've been thinking a lot about love lately. Not being "in love," whether in fiction or (alas!) in fact, and not in any of the usual ways in which we speak about love. There was a conference notice I was mailed a few months ago that quite caught my imagination, and I've not been able to get it out of my head. Syracuse University is sponsoring their third "Postmodernism, Culture and Religion" conference on the topic of love as a political
notion. As a Christian, a Catholic, and in particular as a Catholic Christian theologian, I realize that I must believe that something of a "politics of love" must be possible. Certainly we see it at some level in the politics of the Church: the social justice ethics, the care for displaced populations and for our own poor and sick, for human rights of every sort, of those promoted or despised by the political left and right. But a "politics" of Love? Love as a political notion? The suspicion, of course, is that that is just being sentimental. How can you have a politics of love? Over dinner I was watching the grim realpolitik
of Steven Spielburg's film Munich
, and the seeming impossibility of conceiving of a politics of love in such situations brought the question back to my head.
Christian ethics flow from a notion of Who and What God is, though. Three divine "Persons" constituting One God, interpenetrating, perfect knowing and acceptance of one another, utter union of being: if this is what God is, this is what is then most fundamental about all of reality – relationship. Christian ethics of personhood, dignity and rights, all flow from that vision, as do the more secular ethics of the West today, if more by momentum than from the logic of secular presuppositions about what human beings are or what reality is. So if relationship and love are most fundamental to reality, why not to politics as well? But then, the need for politics as we understand it often has to do with human evil, with the failure of love. Is such, then, still potentially to be conceived as a politics of love?
Is this all just a lead-in to a sentimental, theological way of talking about politics? Or can we in fact use "love" as such an organizing category in a way that makes it just as "real," having just as much "teeth," as other ways of conceiving a political theory or language?
The notice, at least, is rather striking:
The Politics of Love
A constellation of internationally prominent theorists–philosophers, theologians and psychoanalysts–will gather to discuss the question of whether the concept of love can be redescribed as a political concept. Is love necessarily a private matter or does it also have a public meaning? Can love become part of a political project? In addition to an ethics or religion of love, can there be a politics of love?
[Big names in the academy headlining the conference here]
The topic of the conference was inspired by the following passage:
"People today seem unable to understand love as a political concept...The modern concept of love is almost exclusively limited to the bourgeois couple and the claustrophobic confines of the nuclear family. Love has become a strictly private affair. We need a more generous and more unrestrained conception of love. We need to recuperate the public and political conception of love common to premodern traditions. Christianity and Judaism, for example, both conceive love as a political act that constructs the multitude...There is really nothing necessarily metaphysical about the Christian and Judaic love of God: both God's love of humanity and humanity's love of God are expressed and incarnated in the common material political project of the multitude. We need to recover today this material and political sense of love, a love as strong as death. This does not mean you cannot love your spouse, your mother, and your child. It only means that your love does not end there, that love serves as the basis for our political projects in common and the construction of a new society. Without this love, we are nothing."
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004), pp. 351-52.