrate this logic of common interests.
Hannah Arendt: Friendship as a model for the University and for the polity.
Imagine it: New York City. The 1950s. An apartment building on Riverside Drive.
This salon was made up of a group that historians would one day call the New York Intellectuals. Many were American Jews or Jewish émigrés from Europe. All of them wanted to understand the most fundamental things about life in a world that felt as if it had gone mad.
Only recently had the full horrors of Hitler’s Holocaust become known to the public. For a lot of the New York Intellectuals, the discovery felt like it split history in two.
A brilliant German Jewish woman, a philosopher by training, who had fled her homeland in 1941 and a few years later was publishing (in her third language, English) in journals like Partisan Review and Commentary, Arendt knew what was at stake. In 1951, she published a hefty book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, which traced the roots of what was happening in Europe, from Nazism to Stalinism. In it, she wrote about what led to the rise of totalizing power, which erases people’s humanity by erasing their individuality. Totalitarianism tries to deny both individual citizens’ uniqueness and their ability to act collectively against systems of oppression. And most of all, it makes impossible what Arendt says makes us human. What was happening in that apartment over cocktails — the all-important act of thinking — is something that can only be done in conversation with the self, and with friends.
You can see why this group of intellectuals mattered to her. They helped her think, but they also modeled a crucial concept: Revolutions may be happening all over the world, but right here, in this little group, in this little apartment, among friends and frenemies, the subversive potential of friendship was constantly unfolding.
They came to gossip. They came to be seen, to engage in intrigue, to quarrel, to flirt, to test out new members of the group so they could laugh about them later. They drank, and sometimes they’d eat, too, but the main thing they took in was talk. And it wasn’t empty or small talk. Their cocktail parties became legendary not because of their extravagance or their spectacle, but because they were where the group thought together, as friends.
Arguing was a way in which to build a world and test out ideas on one another. These gatherings were a boozy still point in a world spinning off its axis. If an idea appeared in Partisan Review or Commentary or the New Yorker, or in a book that set the intellectual world ablaze, or ricocheted around a classroom at Bard or Columbia or Berkeley, it might have first been hashed out and honed over some very stiff martinis on Riverside Drive.
Even when there were fights, intrigue, and bad behavior, there was something fundamentally solid and generative about the gatherings. When you look at Arendt’s writing, you can clearly see that these cocktail parties were a key part to her understanding of how the forces that wanted to eradicate the humanness of humanity — forces she understood all too well — could be defeated at their own game.
By the time Arendt was famous, she’d come to believe that the project of life wasn’t to think about the world’s problems in order to solve them, since no single fix could be found. Instead, the goal was to keep thinking. Like most great writers, Hannah Arendt wrote about the same few topics over and over, refashioned and reconfigured to fit new circumstances. Maybe her most important recurring idea is amor mundi — the love of the world.
For Arendt, amor mundi means you can’t fool yourself about the world, closing your eyes to the realities of history and injustice. Instead, loving the world means working on two specific tasks. The first is doggedly insisting on seeing the world just as it is, with its disappointments and horrors — and committing to it all the same. The second is encountering people in the world and embracing their alterity, or difference.
That last piece — loving people for their difference — is essential to Arendt’s thinking and her friendships, as well as her social gatherings.
“Arendt sees friendship as allied to politics: not as a substitute for politics, nor as a way of doing politics, but as a condition necessary for the survival of politics as she understood it,” writes Jon Nixon in his book Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Friendship. “Friendship is what lies between the private world of the familial, tribal, and religious affiliation, and the political world of institutional and association affiliation based not on family, tribe, or religion but on equality.”
The idea of friendship being necessary for politics is strange to ponder. But for Arendt, politics was not a totalizing identity marker.
Yet, just as importantly, she wasn’t saying that friendship with people “across the aisle” is somehow going to save us, or that all politics have the same impact on humans. Instead, Arendt means something slightly different: that friendship with other people (including those you generally agree with) subverts power. Friendship — in which people see and recognize one another’s differences, affirm and challenge those differences, and ultimately grow — pushes back against tyrannical forces that try to deny our individuality and dignity.
As Nixon puts it, “Through our friendships we learn to relate to one another as free and equal agents and, crucially, to carry what we have learned from those friendships — by way of the exercise of freedom and the recognition of equal worth — back into the world.”
True amor mundi recognizes that our problems will never be fixed, that there is no perfect theory or principle that will unlock the puzzle of existence and solve our problems. And, Arendt writes, that’s why politics exists. In politics, we come together, committed to the world, willing to raise our eyes and look at one another, to debate and critically discuss the world, continually working our way toward what we would like it to become, knowing the work will never be “finished.” Doing so requires us to see one another as individuals with equal dignity but very different ways of being. Our idiosyncrasies make us who we are, and those unique traits and eccentricities empower us to care for one another. We see how someone is different from us, and we choose to love that difference, thus expanding our love beyond ourselves.
So, politics is where we focus on everything that happens between all the individuals who make up a society. It’s where we repair the threads that bind us together. Yet, it’s balanced with the knowledge that while people see the world differently for different reasons, we can’t make up stories that paper over our reality. Racial history, class oppression, gender discrimination, prejudices of all kinds — we have to own up to them all. That’s how we start to generate freedom.
That requires us to think and talk with others — and sometimes drink and eat with them, too. How can one person, in their specificity, grasp the enormity of history and existence?
We are dropped down into a broken world, where humans hurt one another. To love the world, Arendt says, we need “oases” where we can retreat and be renewed. Those oases include art and music and poetry and dinner tables and cocktail parties and, perhaps most importantly, friendship.
That’s why friendship was everything to Arendt. It is the strongest of oases, the one that keeps us from turning inward on ourselves and away from the horrors of the world. It is where we learn to appreciate others not for the ways they are the same as us, but for how they’re different from us. It is where we overcome the horror of isolation, but also avoid becoming just another face in the crowd, lost in the collective. Friendship is the connective tissue that builds us into a true society and saves us from being overtaken by totalitarianism.
Arendt famously poured herself into making and maintaining friendships,
A satisfying friendship came in the form of Mary McCarthy, the writer and critic, though the friendship was almost ruined from the start. They first met in 1944, on one hazy Manhattan night in a bar. They’d both been brought there by friends — McCarthy by the art critic Clement Greenberg, with whom she was having an anemic affair, and Arendt by Greenberg’s brother Martin, her coworker at Schocken Books, where she was working as a secretary. McCarthy (married at the time to the critic Edmund Wilson) already had made her reputation. Arendt was still new to New York and was just beginning to publish in some of the most incisive, radical journals headquartered there: Partisan Review, The Nation, and Commentary.
That night, Arendt talked animatedly about the United States, how it was still malleable and unfinished compared to her native Germany, a young country finding its footing. That kind of force would appeal to McCarthy, a woman who had built her life on having an opinion and stating it boldly, but with charm.
The pair didn’t become friends that night. In fact, the next recorded interaction between them, in 1945, was an outright disaster. They were at — what else? — a cocktail party and McCarthy made a crack about Hitler calculated to scandalize her more sanctimonious friends. She expressed that she felt sorry for Hitler, an absurd man who wanted his victims to love him. Arendt was incensed. “How can you say such a thing in front of me — a victim of Hitler, a person who has been in a concentration camp!” she exclaimed, and then stormed out. Any chance of a relationship between the two seemed impossible.
But in the airtight, insular world of their intellectual circle, with mutual friends and mutual interests, they inevitably kept crossing paths. One night, after they both attended a gathering, they ended up standing on the same subway platform, no doubt waiting for one of those interminably delayed late-night trains that make you feel suspended in time, especially when you’ve had a bit of gin. Each had found in debates that they were frequently on the same side against the rest of the room. “Let’s end this nonsense,” Arendt finally said to McCarthy, breaking a three-year silence. “We think so much alike.” They made amends. And thus, a friendship was born that would last the rest of their lives.
Their relationship, assiduously maintained by the pair until Arendt passed away in 1975 — after which McCarthy put aside her own work to prepare Arendt’s unfinished book, The Life of the Mind, for publication — is an ideal model for what Arendt thought friendship could do. Friendship is a place for public happiness, a give-and-take that is receptive to the world and to others. So, friendship is revolutionary. It confronts and rebukes totalitarianism. Thinking and sharpening one another helps stave off evil; in friendship, we encourage one another to think. “It is within that place — the place of friendship — that friends are able to explore the truth of their opinions by ‘talking things over’ and through the ‘give and take’ of conviviality,” Nixon writes. Friendship in Arendt’s thinking, he later notes, is a “microcosm of the polity — not seeking to replace or juxtapose itself against the polity, but sustaining and modeling it.”
I learn from Hannah Arendt that a feast is only possible among friends, or people whose hearts are open to becoming friends. Or you could put it another way: any meal can become a feast when shared with friends engaged in the activity of thinking their way through the world and loving it together. A mere meal is a necessity for life, a fact of being human. But it is transformed into something much more important, something vital to the life of the world, when the people who share the table are engaging in the practices of love and of thinking.