Love as a Core Philosophical Issue, Part 2
In response to the first part of this blog series, TGL member Peter puts forth the possibility of love as little more than a veritable respite from the travails of life in an essentially Hobbesian world:
Peter, on 23 June 2010 - 04:16 PM, said:
If the world is most accurately described in terms of the competition between personal interests, in terms of a perpetual struggle of all against all, where each and every individual seeks to alleviate an existential insecurity, then that behavior which indulges as but a respite from the perpetual competitiveness that is the world amounts to no more than a type of recreation. Recreation is undoubtedly necessary for human well-being, but, whatever love is, love is not recreation. Is love even an indulgence?
As a feeling, love has been expressed in terms of marriage or friendship, but, in a world of individual insecurity where all are against all or where all are in competition with all, marriages and friendships can very well be born of a perceived need for alliances rather than from love. In that case, it is the indulgence of others - not the alliance with others - which serves to provide the self with respite and recreation. Alliances or social relationships are arguably necessary for human well-being, but, whatever love is, love is surely not an indulgence. So, is there a place for love in a world of perpetual struggle between personal interests? If love is not recreation and if love is not an indulgence, is love anything other than a delusion?
In a world populated by individuals who are acutely aware of being relatively weak and susceptible while also having personal interests (including self-survival), the attainment of power is the primary and most basic goal of virtually all individuals. This is essentially the world as described by Thomas Hobbes in his work, Leviathan. As Hannah Arendt notes in discussing Hobbes, "if man is actually driven by nothing but his individual interests, desire for power must be the fundamental passion of man." 1
Arendt goes on to note that:
Hobbes points out that in the struggle for power, as in their native capacities for power, all men are equal; for the equality of men is based on the fact that each has by nature enough power to kill another. Weakness can be compensated for by guile. Their equality as potential murderers places all men in the same insecurity, from which arises the need for a state. The raison d'etre of the state is the need for some security of the individual, who feels himself menaced by all his fellow-men. 2In such a world, love might seem to be something like an indulgence; it might seem to be something like a luxury available only to those who have succeeded in attaining enough power to mitigate susceptibility to others. However, as Arendt also says, what Hobbes gives is "an almost complete picture, not of Man but of the bourgeois man". 3
While Hobbes's depiction of the world was derived with "unequaled magnificence of ... logic" from the standards according to which the relatively new (at the time) bourgeois class operated (politically), a depiction and standards which set the stage for a ready acceptance of Darwinism some two centuries later, the distinction between "Man" and "bourgeois man" serves to indicate that Hobbes is not so much presenting the world as it naturally is as he is presenting it as it has been made by men. In the Hobbesian world,
membership in any form of community is ... a temporary and limited affair which essentially does not change the solitary and private character of the individual (who has "no pleasure, but on the contrary a great deale of griefe in keeping company, where there is no power to overawe them all") or create permanent bonds between him and his fellow-men ... The Commonwealth is based on the delegation of power, and not of rights. It acquires a monopoly on killing and provides in exchange a conditional guarantee against being killed. Security is provided by the law, which is a direct emanation from the power monopoly of the state (and is not established by man according to human standards of right and wrong) ... to the state the individual also delegates his social responsibilities ... he asks the state to relieve him of the burden of caring for the poor precisely as he asks for protection against criminals. 4Clearly, love - whatever it is and if it exists at all - is anything except a core issue for the Hobbesian world. In such a world, the individual has, as Hobbes said, "no pleasure", and, in this world, love could well be a misnomer for certain types of indulgence or recreation.
Since Hobbes's time, there have, of course, arisen movements - even philosophies - which rebel against the Hobbesian world created by man. However, these rebellions, amounting to no more than reactions, effectively leave the Hobbesian conceptual limits in place. This means that just as love is anything but a core issue for the thinking that pervades the Hobbesian way of seeing the world and engaging with the world, love has turned out to be just as irrelevant to the countermanding philosophies and ways of engaging the world which have been subsequently put forth.
In general, what these alternative philosophies seem to have most often reacted to is the centrality that individual self-interest has in the Hobbesian view of the world. As a consequence, what many of the most prominent later philosophies (especially the political philosophies) have emphasized is the notion that self-interest is to be denied, eradicated, and replaced by selflessness.
Now, selflessness is commonly associated with love. But, just what is selflessness supposed to be? And, whatever love is, is there a love other than self-love absent selflessness?
To be continued ...
1 Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, (New York: Harcourt, 1976), p. 139.
2 Arendt, p. 140.
3 Arendt, p. 139.
4 Arendt, pp. 140-142.