Brian Liu presents Because We Are Friends; or, the Conspiracy of Friendship
Medieval historian and critic Ivan Illich proposed a search for a new askesis, a set of practices that make virtuous action possible. Friendship is, for Illich, that new askesis, the only properly human response to radical dehumanization, the reduction of people into components of the several key systems he identified and analyzed over the course of some twenty years: economic systems, transportation systems, pedagogical systems, medical systems. Friendship is a relationship built on faith, humility, and poverty of spirit. It is the very basis of hospitality, impelling/inviting one to say “no, thank you” to the ruling assumptions of scarcity, progress, and competition that systems catalyze and on which they rely. “Learned and leisurely hospitality is the only antidote to the stance of deadly cleverness that is acquired in the professional pursuit of objectively secured knowledge,” notes Illich in “The Cultivation of Conspiracy” (1998). “I remain certain that the quest for truth cannot thrive outside the nourishment of mutual trust flowering into a commitment to friendship.” Here, twenty years down the line, in an act of homage if not pilgrimage, I return to the meditations on otherness, powerlessness, and love of “the prophet of Cuernavaca,” the means by which he believed an art of living could be established and fostered. With the help of a wide range of diverse interlocutors, including Hannah Arendt, Emmanuel Levinas, Giorgio Agamben, Wendell Berry, and Srecko Horvat, among others, I rethink, and think through, the possibility of the sovereignty of friendship today, the relationship that exists solely in itself and for itself, and, as such, categorically refuses assimilation into, and cooptation by, any system.