Ivan Illich on friendship as conspiracy

Notes on Illich’s “Cultivation of Conspiracy”

Upon receiving the Culture and Peace Prize of Bremen on March 14, 1998, Ivan Illich reflected on the nature of friendship. “You never know,” he told his friends, “what will nurture the spirit of philia, while you can be certain what will stifle it. Spirit emerges by surprise, and it’s a miracle when it abides; it is stifled by every attempt to secure it; it’s debauched when you try to use it.” Friendship is a conspiratio, a co-breathing, that emerges in the right “atmosphere.”

Illich observes that conspiracy rejects the rise of expertise (along with its applications in top-down approaches to development) and the contract as the basis of social exchange in a commercial society.

How does friendship reject these forces? Friendship manifests itself in three ways:

  1. in the sense of trust freely given by and to co-conspirators;
  2. in the face-to-face hospitality offered to the guest; and
  3. in the creation of a community that cultivates and maintains this atmosphere.

My proposal: Philosophical conversation cultivates the first sense (cf. philosophical counseling). Spiritual exercise (ascesis) opens us to the second sense. A rejuvenated commons and a “convivial economics” disclose the third sense  (on “convivial economics,” see Dougald Hine and New Public University).

Further Reading

Andrew Taggart,“My Quirky Spinoza on Friendship”

Andrew Taggart, “Epicurus’s Philosophy of Life”

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