Civic Friendship and Democracy: Past and Present Perspectives

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Dery, Dominique


Spragens, Thomas

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My dissertation seeks to clarify the stakes of recent calls to increase civic friendship in our communities by initiating a conversation between contemporary and historical theoretical work about the requirements and consequences of using friendship as a model for social and political relationships between citizens. Friends’ lives are bound together by shared activity and by mutual concern and support; in what ways do relations between citizens, who often begin as strangers, take up these attitudes and behaviors? What kinds of civic friendship are possible in our contemporary democratic communities? How are they cultivated? And what are their political advantages and disadvantages? These questions guide the project as a whole.

I begin by canvassing some recent and popular work by Robert Bellah et al., Robert Putnam, and Danielle Allen in order to clarify the claims they make about different forms of civic friendship. The chapters that follow focus on the work of Aristotle, Tocqueville, and Adam Smith respectively in order to respond to various gaps I find in the contemporary accounts. I assess what each thinker, contemporary and canonical, can offer us today as we continue to think about the most sustainable and fair ways in which citizens can relate to one another in vast and diverse contemporary democracies. Along the way I address several important over-arching issues: the relationship between self-interest and care for others; the relationship between different sorts of equality and civic friendship; and the different roles that reason, emotions, habits, and institutions play in the cultivation of various kinds of civic friendship. I conclude that equality and justice ought to be both prerequisites and consequences of civic friendship, that self-interest is not a sufficient source for robust civic friendship and that instead some kind of imaginative and emotional motivation is needed, and that civic friendship must be understood as both a moral and a political phenomenon.





Dery, Dominique (2015). Civic Friendship and Democracy: Past and Present Perspectives. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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