The Existential And Developmental Links Between Love And Power

The relationship between power and love is often an intimate one, the interconnection mandated by both the overlapping aims of love and power and by love's developmental history.

The aims of love and power are closely related though the means utilized by each are different. According to Hans Morgenthau, "Love and power both try to overcome loneliness, and the sense of man's insufficiency stemming from this loneliness, through duplication of his individuality." In both love and power, the Other is mobilized as an affirmation of the lover's subjectivity and will. It goes without saying that both are attempts to overcome his sense of weakness as well, and that both answer his dependency needs. Given the fact that the aims of love and power are so close yet can never be entirely achieved, it is inevitable that the one may be called upon to bolster the other. (Though it is not our primary concern here, it is also true, as Morgenthau suggests, that power seeks a modicum of love: "The political philosophies which emphasize the stability of power relationships, such as those of monarchies and autocracies, make a point of appealing to the love of the subject for the ruler.")

The intermingling of love and power is also facilitated by the developmental history of love. Affectionate bonding has its earliest roots in infancy and is closely tied to the child's state of dependency. In part, socialization of the child proceeds because the child fears the loss of love should he not comply with parental demands. Similarly, the adult lover often harbors the underlying belief that the beloved must be placated in order to insure her constancy. Because of the early link between affection and dependency, subsequent attachments often reflect the deep-rooted idea of an inherent power differential in love. Rieff takes this argument even further. According to him, because love is related to the "parental fact of domination," it follows that "Power is the father of love, and in love one follows the paternal example of power, in a relation that must include a superior and a subordinate." Moreover, he argues that while Christianity proclaimed the ultimate authority to be the source of love, "Freud discovered the love of authority." (Here, one sees part of the impetus to the birth of love in therapeutic situations, where the close relationship between love and the love of authority predisposes the patient to believe that she is in love with the therapist.) The lover may identify with either the all-powerful parent or the helpless child. Affection often originates along this power gradient—where is almost beside the point. One may overcome this proclivity, but only if he has the good fortune to become his own authority.

Thus far, I have primarily discussed the ways in which power acts adversely in love. However, as has been suggested, there is always, between all lovers, whether it is acknowledged or not, a period of jockeying for their respective positions in a balance of power. The balance of power establishes the relative priority of claims between the lovers. The subtle adjustment that results concerns not just matters of priority, but who cares about coming first and in which areas. (Nonetheless, the ultimate balance of power most often resides in the partner who is least fearful of losing the relationship.) It is when such a balance is disrupted (typically when one lover unilaterally desires to change the "rules") that a power struggle ensues. This may never happen and then the balance of power need never be articulated. It is only when an unspoken understanding about the balance of power is disrupted that the struggle for priority serves to destabilize love.

As for the more fundamental impulses to domination inherent in love, the need for conquest and possession can be restrained but not obliterated. The desire for possession appears to be an essential component of passionate love. What sometimes restrains the lover from the attempt at absolute possession is his intuition that it must fail. Then, too, the lover feels more than just the need for possession alone. He also cherishes the beloved and wants to surrender himself to her. He tries to relinquish his possessiveness and he tries to free himself from his own impulse to surrender. Passionate love oscillates around a point midway between these diametrically opposed but intimately connected impulses.

However, love is most likely to evolve and be sustained when both lovers are sovereign. That is one of the underlying themes of Chaucer's extremely complex tale of the Wife of Bath. In that story, a young knight in Arthur's court is sentenced to die because he has raped a girl. Arthur's queen commutes the death sentence on one condition: that within twelve months the knight tell the queen what it is that women most desire. The knight travels the country and receives diverse replies: women want riches, clothes, love, and many other things. But no two people agree on a single answer. Near the end of the year, fearing for his life, he happens upon an old hag. She promises to answer the question on condition that he do her bidding when his life is again his own. He agrees and gives the hag's answer to the Queen: women want sovereignty. The women gathered in the Court—wives, widows, and maids—all agree, and the knight's life is spared.

The hag then asserts her claim to the knight and orders him to marry her. Although loathing the old woman, he feels obliged to comply. She, however, notices his distaste for her and gives him two alternatives: she will be a faithful and loving wife as an old hag, or, if he prefers, she will be young and beautiful, but he will then have to take his chances regarding her fidelity. And how does the knight choose? Very wisely, in light of what he has just learned about what women really want: he leaves the choice to her. Granted her sovereignty, the hag responds generously; she transforms herself into a woman both beautiful and faithful. Thus he learns by his own experience the meaning of that

"sovereinetee" that women desire above all things. And she, transformed by the trust he puts in her and the unconditional freedom of choice he allows her, becomes that which he had wanted her to be—but does so of her own free will.

The knight could be gratified in love only when he had been "educated" as to the true nature of women. He who had exercised an extreme form of sovereignty over a woman—rape—now grants total sovereignty himself, and is rewarded with a wife who then "obeyed him in everything that might give him pleasure or joy/And thus they lived to the end of their lives/In perfect joy."

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