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Writing at The Public Discourse, Carson Holloway suggests we examine the softer side of international relationships among nation-states:

Modern individualism and egalitarianism both misunderstand the nature of solidarity or friendship among human beings and hence among nations. In their elevation of self-interest, both individualism and political realism tend to miss completely the role of friendship in human affairs. While it is true that self-interest is a powerful force, it is not the sole motive of human action. Men and nations sometimes do, and often should, act on the basis of friendship, or a sense of commitment to others that they view as â??other selves,â? to use a term Aristotle applied to friendship. Conversely, the cosmopolitanism of modern egalitarianism and idealism, while understanding the importance of human solidarity, mistakenly believes it can be extended to all human beings or nations indiscriminately. While it is true in some cosmic sense that all individuals and all nations are of equal value and dignity, it is not the case that that equal dignity is equally entrusted to all other men or nations.

I am skeptical of this approach. While Holloway attempts to articulate idealism and realism in terms of egalitarianism and individualism, there's an error here in applying the way things work within the domestic arena of politics. You can't simply assign the same rules to how "friendships" are conducted within societies with shared values and experiences and apply it to the international arena. By its very nature, the globe is anarchical and lacks common shared experiences or values across cultural and geographic boundaries -- while a society is possible in such a system, a "community" is not.

To think otherwise is to adopt a simplistic view of the interests of nation-states, one which applies too much knowledge from the domestic sphere to interactions at the higher level -- these are horses of a different color. One might as well apply lessons learned from Facebook interaction (which would suggest France is out shopping again, Germany is focused on the day's football match, and lord knows where Italy is, or with whom).

Nation-states cannot be "friends," at least in the ways Holloway defines such friendship. They can have common interests, shared goals, and traditional attachments, but friendship overrules none of these. The lesson we should take from the experience of Lord Palmerston and others is that it is difficult just for nation-states to have interests which approach permanence -- focusing on that is challenging enough.

Benjamin Domenech is editor of The Transom. Click here to subscribe.