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What's love got to do with it?

About the author

Tony Curzon Price was Editor-in-Chief of openDemocracy from 2007 to 2012, where he is now contributing editor and technical director. He blogs at

Many of the sessions at the convention here today are about the state of our politics. We have had 30 years of governments who talk the talk of Liberty. They have presided over an era of centralisation, nannyism, a drip-drip erosion of civil liberties and a perpetual disregard for the spirit of democracy? What can we do about it?

In this context, a session on "Love and Liberty" may seem strange, almost an embarrassment to bring "love" into play at a political convention. The proposition we are exploring -- even proposing -- here is that "love", somehow understood, is a critical missing ingredient in our attitude towards the social and political world, and that without it we have no foundation for civil society or for the true flourishing of humanity that is at the heart of liberty.

Our four panelists will all bring a different interpretation of what that "love" is. For Mike Edwards, thinker, writer and development expert, there are personal attitudes and dispositions of care and friendship which can build mutually reinforcing cycles of political and personal change. Sheila Rowbotham, historian and philosopher of feminism, describes in her recent biography of Edward Carpenter a life that seeks to unite "inner" and "outer" democracy, making a politics out of the everyday experiences of work, sex, home and community. Marina Warner, cultural critic and feminist writer, highlights the importance of the imaginary and the aesthetic in shaping political possibility. Satish Kumar, a spiritual voice of ecology, brings the love of nature and the change of consciousness it requires to centre of building a good, just and sustainable world.

So what has love got to do with it?

For the very radical early nineteenth century Jeremy Bentham, a world ordered by the calculation of utility---the greatest good for the greatest number---is one that has at its core all the natural sympathy and egalitarianism that progress requires. Social problems become technical problems of calculation; society is a causal and computational nexus of utilities. Utility was a kind of civic religion.

However, the "short 20th century" was marked by the horror of the hubristic, dehumanising reason that this sort of technocratic view eventually produces. We should remember Hannah Arendt's view of totalitarianism: it is not evil that creates horror, it is action in the absence of thought. Much of the loss of civil liberty that forms a reason for our coming together can be seen as excused and caused by that view of politics as "the rational adminsitration of things" (in the words of Saint Simon, strange John the Baptist for the database state). Security and efficiency, all go with discretionary executive power.

We will be exploring the role of the emotional, affective, aesthetic, personal, cultural and dispositional in creating another sort of politics, one which really can deliver a modern liberty. There is a long tradition of the serious examination and analysis of "civic religion" -- of the types of consciousness that society must make possible in order to be a good, just and free society. From Rousseau through JS Mill, as well as later in the syndicalist and anarchist traditions, there is a sense that the emotional attachments to society matter to politics. This is what this session is about.

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