There is no surprise that the growth of social fragmentation runs parallel to appeals to community and communitarian affirmations. For anyone today in the university (at least in the United States, but I am told that the trend is similar across parts of Europe and elsewhere) it is easy to see that all initiatives and justifications for actions (an art curatorial project, a library event, you name it) is almost always done in the name of the community. The communitarian affirmation emerges to help cure the otherwise too crude and unbearable wounds of the social bond and the community of the species (Gemeinwesen). A friend was on point recently in defining these communities of obligation, participation, and self-valorization as a minima societas; a mini society that helps to create the illusion that “Society”, somehow, is still here.
As we know, this is not far off from Edmund Burke’s famous theory of “little platoons” meant to orient humanity towards the virtues of public affections. The collapse of civil-society and state mediations realized the Burkean predicament to its integral idealization, which is why today radical Marxist, academic bureaucrats, postliberal nationalists, experts in mental health and psychiatric treatments, contemporary art curators and even special units of the police can all agree that community is the highest value that must protected and sustained. In this framework, there is no outside to the community, and every outside becomes integrated into the community as a value.
The community lodges the artificial allure to retract from catastrophe, but it does so by reproducing the catastrophic it seeks to avoid: that is, by negating the possibility of exteriority of every community sustained by the affective transmission of vanity and recognition. This is why to speak of community of friendship is a misnomer at best, which introduces a great amount of confusion between these two forms of contact. In a fabulous moment in his Il dialogo della salute, Carlo Michelstaedter goes as far as to write that: “In the communities of friendship that are born from a common vanity, every life off the death of those who are already outside the community. Everyone in its own solitude swallows with an empty stomach the sour implications of these lethal conversations. But these are the companies that please men”.
It is a remarkable passage that exposes the irredeemable position of a community of friendship, which ultimately subsumes the friend into the logistics of debt, obligation, and recognition and satisfaction. As in Mary McCarthy’s novel The Oasis (1949) about a group of disaffected antinuclear intellectuals who form a community in the mountains of New England, every community of friendship is destined to the worst catastrophe imaginable sacrificing both friendship and the world through the circulation of value.
Precisely, if friendship means anything, is that it is on the other side of valorization that permanently conflates language and directives of action. What happens in McCarthy’s The Oasis is precisely that language becomes a medium for directives and exchange, and friendship a hellish reality of ‘those who belong’ but now have nowhere to go.
The impossibility of separating community and friendship will only perpetuate the politics of catastrophe that has colored the entire course of Western political modernity. The Spanish political leader Pablo Iglesias recently captured the bad faith of our times: “Puede que la manifestación no tenga un impacto político inmediato pero del mismo que los católicos se encuentran en misa nosotros nos encontramos, nos abrazamos en las movilizaciones. Somos parte fundamental de una comunidad.”
For sure, a magnetic secularized religious liturgy lives on Iglesias’ candid heart. But we know that the partition of friendship is neither an offshoot nor a declension of a substantive community; it is what takes place on the other side of pathetic valorization.