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July Quote of the Month: The Politics of Love and Evil

July 6, 2012

“Whereas poverty (which is filled with wealthy, capable subjectivities) is the condition that defines the multitude, love is the force that animates it.” (19:00)

“Love extends beyond a rational calculus of interest.” (19:35)

Faun says:

I’m pulling July’s quote of the month from a rather long talk which readers are by no means expected to sit through, though I’ve linked it above because it’s fantastic and I hope a few will give it a try. In it, Michael Hardt develops the idea love as a political concept, and I’ll give a rough synopsis.

He begins by talking about ‘struggling over concepts,’ getting important words to mean what we want them to mean. Two of the key concepts/terms here are love and democracy, both of which have variable meanings. According to Hardt, there are more and less desirable meanings of these terms and we should work towards improving how individuals and societies think about them.

A well known revolutionary, Hardt argues for the re-politicization of love, seeing it as an animating or inspiring force. The term ‘multitude’ (above) loosely means ‘the people’ (see the video for a more precise definition). Love can inspire and mobilize the multitude and, if used and learned properly, help achieve a more just conception of democracy. This is what the quotation at the top is referring to.

Putting revolution to the side for the moment (I can never decide whether or not I like the idea; instead of mood swings I have radicalism swings) the most valuable idea in this talk is that of love as a political force. And since “love may be natural, but it’s certainly not spontaneous” (20:30) there are certain notions of love that do damage and some that build bridges; we need to look at how we love.

First, here are Hardt’s four ‘damaging’ notions of love:
1. Love as closed within a family or couple, love only of those near to us. This can be extended to love of the same or love of one’s race.
2. Love as different when personal or political. This is the contrast between desire and charity, an attempt to separate need from giving.
3. Love as emerging in unity, or in the destruction of differences, in regards to couples (‘two become one’), nations, cultures, etc.
4. Love as immediate and impotent, a simple passion or sensation, “denying the productivity of love” (31:00).

Evil, argues Hardt, is love that has been distorted. Love of the same, for example, could lead to interracial violence.

While readers may agree or disagree with Hardt on the subject of the label ‘evil,’ the essence of his argument remains the same with or without that particular term. Because of this (and here’s the most important part, thank you for making it through the preamble) love as a political force for the good involves learning and developing notions opposite to the ones listed above. These are:

1. Love as open and social, not dependant on distance (for example, social justice movements).
2. Love as both personal and political, as both desire and charity, because need and giving are interdependent.
3. Love as based on differences.
4. Love as productive: not just passion but also action, action that can create community.
While this may all seem excessively theoretical, I think it’s a remarkably straightforward laying-out of the ideas needed to create a more loving, diversity-tolerant, and productive global society.

Miriam says:

I have a friend who likes to poke holes in my theories. This friend has been an asset over time in helping me question a lot of the beliefs that I unquestioningly slipped into, and I am definitely the better for it. (Oh by the way, although you do fill this role in my life, Faun, I am not talking about you!)

There’s one topic that this friend brings up from time to time that really shuts me down, though. This friend is of the opinion that there is no such thing as love. Actually, I don’t know if that is how he would put it; he may very well say that he doesn’t know if love exists. In any case, he questions the existence of love.

I really have trouble whenever this topic comes up, because on the one hand, he is right: it is perhaps impossible to prove the existence of, or even really define love. On the other hand, love so thoroughly defines how I want to live my life, for me. So while the notion bothers me that I can’t define love, another voice always pipes up: “why would you *want* to?” It just seems to me to be a pointless exercise.

On the other hand, it is always good to question preconceptions, and it is always good to examine why you believe something. This is where Michael Hardt’s talk comes in. I really like this talk, and I think you summed up his points very well, Faun. In fact, I don’t really have very much to add to your explanation of his arguments, besides applause and “finally, someone has explained in theoretical and technical terms some of what I have been trying to express for years!”

I especially appreciated point 3 in the ‘opposite notions’ list: “love as based on differences”. In my work with Muslim communities, one of the most interesting ideas I am trying to develop is unity in diversity. I actually went to an entire conference on this exact topic, and I heard many amazing things on the subject ( for more info!) One of the points in one of the talks was that the concept of unity presupposes diversity; there would be no concept of unity if diversity was not always present with us. Therefore, diversity is not to be feared, and not a hindrance to unity. Although this appears to slightly differ from what Hardt was saying, I would chalk that up more to semantics than difference in intention. In any case, what Hardt is saying is that us singular individual people are fully capable of working together, and the desire to bridge those differences stems from love. I fully endorse this idea, and I look forward to hearing other people’s thoughts on the subject!

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