Love and power

In Cheap Sex Mark Regnerus relates the story of a man who wrote an article trying to come to terms with the uncomfortable feelings arising from his girlfriend doing something he disapproved of. One response to his article was she doesn’t belong to you. The comment perfectly captures a entirely individualistic view of relationships which, though intelligible to us, still chafes. How can we make sense of mutual love without some idea of a person belonging to another? Still, there’s no soft-pedaling that one component of this belonging is that you can’t do something unless I say so, and this is having power over you. Contemporary persons (Americans in particular) are hyper-sensitive to power claims. We want individualism and love, but individualism denies just what love affirms: he belongs to me. 

Sure, we can soften the blow by saying that the “power” in question is something someone agrees to, but this only forestalls the problem. If your “power” over me comes with a clause that I can opt out at any time for any reason it’s not power at all, and so the question can never be whether love has power over the voluntary, but only how.

Aristotle to the rescue:

[W]hen men are friends they have no need of justice, while when they are just they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality.

Nic. Eth. 1155a 25.

Individualism seeks to understand philia (affection, love) in terms of mutual right – justice – when in fact love transcends right. That said, this is still a severe critique of individualism since it denies that one can account for the highest sort of human relationships in terms of the rights of the persons in the relationship. Justice belongs to a sphere of relationship beneath love, though this is exactly why it should be structured with an idea to this higher sphere. What justice sees as a restriction on the voluntary, and which might even be enforced by violence, is made with an eye to a domain where one cannot account for relationships in this way.

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