Article Image Davi Barker

The Problem with Liberty is Love

Written by Subject: LOVE

The Liberty Movement is sometimes colloquially called, "The Lovelution," referring to a popular logo in which the "evol" in "Revolution" is reversed to spell "love." The image was designed by radio personality Ernest Hancock, popularized by the Ron Paul campaign, and subsequently trademarked (stolen) by Russell Brand. The term even appears in the Urban Dictionary defined as, "The revolution in a society to move towards becoming ideally free." I had an opportunity to ask Walter Block what he thought of the term and he said, "This was a great publicity device for the Ron Paul campaigns. But, the essence of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle. There?s room in our big tent for hate." That didn't really satisfy. When art rises to such prominence it indicates some kind of powerful resonance in the audience. It's undeniable that love has something to do with liberty. But what? Libertarians are so obsessed with formulating precise definitions that libertarianism is sometimes described as a form of Asperger's syndrome, or applied autism. Yet, despite the obvious attraction to the term, I've found no satisfactory definition for "love." Let's try to remedy that.

So, where can we go for a definition of "love"? The dictionary is no help. I've heard that in some primitive languages "love" is synonymous with neighboring concepts, like "rhythm" or "life." To be in love is to be in rhythm, or in life with someone. Certainly true. To make love is to make rhythm, or to make life with someone. Also true, but not very philosophically useful.

The popular conception of love is largely informed by Hollywood movies, which usually consist of canned dialog between two broken people. The first character reveals all their neuroses to the second, who initially rejects them to create drama. After some antics the second character reveals all their neuroses too, and they discover that their injuries fit together. They complete each other, but they are not independently complete. Love must include some component of participating in eachother's growth, not enabling each other's damage.

This question came to the front of my mind at this year's PorcFest, the summer gala of the Free State Project. On the first night of the festival, after recording a spirited episode of the Freedom Feens on "The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem" by Nathaniel Branden, we all decided to stay for an after show we dubbed "Dawn of Freedom" on account of literally going until dawn the next day. The crew included Derrick J Freeman, MK Lords, Brett Veinotte and I, and was one of the funniest, most intimate pieces of radio I've ever done. In the final hour, delirious from sleep deprivation, we got on to the topic of love, which colored our conversations for the rest of the week.

I entered this exploration content with the definition, "Love is an involuntary response to virtue," which is Stefan Molyneux's formulation of, "Love is the emotional response of one man to the virtues of another," which is Ayn Rand's extrapolation from the Socratic idea, "Reason equals virtue equals happiness." Ironically, this definition appealed to me mostly for theological reasons, but it came apart when I started trying to apply it to real people I love in my life. It's true in a sense. There are anarchists I feel a tremendous bond with on account of the virtue I see in them. But what about a guardian's love for a newborn? An infant hasn't done anything particularly virtuous, except perhaps not having done anything evil yet. That's certainly not what inspires a parent's love. Further, a person does not involuntarily fall in love with the most virtuous person they know, and relationships are seldom ended because someone more virtuous comes along. Love certainly can be involuntary, or at least powerful enough to override will, but innumerable other factors contribute to this complex emotion.

Libertarians do seem uniquely concerned with virtue. The atheists among us seem far more likely to reject religion in part out of moral outrage, rather than on hedonistic or nihilistic grounds. And the theists among us seem far more likely to embrace tolerant interpretations of their tradition, rather than judgmental or hateful ones. For nearly all, the rejection of the State is on ethical grounds, and we abhor any doctrine, whether religious or secular, which asks us to obey before consulting our own conscience. Libertarianism's central axiom, the non-aggression principle, is fundamentally a moral prescription. Love seems to have at least something to do with virtue, but this definition now seems insufficient, and incomplete. The confluence may be that love, at least healthy love, includes letting others exist without exerting our will on them. As Khalil Gibran famously wrote, "If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don't, they never were." There is a real sense in which love requires freedom. Without it resentment, possessiveness and jealousy become destructive substitutes for love, just as welfare becomes a destructive substitute for charity, and school becomes a destructive substitute for education. So, while love may be felt involuntarily, perhaps we can say that it must be given and received voluntarily, or else it becomes a different thing altogether.

Carrying this discussion around PorcFest, Libertarians also seem uniquely interested in expanding the love in their lives. Many are exploring polyamory and non-violent communication to bring more love into their personal relationships. These overlap with a growing practice of peaceful parenting, which brings a freedom oriented love to the parent/child relationship, and a budding self-help culture which essentially means learning to love ourselves. Some have called this a distraction, but to me it's an invaluable addition to the curriculum of liberty, perhaps even integral to the sustainability of a free, peaceful and prosperous society.

In "Stranger In A Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein "love" is defined as:

"that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own."

Heinlein's ideas expressed in that book were instrumental to the growth of both libertarianism and polyamory in the 1970s. He makes the point that love isn't just about happiness, but about shared happiness. And if we go back to Socrates we can infer that it also has something to do with shared virtue, and shared reason. To oversimplify, two Statists may find love for each other on the basis of their shared ideology, values and goals. But an anarchist may see their ideology as dangerous, their values as corrupt, and their goals as evil, which would put a desperate strain on a relationship. It may be that the reason, virtue and happiness of a Statist are incapable of being essential to an anarchist, because they contradict, and may be mutually exclusive. Of course, it's also entirely possible for a Statist and an anarchist to find some shared happiness in another arena. Love is vast.

This characteristic of shared happiness is described by the polyamory community with the term "compersion," which they've coined. Compersion is the feeling of joy one experiences witnessing the joy of a loved one. They generally reserve the term for seeing a lover enjoy the company of another partner, but there's no reason not to employ it to describe all empathetic joy. They regard compersion as the opposite of jealousy, even though the popular conception regards jealousy as a byproduct of love. The polyamory community disagrees, and it seems to me that a libertarian should as well. After all jealousy is born from the desire to possess someone, and liberty is born from respecting their self ownership. Limits within a relationship may be set by agreements, but then a transgression constitutes a betrayal, it need not inspire jealousy. Jealousy, in a sense, seeks to bind a lover in an involuntary social contract.

There is a distinction to be made between the polyamorous view of love and sex. A person may have no interest in bedding multiple partners and still benefit from acknowledging the complex web of emotions experienced by the heart, if only to themselves. Someone can even feel romantic love for a group of people while remaining celibate. Sex and love are not synonyms, but complements.

One of the greatest contributions made by polyamory to the exploration of freedom oriented love is something I've seen paralleled in my Buddhist and Sufi seekings, and that is the observation that one cannot freely accept love, or freely give love, more than they love themselves. Too many people suffer under the illusion that they are without value until someone else loves them, and then they return that love out of gratitude, or obligation. It's a formula for resentment, because such a person grows paranoid, always suspecting on some level that the other person doesn't really love them, or that they don't deserve to be loved, because they don't even love themselves. Such a person also never freely gives love. They horde it, and ration it, as if it is a scarce resource that will run out if they share it freely.

It may actually be that a comprehensive definition of love is impossible because the vocabulary in the English language is insufficient for the necessary distinction making. In ancient Greek there are at least seven distinct forms of love.

"Eros" describes sexual desire, passion and appreciation for beauty. Eros can be wonderful, but it can also be dangerous and irrational. You might call it infatuation, or erotic love.

"Philia" means deep friendship, and comradery. It is a platonic love which includes virtues like loyalty, equality and candor. Philia is like fellowship. This seems like the most fitting term to describe the involuntary response to virtue.

"Ludus" is playful love, as in the affection between childhood playmates, the flirtatious teasing of immature lovers, or the laughter and banter of casual friends. It's the love we find around the campfire at PorcFest.

"Agape" describes a universal love, or a kindness extended to all people, even strangers. Agape is the love expressed in charity, or courtesy. It also describes the love of God for man, and of man for God.

"Storge" was used to describe how parents felt about children, but it was also used to express grudging acceptance of a tyrant. This probably does not reflect current parenting models. The love of peaceful parents for their children may be a mixture of agape, ludus and philia, or it may be an entirely new emotion. This is certainly not an extensive list.

"Pragma" means mature love, like the understanding and compromise between long-married couples. Pragma is showing patience and tolerance. It's pragmatic love.

Finally "philautia" is love of the self, but the Greeks were careful to distinguish it from narcissism, or self-obsession. They believed philautia enhanced our capacity to love others, as the Buddhists, Sufis and Polyfolk also observe. The idea was that if you loved yourself, you would have plenty of love to give others.

You may have noticed none of these explicitly described romantic love, and yet any one of them, or many of them, could be a feature of a romantic relationship. In the final analysis "Lovelution" probably refers to something combining the universality of agape, and the equality of philia. But that's not all that libertarians are looking for. In fact, it may be an error to focus so intensely on romantic love. It may be that building a  free, peaceful and prosperous society requires that we nurture all varieties of love from many different sources. And it may be the our relationships evolve, ludus may pave the way for pragma, or philia may grow into eros, or a relationship may flow the other way. But the cornerstone of both effective libertarian activism, and healthy loving relationships is communication, and the ability convey our needs with clarity. Perhaps the problem with the Lovelution is the ambiguity of the term itself. Perhaps it's time we used all the varieties of love in our thinking and speaking, and even coin a few terms of our own.