Contemporary notions of friendship regularly place it in the
private sphere, associated with feminized forms of sympathy and
affection. As Ivy Schweitzer explains, however, this perception
leads to a misunderstanding of American history. In an exploration
of early American literature and culture, Schweitzer uncovers
friendships built on a classical model that is both public and
political in nature.
Schweitzer begins with Aristotle's ideal of "perfect" friendship
that positions freely chosen relationships among equals as the
highest realization of ethical, social, and political bonds.
Evidence in works by John Winthrop, Hannah Foster, James Fenimore
Cooper, and Catharine Sedgwick confirms that this classical model
shaped early American concepts of friendship and, thus, democracy.
Schweitzer argues that recognizing the centrality of friendship as
a cultural institution is critical to understanding the rationales
for consolidating power among white males in the young nation. She
also demonstrates how women, nonelite groups, and minorities have
appropriated and redefined the discourse of perfect friendship,
making equality its result rather than its requirement. By
recovering the public nature of friendship, Schweitzer establishes
discourse about affection and affiliation as a central component of
American identity and democratic community.
The University of North Carolina Press
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