Social Justice and Civic Virtue: In the Perspective of Frith

Love all, trust a few. Do wrong to none. – William Shakespeare

At Feminist Critics and No Seriously, What About Teh Menz? the topic of social justice was brought up and I got to thinking about what this meant to me as an anarchist and feminist. I am very much concerned about social justice especially in the context of a community and a surprisingly good gem at Bleeding Heart Libertarians has got me thinking about civic virtue. The follow up post was pretty good too.

Let’s discuss frith, a totally related subject.

My parents  refused to put bumper stickers on their cars – I was never allowed to have one, and even though I love bumper stickers with their quirky self-expression, I have still never put one on my car – and yet when I was in high school my dad once put one on his truck that said, “Think globally, act locally.” The idea meant so much to him that he broke a cardinal family rule to display it on his travels. The concept was easy for me to figure, even at a young age: I can’t solve the world’s problems, but I can make sure my corner of the world runs a little smoother, and in doing so make the world a better place. I see frith being very much like this. It’s remembering the responsibility we have to our own communities – both geographically and the ones we have created through personal and online friendships. It’s keeping our own households in order instead of telling other people who aren’t part of our inner guard how to run theirs. It’s having friends that tell you truths you don’t want to hear because it’s a lot better to get it from them than to stumble in the outside world.

In the old days, people were tied to their physical community (their village or city) much more tightly than we are today, and not just because of our advances in communication and travel. The daily necessities of life were not something a single person could readily provide for themselves. I might raise sheep and spin the wool, and somebody else might make tools in their smithy, and we would need each other for those skills. It was necessary to keep good relations with our neighbors despite arguments or differences in personality or you wouldn’t have what you needed to make life work. Without (the faceless one-stop shop) our ties to other people were obvious and concrete. Now we truly can live as emotional hermits, going to work and coming home, shopping for all our necessities at mega-marts, and keeping people at a distance or cutting ties when it isn’t comfortable to keep them. In fact it seems sometimes that independence for many people is not a state of personal responsibility and “holding one’s own” but a state of being outside the bounds of community, of owing nothing in monetary debt or emotional support. I used to think that way myself, or at least, I used to think that was a goal worth striving for.

But frith says differently. Frith says we need those ties. We need other people, and we need them to need us in return. It’s okay to get help from your inner guard – that’s what they’re for – and it’s necessary to help your inner guard when they need it. I may not need to physically exchange my spun wool for your hammered kettle, but the need for the bonds of community is still a very human thing. “Social creatures,” which scientists will tell us we humans are, don’t simply need proximity, we need to connect.

I’ve wondered if this is why labels have been bandied about in the community so vehemently as we look for some concrete way of drawing lines around our inner guards… and everybody has a different sized village they feel most comfortable claiming. I personally see my inner guard (and therefore my responsibilities of frith) as extending outward in increasingly bigger circles like the rings of a tree — from the inmost ring of my home, to the next ring of my family and good friends, to my extended friends and the organizations I belong to, to my city and my state. I carry more responsibility the deeper in I’m dealing with and less the further outward those circles expand. I can’t save the world (what does that even mean?) no matter how much I’d like to, and I can’t count on a stranger to step in and save me when I need it. I need a community filled with frith.

Many virtues generally discussed in ethics and moral philosophy are framed as qualities of individuals. Understandably, many Heathen values are similarly focussed on the actions of individuals, including honour, truthfulness, generosity and self-rule. The heroic poems from which many are derived focus on the actions of an individual (both good and bad), and as Heathens we are influenced as much by our current context as by values expressed in the lore.

Frith is different. Frith is a characteristic of a community, not of an individual. Our Troth volume 2 (rev ed)  has this definition of frith in the Word Hoard –

“frithful security or ‘reciprocal inviolability’ as Vilhelm Groenbech put it, Derived from the PIE root *priyas, ‘one’s own’; frith is etymologically ‘the state of affairs among one’s own kinfolk or tribe.’ Frith is sometimes translated as ‘peace’ but frith is not necessarily the absence of strife; as people in frith can and do disagree, and people may have to fight to defend the frith against outside enemies. Rather frith is a dynamic state of affairs, established and maintained by the bonds of oath and kinship, in which potential strife is channelled constructively and mutual respect is maintained. This is easier said than done.” (p. 499-500)

It contrasts with grith, which is also translated as ‘peace’ and ‘protection,’ however grith differs in that it is generally understood to be imposed by the mandate of one person’s orders, a law or custom associated with a place or event, and most often used in the context of truces, negotiations and specific regions where peace was enforced. (ibid p.502)

Frith presents an opportunity for Heathen values to be radical, in the sense of turning the focus to the community as a unit of ethical activity. Western ethical philosophy has traditionally also focussed primarily on the actions of individuals as ethical actors, and only by extension the actions of whole communities.  Frith is radically a quality of a community and cannot be imposed by an individual or edict. Where an individual mandates that people play together nicely then it is grith, not frith.

Many of us live in Western countries heavily influenced by individualism. Frith is a value that it is simply not possible to ‘do’ on one’s own. It is something that can only ‘become’ among a group of people. It involves building of trust between people and eschewing absolute individualism. The process of creating a community necessarily involves care,  compromise, reciprocity and even (shock horror) love to build trust, not imposing one’s own will on a group by force of physical strength or personality or by volume of speech. Trust in such a community, an innangarth, can be tested by the extent to which people feel comfortable to express themselves, argue, be wrong, make mistakes and remain accepted within that group. These are characteristics of a community by which a frithstead might be recognised. Frith as a community value gives people the opportunity and poses the challenge to move beyond the individualism of the world around us and make a stand for bonds of trust between people not imposed by the will of one person or law, but are generated in the process of relationship.

This principle, in short, epitomizes the wellbeing of the community. While the ideal of the warrior, being one’s own man or woman, is highly prized, without a productive and supportive community from which to spring forth to adventure and back this “warrior” will surely fail. Fail gloriously, but still fail. The Aesir tribe is constructed in the manner of which I am speaking and an Asa will do right by his tribe. Loki, for his breaks in Frith with the Aesir is then made to do right by them, by the Frith of their community. I urge you to treat the commenters here, the people in your home communities and your families especially in a manner that is conducive to their best wellbeing and happiness. We may have differing ideologies, but you cannot possibly succeed if the whole world is your enemy. Treat those around you with respect, and they will, despite their preconceptions, come to respect you in return. A man fights for his family and for his community, without these he is a lone wolf, an outcast with no support and unable to grow in honor, glory or luck.

As an anarchist and a feminist I see how frith intertwines with my own activism and how I believe anarchists  should be.  Communities can’t thrive without frith or law.

The implications of frith go farther than what it many seem by simply looking at the word’s etymology and meanings. To further understand frith we should perhaps examine its relationship to the concept of law. The elder Heathens saw law as the collective customs of the tribe, developed out of the collective deeds of the tribe and set by the precedents of the past. This concept of law survives somewhat in English Common Law, as well as in the United States Supreme Court, who must base their decisions upon a precedent set in the past (the Constitution). As it is difficult to separate an individual’s deeds from the individual, the ancient Germanic peoples also found it hard to separate the tribe’s customs from the tribe; hence to some degree the law was seen as the tribe as well.

While the heathen concept of law still exists in the governments of all Germanic peoples, it does so beside a rival concept of law inherited from Christianity This concept of law dictates that the “Law” is simply a set of regulations handed down by a higher power (that is, Yahwe). It is reflected in both the governments of the ancient Hebrews, where the monarchs (such as David and Solomon)–as Yahwe’s representatives on Earth–could create laws simply by their decrees, and Renaisssance Europe (particularly France), where monarchs ruled by “divine right.” In heathen terms, law develops out of the past actions of the tribe, so that every past member of the tribe can be credited with its creation. In modern Judaeo-Christian terms, on the other hand, law is simply a set of regulations handed down to society by a higher power (such as a governing body, like Congress, or an absolute monarch). It is perhaps well to call the former concept law and the latter concept statute.

The difference between law and statute can be seen better when viewed from the standpoint of preserving frith. As heathen law is both the collective deeds of the tribe and the tribe itself, it must by force be concerned with maintaining the peace and security of the tribe–literally the frith. While in theory statute should concern itself with the preservation of society, it is a fact that it does not always do so. As statute is simply the decrees of a single ruler or a group of rulers, there is little to stop those in power from instituting statutes that might well do violence to society. We need look no further than the absolute monarchs of Renaissance France, who lived in the luxury of a palace while the French peasants slowly starved to death in crude huts (it must be kept in mind that this eventually resulted in the French Revolution). While law must preserve the frith, statute does not necessarily need to do so.

The lesson of frith is that in order for a community to survive, a sense of peace and security–literally frith–must be maintained. This is an epsecially important lesson for modern anarchism to learn. These disputes would not be a threat to frith if they were conducted in a rational manner. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. At different times individuals have brought rumor mongering and outright lies into play, and have sometimes even played one faction against the other. Not only does such behavior disrupt frith, thus endangering the viability of anarchism, but it also demeans the philosophy itself so that outsiders are less inclined to join us, let alone be friendly towards us.

Anarchists must then ensure that its frith remains whole. This can be done simply by always acting in an honorable fashion–even when one disagrees with another’s point of view. When someone insists upon acting with dishonor, it is up to anarchists to see to it that he is suitably punished–that is, “outlawed” or ostracized. Here I must stress that someone is NOT “acting with dishonor” simply because of their political disagreements with your own opinions.


~ by ladycat123 on September 15, 2011.

One Response to “Social Justice and Civic Virtue: In the Perspective of Frith”

  1. […] of is… love. My ancestors believed that frith is essential for communities. I happen to have written on this subject before and at this time I strongly agree that frith-weaving is a very revolutionary and powerful […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: