On Love and Liberty

Pasquale Annicchino (The UCL Student Human Rights Programme):
Martin Luther King’s philosophy of “love that does justice” has contributed to the debate on the role that love can play in society. This concept of love has to be understood not only in emotional terms but, as Michael Edwards has argued: “(…) civil society is best understood not as a “thing” to be created by outsiders but as a constantly unfolding marriage between.. love and reason… I’m not talking here about romantic love, or love in the infantile sense of being made happy. (…) The absence of love from the public sphere has become a terrible, defining characteristic of contemporary society”. Which kind of definition of love are we looking for?

Tony Curzon Price (Open Democracy) chaired the session. Remembering Hannah Arendt’s view of totalitarianism, he suggested that “it is not evil that creates horror: it is action in the absence of thought”. If this is so, which politics can deliver liberty?

For Satish Kumar (Resurgence) – a “spiritual voice of ecology” – environmental and personal transformation is required and the love of nature and the change of consciousness will lead to a good, just and sustainable world. According to Satish we have a lot of insecurities, and among them “environmental insecurity” is prominent. This leads to fear of the future. Environmentalists and governments are in fact both playing on that fear, as are the newspapers. He stressed that fear has been used as a tool of government and now we need a “love driven” environmentalism. Love and liberty. What will be the alternative, asked Satish; “Hate and liberty ?”. Love is to be understood as the “recognition of relatedness”. We are all related. Thus, love is not only an emotional sentiment. The problem is that today we don’t feel related, but we are all in the same boat even if sometimes we have arguments. For Satish, we must free ourselves from the dualistic paradigm of “us and them”. The end of duality – the end of separation – is the beginning of love. In the end, love and relationship are the same thing.

Mike Edwards, suggested that there is interaction between public policies and interior life – personal attitudes and dispositions of care and friendship  – which can build mutually reinforcing cycles of political and personal change. There is indeed an integration of personal and societal factors. Against the “desire of domination”, how do we find space for expression of deep feeling in our institution?

Sheila Rowbotham, historian and philosopher of feminism who has just completed a biography of Edward Carpenter, talked about her personal experiences in the “beat movement”. She stressed the inevitable interaction of the personal and the political. Questioning division between material and consciousness Sheila raised important questions: do we trade on other people? How can we try to “turn that around” and create a society that fosters community?

Marina Warner, cultural critic and feminist writer, highlighted how important can be the imaginary and the aesthetic in shaping political possibility. The same word “love” may have very different meanings: probably “loving kindness” is a more useful concept in the context of political possibilities. Sexual relationships are another important domain. The political community should be like an orchestra, Marina emphasized, a group that “makes something together”.

Several questions were asked to the speakers: religions are traditionally seen as institutionalized belief system but love transcends the belief systems, how do we deal with that? Religions often separate and create hate, and we have to try to modify them, the panel concluded. How do we bring change? Probably it would be useful to know about the different religions and study them in schools. It should be remembered that power is always involved even in the exercise of love. Love cannot be legislated, it has to be an ethos of society, a culture. The debate on the role of religion within the framework of “love and liberty” was dominant. Religions form a wonderful frame but, as Satish concluded, “where is the picture?”.

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