Upcoming workshop by Geertje Bol: Mary Astell on Love, Friendship and Enmity

On Wednesday 29 March 2023, at Camelot (Blandijnberg 2, 1-2 pm), Geertje Bol (UGent, FWO postdoc) will be giving a workshop on her research in early modern history: “I Love you whom the World calls Enemies”: Mary Astell on Love, Friendship and Enmity.

Abstract: Political friendship is currently undergoing a revival both in contemporary political philosophy as well as in the history of political thought. This in turn has provoked critiques of political friendship. However, these critical voices come primarily from within the male-dominated canon, such as Machiavelli and Hobbes. And yet, we might ask, who were in a better position to critique what has been called the “exclusively male” and elitist language of political friendship than women? For that reason, I turn to the critique of political friendship we find in Mary Astell (1666–1731), the seventeenth-century philosopher and pamphleteer known as “the first English feminist.” Astell, like Aristotle, grounded friendship in virtue, reciprocity and partiality. The point of friendship was to point out one another’s flaws and help one’s friend to improve in virtue and thus attain salvation. Astell argued that such friendship could never take place in the imperfect realm of politics. However, unlike Aristotle and current proponents of “civic friendship,” Astell rejected the notion of a watered-down version of friendship in politics, one devoid of emotion and virtue, but still grounded in reciprocity and good will. She argued that such friends could not fulfil the end of friendship, namely, to improve one’s friend’s virtue. I argue that we should instead see Astell as a proponent of political enmity: after true and virtuous friends, enemies were best at fulfilling the end of friendship. Astell’s critique of political friendship and her appreciation of enmity is especially relevant for contemporary proponents of civic friendship and writers who argue that we should see partisanship as a form of friendship.