Within the Western philosophical tradition, the notion of friendship indicates relations to the self, an other and the political community. It is a practice constituting subjectivity, personal, partial and particularistic bonds, and at the same time it articulates specific moral/ethical expectations of behaviour and universalistic demands. Friendship fosters goodness, reciprocity and generosity, entails mutual trust, solidarity and cooperation. Thus, it creates both social ties and is related to the political order of a community, its ethical prerequisites and the ways in which common matters are negotiated.
Given that friendship cross-cuts what is considered as making up the Western subject and the social and political realm, historical notions and cultural practices of friendship should be at the centre of social and political thought. Theoretical and methodological decisions, however, have impeded a comprehensive engagement with these relationships.
In social and political thought, competition, struggle, conflict and antagonism were seen as basic features of society and the political. From Hobbes's anthropology – the understanding of the state of nature as bellum omnium contra omnes in which the desire to winning fame, rivalry and suspicion reign – to modern versions of liberalism and utilitarianism: human beings act according to self-interest and are tied by the beneficial consequences of agonistic behaviour in the public sphere. They are calculating agents who assess gain and loss and opt for profitable preferences, as theories of rational choice assume.