Cicero on: Why Liberals and Conservatives Can’t Just Get Along

Do you ever wonder if the “COEXIST” bumper sticker might be just a bit unrealistic? Whether you are conservative or liberal, deep down we know it is impossible for everyone to get along and “coexist.” In the same vein, it is impossible for liberals and conservatives to be good friends. Friendship is strained to the breaking point due to a deep worldview divide.

The ancient philosopher Cicero explains that virtue and piety are the foundations for friendship. It is because of virtue that friendships are initiated and maintained. Virtue in one person gravitates towards the virtue of another. It acts like a magnet. It works like this because people who are like minded tend to want to be around other likeminded individuals. However, when people have different virtues, values, and morals, it is not possible for a good friendship to be maintained. It goes against the very definition of friendship. Cicero declares a friendship to be a relationship in which there is “a complete accord on all subjects human and divine joined with mutual goodwill and affection of the things of this world.”

This common bumper sticker is a “Coexist fallacy” and is fanciful thinking at best. Muslims want Sharia Law, Christians don’t want abortion, Mormons don’t want homosexuality, and activists want human rights extended to animals. There will always be a war, overt or covert, on a given subject between those of different worldviews. Within these deep and lasting friendships, there must be this plain talk that is open and genuine. Personally, I have lost a dear friend due to this worldview divide. When once we had a common way of thinking about the world, now our conversations barely subsist on only a surface level. How could we talk to each other in deep and meaningful ways when every other sentence spoken we disagreed with? A conversation full of nothing but disagreement on passionate subjects cannot sustain a friendship for long.

Cicero in his treatise On Friendship, says that deep friendships are for good and virtuous men. Along with this virtuous character is the “harmony of interests, purpose, and aims.” Being genuine is a noble virtue and a true friendship ought to have the freedom to let honesty be allowed without impatience or annoyance. If friendship is bound up in virtue, and liberals and conservatives can’t even agree on what is a good virtue, how can they have a deep friendship? Profound friendships can withstand the weight when one bears their heart and soul. These friendships will also have sound advice and encouragement following. People with differing worldviews are not interested in getting advice with those on the other side of the divide.

The idea of the difficulty to live with people of other values is not a new concept. Cicero’s good friend Scipio Africanus defined society as “not every assembly of the multitude, but an assembly united in fellowship by common agreement as to what is right and a community of interest.” Africanus holds a mirror to America, showing that our country is deeply divided. Liberals and conservatives do not agree to what is right and do not have a common community of of love. We are not united, but divided. Liberals, with their ideas and beliefs, find commonality with other liberals and conservatives do so likewise.

As Christians, is it important to pick our friends cautiously. Proverbs 12:26 says, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” We are exhorted in 1 Corinthians 15:33 to stay away from bad company for it corrupts good character. Conversely, we should be looking for those with good character and virtue for as “iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov 27:17). By definition, a deep friendship is one where a common worldview is mutually accepted, and where there is a deep worldview divide, there cannot be a deep friendship. And as much as COEXIST folks would like there to be this mystical harmony between every human being, it simply isn’t possible. Shake the oil and vinegar dressing all you want, they but they don’t mix.

For Further Discussion:

Stanley Fish: Why We Can’t All Just Get Along


The Reformed Conservative aims to reunite gentlemanly virtues with scholarly conversation. Standing in the great Reformed and conservative heritage of thinkers like Edmund Burke and Abraham Kuyper, we humbly seek to inject civility into an informed conversation, one article at a time, bringing clarity out of chaos.