It begins with a historical analysis of the impact of both Christian agape (unconditional, or universal love: ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’, ‘love your enemies’) and eros. It follows European history through the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment and up to the current era of individualism.
Of particular interest to me is his analysis of the conflict between individualism and the conjugal expression of agape. The latter part of the book is more of a commentary. He identifies how domestic love is built on a thousand little kindnesses. A marriage fails, he says, not because of the loss of passion, but because of the failure of agape to underpin all that we do together as a couple. He celebrates the sentiment attached to small kindnesses and praises the trust that the friendship of marriage brings. It is very refreshing. His comments on the ways that we show this love even when we are cranky, in my view, are very insightful. He talks about one person in a marriage, in the case in his example it is usually the woman, doing a mundane act like sweeping the floor when the other person has done something to upset them. It is, Kaufmann argues, an act of love, because she is trying to say to him that she will lose her life for him. This conflict between our desire to be an individual, and the uncompromising nature of love – that it demands we lose our lives in order to express it – is quite fascinating. He notes also the ways that we can manipulate the love of the other person in order to assert our individualism. This is why societies built on Utopian frameworks often fail and become dictatorships. Whether in a marriage or in a community, the individual can abuse those that love him/her.
I am sure like many husbands, I believe my wife is quite astonishing. Her constant patience and, I choose the word deliberately, goodness, are quite humbling. Our culture does not properly celebrate the tremendous daily joy in a loving marriage – even in the moments that embarass me I am a person who is deeply loved. My wife knows that she is too, and that is wonderfully fulfilling.
My analysis of the book is too quick and glib. The book deserves better.
Well done I say to Mr Kaufmann on being so counter-cultural . And yes, he does see all forms of love as political acts.