The Necessity of the Stranger Friend (Laws)

Eidos | 12/3/2018 | Staff
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We need stranger friends.

Now this is not an appeal that people befriend me eccentricity and all, though that would be nice. Instead, I am picking up on language that Plato uses in his Laws. There three gentleman from very different places (Athens, Sparta, and Crete) meet to discuss (wait for it) laws.

Sage - Athens - Stranger - Conversation - Hundreds

Two of them are named, but the sage from Athens goes back “Athenian stranger” during an entire conversation that lasts hundreds of pages. This is strange to us. Why do his friends keep calling him a “stranger?” They call him friend, but never lose sight of the fact that he is not from their homes.

This is good, because it points us to the value of the “stranger-friend,” even if the term would be offensive to use.

Plato - Laws - City - Ordinances - Customs

To understand what Plato means we have to recollect that the “laws” of a city are more than just political ordinances, they are the customs, manners, way-of-life of the community. To come to the city from outside was to be in much honored role of guest or as a hostile invader. A person might live in a city for years (as did many merchants in a place like Athens) and never be considered fully part of the city.

Why?

Bigotry - Result - Bigotry - Meaning - Citizenship

Not because of bigotry, or at least not merely as a result of bigotry. Instead, recall the broader meaning of citizenship in a place like Athens. To be Athenian meant your indentity, the man you were. No matter what a person did, he could never be Athenian or Spartan or Cretan the way a person born to the city could be. The citizen born to the laws, customs, and manners was formed by them, he did not choose them. He learned the rules with his mother’s milk and whatever the merits of the honored guest, his experience...
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