Love and the Age of Democracy

Imagine life as a serf in an empire. Your father wants to give you to a neighboring monastery in exchange for a pig. But this is actually better than his first proposal, in which he promised your hand in marriage to an old man in a neighboring village. Fortunately, the old man died before the deal could be sealed.

In The Power of Myth Joseph Campbell argues that the emergence in the middle ages of romantic love as expressed by the troubadours created individual consciousness. “Campbell: But with Amor we have a purely personal ideal. The kind of seizure that comes from the meeting of the eyes, as they say in the troubadour tradition, is a person-to-person experience. That’s completely contrary to everything the Church stood for. It’s a personal, individual experience, and I think it’s the essential thing that’s great about the West and that makes it different from all other traditions I know. It was important in that it gave the West this accent on the individual, that one should have faith in his experience and not simply mouth terms handed down to him by others. It stresses the validity of the individual’s experience of what humanity is, what life is, what values are, against the monolithic system. The monolithic system is a machine system: every machine works like every other machine that comes out of the same shop” (p. 187).

Campbell is talking about consensual marriage, as opposed to arranged marriage. Even today, the price paid for consensual marriages, in that they often go against the grain of the parents’ wishes for their children, as in the Tristan romance, and again in Romeo and Juliet, is personal freedom and existentialism. You’re on your own. This is the same price Jesus paid, but the Church did not follow Jesus, instead creating a new monolithic system. “Come follow me,” Jesus said; we’ll make our own way, against tradition. This is the creation of the individual as an entity separate from the earthly lord who gets his authority from the state or church or both. In consensual marriage we find the roots of egalitarianism and democracy. What’s love got to do with it? All you need is love, and the courage to, as Campbell says, “follow your bliss.”

Modern corporations are not democracies, nor is the Church a democracy. Men who marry their jobs or the Church can not live an existential life. They are not free. They have no individual consciousness, and they pay no price, as long as they stick with the arrangement. But these marriages are not based on Amor, which is freedom and personal identity for which one pays own’s own freedom and assumes responsibility for oneself. To become one with a desk? Come, follow me. Sit here. Break is at 10:15.

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