Sibyl A. Schwarzenbach


On her book On Civic Friendship: Including Women in the State

Cover Interview of December 06, 2009

In a nutshell

Historically speaking, theorizing the nature of the political state from a feminist point of view is in its earliest stages.  So my book offers a novel feminist account of the foundations of the (just) modern state.

On Civic Friendship also offers a new vision of constitutional democracy.  Rather than conceiving of women and their traditional roles as mere afterthoughts to a conception of the citizen that remains primarily male, I view women’s traditional work and activities as situated at the heart of this distinctive governmental form.

Central to my argument is that women, throughout history and across the globe, have continued to perform the vast majority of reproductive labor and praxis in society—that form of ethical activity that reproduces not merely biological beings but educated, reasoning, and mature persons.

In contrast to the traditionally male citizen role of soldier (which aims to defend against or kill the other) or to that of provider (where the modern focus is on the production of things and exchange value), traditional female reproductive praxis aims at the reproduction of human relations – in the best case, at relations of friendship or philia for their own sake.  I use the Greek term philia for its scope is broader than the English friendship; philia includes the good relations between parents and children, siblings, lovers and even fellow citizens.

Aristotle already recognized the importance of women in reproducing relations of personal philia (far more complex then simple “care”). He also argued that a political version of friendship (politike philia) is a necessary requirement of justice for any polis or state.  Unless there is an institutionalized background of good will in a society—a reciprocal friendly attitude, trust and rough maintenance of equality, visible and embodied in a state’s constitution, its laws, customs and social institutions—citizens can (and often will) perceive themselves to be unjustly treated.

In a general context of enmity and ill will, that is, or in one of pure competition or indifference, and given our natural and often unreasonable propensities to favor ourselves, citizens will be unable to recognize and accept in practice the burdens of justice. In such an unfriendly, hostile or indifferent environment, the poor will have little motive to follow the laws, the well to do will refuse to yield their unfair advantages, and only a sham justice of the powerful can reign.