Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Love and Worldliness in Psychoanalysis and in the Work of Hannah Arendt

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Love and Worldliness in Psychoanalysis and in the Work of Hannah Arendt

Article excerpt

What is Love?-Ask him who lives what is life; ask him who adores what is God.

-On Love, Percy Bysshe Shelley


Hannah Arendt was fundamentally sceptical about psychoanalysis, which she saw as reductionist and solipsistic rather than encouraging political activity. Psychoanalysis, writes Arendt, destroys the world of the in-between that enables us to form relationships since it recommends that people focus on an inner world of sensations in order to explain failures in the public sphere. Rather than encourage revolutionary ideas and actions aimed at bringing about change in the world, psychology instructs us to "'adjust' to those [bad] conditions, taking away our only hope, namely that we, who are not of the desert though we live in it, are able to transform it into a human world" (2005, 201). Arendt finds that psychoanalysis and totalitarian movements have something in common for they both deaden the faculties of passion and action that could help us to change the world and make it better, more inhabitable. Taking a psychoanalytic approach, or living under totalitarian rule might, in some ways, lessen our suffering, but the cost is that we relinquish our courage-a courage that allows us to act.

Despite Arendt's adamant resentment of psychoanalysis I would like to initiate a dialogue between Arendt and Freudian psychoanalysis. Hannah Arendt's explicit discussion of love occurs in her Love and Saint Augustine, where Arendt differentiates between Eros, erotic love, philia, friendship, and agape, love of God. In her subsequent work, however, Arendt does not take into consideration the libidinal aspects of collective bonds, nor does she give an account of the passionate aspect of being together despite the crucial role of amor mundi. By contrast, Freud views libidinal and sublimated love as forces that bind people together so that they may form political cooperation and bring about artistic and technological innovation in civilization. In this sense, Eros becomes a meaningful force that introduces worldliness into the individual's life. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud presents love as a force capable of subduing violence and enhancing the in-between world of relationships that functions as the basis of our joint activity in work and in the formation of civilization. Because love, or Eros, is not just discrete but a political force, it enhances worldliness rather than withdrawal from the world.

By juxtaposing Arendt and Freud I will argue that love is basic to worldliness, central to the amor mundi, forgiveness, and the making of promises, which are pivotal components of Hannah Arendt's political thought. I will argue that the desire for love enhances friendship/forgiveness and thinking/respect of the others and of worldliness as such. In psychoanalysis and in the work of Hannah Arendt worldliness or amor mundi comprises a move away from the realm of need to that of thinking, which in turn inaugurates action in the public sphere by realizing the bonds of aim-inhibited love or friendship. By juxtaposing Arendt's and Freud's relation to love I will suggest that without love the relation of humans to the world is swayed by interdictions of the obscene superego. Such a loveless relation to the world engenders anxiety and doubt. The ultimate question I want to ask concerns the relation between love of the world and its negation by radical evil.


To begin staging the dialogue between Arendt and Freud I want to juxtapose their texts that were written at the same time. Love and Saint Augustine was published in 1929 while Civilization and Its Discontents was published in 1930. While Freud's text studies the importance of the divine decree "love thy neighbor as thyself" for the formation of communities and nations, Arendt's text inaugurates a research question about "the relevance of the neighbor,"and demonstrates that Augustine's philosophy is engaged in the world. …

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