“Love, by its very nature, is unworldly, and it is for this reason rather than its rarity that it is not only apolitical but antipolitical, perhaps the most powerful of all antipolitical forces.”
– Hannah Arendt
All of us have enigmatic views on love. One way or another, we want it. And once we find it, we live in fear of losing it.
Perhaps no one understands this more than Hannah Arendt.
The renowned philosopher and journalist is most known for covering the Eichmann trial and coining the term “the banality of evil.” By her own right, she is highly regarded as one of the most important political philosophers of the twentieth century.
But even the most rational, philosophical, mind is not immune to the pitfalls of love and passion.
The proof is her notorious four-year love affair with her then philosophy professor, Martin Heidegger. She was 19 and he was 36… and married.
Their love story was tormented by age difference, his marriage, and her passion for her own career. Their romance ended, yet they remained life-long friends.
During this tumultuous affair, they’ve created perhaps their most humane, splendid works: His “Being and Time” and her lesser-known but nonetheless beautiful, “Love and Saint Augustine.”
The latter gorgeously portrays the sentiment of loving someone despite the deep fear of losing it.
What did love – fiery, unreasonable, impossible love – teach her?
Let’s try to digest her philosophy.
Love as craving.
For Arendt, there are two kinds of love in her treatment of Augustine:
- Craving (appetitus)
Let’s explore the subject of the first one a little closer:
Arendt claims that love manifests as a craving. Because we do not know someone fully yet, love begins with an experience of lack. Our feelings are tied to a part of someone that sparks that “craving.” And when we crave, we want. Our craving only ends when we’ve “attained” the object of our affections.
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“Every craving is tied to a definite object, and it takes this object to spark the craving itself, thus providing an aim for it. Craving is determined by the definitely given thing it seeks, just as a movement is set by the goal toward which it moves. For, as Augustine writes, love is ‘a kind of motion, and all motion is toward something.’ What determines the motion of desire is always previously given. Our craving aims at a world we know; it does not discover anything new. The thing we know and desire is a ‘good,’ otherwise we would not seek it for its own sake. “
However, once that happens, the craving turns quickly into fear of losing that love. Biologically, at our core, we know that we’ll die. And this, Arendt claims, is the proponent of our fear of losing who we love.
“So long as we desire temporal things, we are constantly under this threat, and our fear of losing always corresponds to our desire to have. Temporal goods originate and perish independently of man, who is tied to them by his desire. Constantly bound by craving and fear to a future full of uncertainties, we strip each present moment of its calm, its intrinsic import, which we are unable to enjoy. And so, the future destroys the present.”
It is in our nature to want. It is also in our nature to fear losing what we have. So where does this leave us?
How can we love when, deep down, we’re scared of losing it?
In her treatment of Augustine, Arendt points to a specific time in his life when he mourned the loss of a friend deeply. She argued that Augustine turned towards his inner self, proceeding to strip the world and all temporal things of their value and to make them relative.
“The common prejudice that love is as common as ‘romance’ may be due to the fact that we all learned about it first through poetry. But the poets fool us; they are the only ones to whom love is not only a crucial, but an indispensable experience, which entitles them to mistake it for a universal one.”
But perhaps the most relevant message about love and fear that Arendt has can be taken from her philosophy of amor mundi. It means: to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it.
When we are inclined to have expectations of love, our image of us, our desire of it, love is ruined. So we should love what we love as they are. We need to love it like we love the world – the beauty, the ugly, and everything in between.
Love despite the fear. Love despite the horror.
Let Arendt’s words resound with you:
“There is no greater assertion of something or somebody than to love it, that is, to say: I will that you be.”