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Friendship, Tradition, Democracy: Two Readings of Aristotle

Law-Text-Culture, Vol. 5, Issue 2, 2000

26 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2001 Last revised: 17 Nov 2017

Adam Thurschwell


Date Written: 2000


Within a year of each other in the early 1990s, Anthony Kronman and Jacques Derrida both published books criticizing the currently dominant philosophical conception of politics - Kronman's The Lost Lawyer: Failing Ideals of the Legal Profession (1993) and Derrida's Politiques de l'amitie (1994) (translated as Politics of Friendship (1997)). Given the books' otherwise profound differences in subject matter, intellectual tradition and intended audience, these would be ships that could be allowed to pass in the night were it not for the fact that both books' arguments turn in crucial respects on a single element of Aristotle's political philosophy - the role of friendship as the mediating link between the good for the individual (ethics) and the good for the community (politics). In this essay, I attempt to take advantage of this (not at all fortuitous) coincidence by elaborating a possible rapprochement - or "generative graft," to use Derrida's terminology - between Kronman's and Derrida's approaches to the political-philosophical problem of modernity. Through close critical readings of Kronman's book and key passages in Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, I suggest that a Derridian reading of Aristotle not only sheds light on Kronman's failed attempt to reconstruct a philosophical basis for modern politics along Aristotelian lines, but that the Derridian approach offers Kronman his best hope of achieving his goal. Towards that end, the essay concludes with a sketch of an ethical-political philosophy based on Derrida's work and the work of one of his main influences, Emmanuel Levinas, that incorporates the most important elements of the Aristotelian critique of modernity, without, however, falling back into the elitism and communitarian dangers in which Kronman's traditionalist reconstruction of Aristotle entangles him, and without losing the benefit of modernity's real political achievements. Thus, along the way, I also hope to show that the American legal academy has something valuable to learn about some of its most fundamental issues from an intellectual tradition that it has for the most part viewed as (at best) an exotic and irrelevant foreign import.

Notes: This is a description of the paper and not the actual abstract.

Suggested Citation

Thurschwell, Adam, Friendship, Tradition, Democracy: Two Readings of Aristotle (2000). Law-Text-Culture, Vol. 5, Issue 2, 2000. Available at SSRN:

Adam Thurschwell (Contact Author)

Independent ( email )

Washington, DC

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