I have been thinking a lot lately about the potential political implications of a philosophy of love. Over the past few months I had found myself so consistently angry about the state of affairs in the world, I felt I needed to do something to counteract the resentment and bitterness that was growing inside me. To that end, I began meditating again after a long hiatus, and I added a component of lovingkindness to my daily practice.
At first I found it painfully difficult to wish my enemies well. It felt fraudulent to ask for happiness and peace for Dick Cheney, or that no harm befall the Koch brothers. But as I continued on this path, very much in “fake it ‘til you make it” mode, it started to make sense to me that if these men were at peace and were deeply happy, they would not feel the need to bomb other countries and rob them of their resources, or gather to themselves all the riches of the world while actively seeking to impoverish others.
I know this mode of thought sounds incredibly naïve. It reminds me of a time during a Nietzsche seminar in graduate school when I noted that, in his laser-like focus on power and power relationships, Nietzsche seemed to be leaving out an examination of love as a force that moves us, as a force for change. The professor sort of smiled and did the verbal equivalent of patting me on the head, and as the only woman in the room, you can bet that I didn’t bring up the question of love again.
But it seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that a singular focus on power and how to exercise power over others is an impoverished way to live, for everyone involved. And that the politics of love is a truly revolutionary politics that can have long-term impact in ways power-politics simply cannot.
A politics based on love doesn’t doesn’t mean sitting around holding hands, singing “Kumbaya” while the tanks roll. It means staking out a moral and political position based on commonality and justice and an open heart, one based on solidarity and not dominance. We have seen this approach effect real and lasting change in the material conditions of people’s lives without the blowback of “bomb your enemies back to the stone-age.”
Ghandi saying “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” was revolutionary, and borne out of a philosophy of love. I can’t but feel that Martin Luther King, Jr. was right when he said, “through violence, you may murder the hater, but you do not murder the hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
It is hard work to love your enemy. It is a profoundly radical act. It is the only hope we have for a just and peaceful world.