Without Foundations: Plato’s Lysis and Postmodern Friendship

Paul W. Ludwig, “Without Foundations: Plato’s Lysis and Postmodern Friendship,” American Political Science Review 104:1 (2010): pp. 134-50.


Political theory has developed at important junctures by questioning its ontological foundations. Modern political thought begins by questioning the naturalness of human sociability. Instead of the civic friendship propounded by the ancients, modern liberals see friendship as belonging to a private sphere, whereas the state is an alliance among competitors. Postmodern theorists have extended the logic of competition to encompass private friendships, doing so, in part, by critiquing liberal foundations. Plato’s account of friendship reveals surprising affinities with two such postmodern critiques. The Lysis explores what friendship would be like without ontological claims or with only negative foundations such as the power and enmity found in accounts of friendship as diverse as those of Foucault and Derrida. The Platonic/postmodern comparison offers a way of ensuring that foundational inquiry illuminates political theory and argues for a greater role for fundamental ontology than mainstream liberal theorists have yet conceded.

American Political Science Review