Bonds of Affection

Friend v. Friend
The Transformation of Friendship—And What the Law Has to Do with It
Ethan J. Leib
Oxford University Press, $29.95, 272 pp.

Does law end where friendship begins? When Ethan J. Leib began to present his arguments that friendships might be recognized and even strengthened by changes in our legal regime, he met with intense disapproval. Throughout his new book, Friend v. Friend: The Transformation of Friendship—And What the Law Has to Do with It, he refers to encounters with people who found the very idea of greater legal acknowledgment of friendship perverse and threatening. Some of this negative reaction comes from problems in the current American understanding of what friendship is. But some of it comes from Leib’s tendency to put the legal cart before the cultural horse, a tendency that hobbles an otherwise provocative and timely book.

Leib says several times that he’s only trying to start a conversation; he doesn’t pretend to be presenting a fully worked-through, ten-point plan for enhancing the recognition of friendship in law. He offers four major claims. From most convincing to least, they are: Contemporary society badly needs stronger friendships, and greater acknowledgment of the role friends already play in caring for us and keeping us whole. The law already gets entangled with friendship in many often-overlooked circumstances, yet this entanglement varies wildly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, thus losing the close fit with ordinary human experience that we need in order to trust our legal institutions. Both statutory and (especially) case law can be reworked in...

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About the Author

Eve Tushnet is a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C. Her blog can be read here.