Politics and Sexual Attraction
Politics and Loveby
Someone once said to me that friendship, by its very nature, is subversive. On hearing this, I immediately began to think of the scene in Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields where children are put into Khmer Rouge state-run schools to learn that the Revolution was now their parents (a situation akin to the futuristic scenario imagined by Huxley in Brave New World , where the state produces test-tube babies and normal procreation is considered abominable). Similar images emerge when one considers the insidious use by the Nazi Party of the Hitlerjugend, through which children informed on their parents.
Love, that biological, organic, non-formal relationship between kin, friends, and lovers, always demands allegiance to something other than the state. For this reason it is interruptive and seditious. Few literary portrayals of this fact are more poignant than Orwell’s in 1984 of the fraught and dangerous affair between Winston and Julia. The song chosen as the anthem for its film rendition was Eurythmics’ “Sex Crimes,” emphasizing this as the tale’s central theme.
Sex Crime. What is sex crime? Crime is that for which the state will punish you. Sex, a bonding, however brief, between individuals that do not include states or state institutions in the equation. Certainly love and marriage are liminal acts that, in some degree, say to the larger society, “Keep off! Our turf.” For Giorgio Agamben, following Foucault, this family form of life is the site contested in modern culture, where the state encroaches in ways that the Greek city-state never thought to on oikos , that domain where domesticity dominated.1
Pierre Trudeau, as embodiment of a new sex ethic, was architect of a new freedom. Yet this same new, life-affirming Canadian state decides on whether same-sex marriage is “natural” and issues akin to that of whether a man has the right to let his comatose ex-wife die or whether her family can step in and keep her alive. Marcuse, in Technology, War and Fascism2 , speaks of love and marriage as bastions of negation against domination, and Gramsci seems to feel much the same. Richard Rorty argues that loyalties to one’s own will always override the call to cosmopolitan politics,3 yet evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker,4 often accused of elevating genetic belonging to an excessive Wilsonian5 explanatory status, insists that bios should stay out of the process of constructing a society of universal rights, and that a liberal state must treat all people as morally equal regardless of love-allegiances or ethnic or sexual profile.
Here, indeed is the great tension in modern political philosophy. By ignoring, for constitutional purposes, individuals' love-ties, by insisting that subjects cannot resort to their own family's idiosyncratic values but must bow to the state's, that which makes us most human, love, sex, home-life, is that which can be effaced by modern governments. This is how it is that liberal democratic freedoms permit local government to remove children from their parents in the name of “welfare,” how it is that families split apart on schedule in the ritual of going-to-school-in-the-morning-while-Mom-and-Dad-go-to-work. Modern political choices are about the fight between small-scale and large-scale, micro and macro, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. How could it be otherwise: states are agglomerations of families; so the dissolution of the state starts with the willed separate life of lovers, and the families they produce.
- 1Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sacred Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998)
- 2Herbert Marcuse, "Some Remarks on Aragon" in Technology, War and Fascism ed. by Douglas Kellner (London: Routledge, 1998)
- 3Richard Rorty, "Justice as a Larger Loyalty" in Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation ed. by Peng Cheah and Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998)
- 4Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997)
- 5See almost anything by E. O. Wilson!