≡ Menu

Amorous Politics

One of my favorite modern novels is Alain de Botton’s On Love.  It’s full of intriguing insights about the psychology of romantic love.

Perhaps the most absorbing chapter in the book is “Love or Liberalism.”  One basic point of this chapter is that, whereas genuine liberalism is about universal values – all people should be treated equally, and all peaceful differences tolerated – romantic love is about particulars.  You love someone romantically precisely because of that someone’s unique set of features – her poise, his quiet calm, her sensuality, his sense of humor, her compassion, his gentleness, her honesty, and on and on.

And while the language of love talks about unconditional and eternal devotion, in fact it’s naïve to suppose that even the truest love would survive fundamental changes in the loved-one’s character.  If my wife became a very different person – still looks as beautiful as ever, but experienced a radical transformation in her psyche and attitude – would I still love her as I do?  Would she still love me?

Fortunately, people’s basic personalities seem pretty hard-wired and more or less permanent.

I especially like de Botton’s description of what he calls "amorous politics":

Amorous politics begins its infamous history in the course of the French Revolution, when it was first proposed (with all the choice of a rape) that the state would not just govern but also love its citizens, who would presumably respond likewise or face the guillotine.  The beginning of revolutions is psychologically strikingly akin to that of certain relationships – the stress on unity, the belief in the omnipotence of the couple/nation, the urge to give up on previous egotism, to dissolve the boundaries of the self, the desire that there be no more secrets.