“The personal is political”, so says the title of the essay written by the feminist Carol Hanisch. And the same goes for love and politics although many seem to find the connection between the two complicated, confusing and at times even non-existent.

Image Source: Regan76

On Defining Love and Politics

To start off the discussion, both themes of love and politics are difficult to define. Both words are “loaded” in the sense that there is confusion and argument regarding the semantics of both themes. Politics—as any student of Political Science knows for a fact—has multitudes of meaning embedded in varying contexts. Every definition has similarities, differences based on the prevalent thinking and values at the time as well as material conditions that allow for such a definition of Politics to exist. From the time of ancient Greek Philosophers, to the Medieval Period, the Renaissance and the Modern Age and/or present time, the definition of Politics has taken up on a lot of meanings making each and every definition—albeit the similarities and differences—unique on its own. This can be the same for trying to define “love”. Love to be given an operational definition is truly difficult. Love, like Politics has also been defined to suit the needs of a particular field of study, a certain time or place, a situation, a person or even a group of people. Love like Politics, has many existing forms/kinds.

Hannah Arendt, a political philosopher claimed that “love is the most powerful of all anti-political human forces” in her work The Human Condition. She makes it so that love is inherently “unworldly” as opposed to how she considers how “public” political actions are—in other words, material and part of this world. Arendt also provides a definition of the polis originating from Aristotle’s bios politikos (political life) where she clearly argues that to be “political” means to be free from all human endeavors in order to maintain life or to further and support one’s social/economic organization and condition. It is also important to note how Arendt distinguishes her definition of politics from how it is defined at present. For Arendt, politics transcends humanity— that humans will die but the political sphere shall remain. What she considers as public, political actions therefore include the instrumental nature of political activity such as government processes which are oftentimes self-serving and in government legislation, the practice of compromising between vested interests with the objective of meeting and providing the needs of its constituents. It is this juxtaposition of the nature of love and politics that make Arendt consider the two as somewhat, the antithesis of one another. Using her definitions of love and of politics, one of the assumptions which can be made is that love in itself creates a separate world, something unworldly for the individual thus making it a very personal experience. This is in contrast with the nature of politics which in its instrumentalist sense is considered as a tool to further one’s interests in order to possess worldly or material wealth. Whereas Arendt considers love as private, passionate and unselfish, politics on the other hand has become public, materialistic and restricted.

The Politics of Love

But then, we go back to the maxim that the personal is political and we can go as far to say that the political is personal. Accordingly, since love is considered as personal from Arendt’s point of view, it would be inevitable to say that love is and can be political.

There are different perspectives which can be used in analyzing love particularly in the fields of political science and philosophy. For instance, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince at a time when religious dogmas dominated realistic/materialistic views. At this time of political instability, Machiavelli envisioned a secular government in Italy. In his time, he advocated that it was better for a ruler to be feared than to be loved. He considered that being feared guarantees loyalty much better than love. For Machiavelli, depending on emotions such as love breeds insecurity. For him, it was better to have the people depend on you due to fear of the consequences of losing you, rather than depend on you due to love for your company.

Another theory as to how love is political involves, gender politics, feminists and Marxists. Love here is viewed as a manifestation of social dominance of a group over another. For example, love’s customs and socially constructed language are considered designed to empower men and disempower women. This gives way to the social dominance of men over women. This theory also spells out that love is produced due to patriarchy and is parallel to Marx’s view of religion as being the opiate of the people—with love being the opiate of women.

It is no surprise therefore that a concept and emotion such as love is used as a political leverage. Anyone who has probably read history, novels or watched political dramas is certain to encounter the collision of love and politics. There have even been studies conducted to attest that political ideologies can affect relationships between people, particularly the romantic notion of love. Aside from having difficulties in defining love and politics, both themes are also considered as part of human nature, if not almost second nature. If love is complicated, so is politics and when the two are mixed chaos is sure to arise. At present, the study of emotions in general, aside from love is important to understanding politics. As it is, the notions of “being in love” or “loving another” if brushed aside can be a step to empowerment—a theory which is often striking for many feminists and Marxists who view social relations as deeper social structures responsible for dividing races, classes and sexes.

The language of love has always been complex and most of the time, undefinable if not experienced first-hand, they say. Meanwhile, the language of politics has gained a lot of color and thus has become misconstrued. Though this might be the case, in both arenas the option to play the game fair or not, has always remained.