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The word love is commonly applied to the personal experience of feeling affection for some other individual(s) - regardless of whether that affection is of a romantic or of a filial sort or a sort of friendship. Most often, and for most people, the term love is reserved for an extraordinarily intense or exceptional attraction - again, whether of a romantic or of a filial sort or a sort of friendship. However, the term love is not restricted to signifying only an intensity of feeling. After all, love can persist (the term love can apply to situations or conditions) beyond the brevity which afflicts the intensity of human feeling. Indeed, the most intense instances of such a feeling could be distinguished as occasions of infatuation, and it can be said that, whatever love is or whatever love entails, a test for the genuineness of love is that love does not depend on the intensity of feeling had with infatuation.
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:
one might, in the case of specific loved individuals, be seen to suspend normal competitive, exploitative or aggressive behaviours (or just plain indifference) in favour of indulgent behaviour.
On the face of it, this "indulgent behaviour" would seem to "not depend on the intensity of feeling had with infatuation." But is such a behavior actually love?
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:
In 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,
Clearly, 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.