Apropos of Valentine’s Day, here are some epigrams by Michael Oakeshott, drawn from his recently published notebooks. The first selection comes from pages 348–49, the second from 411–12. He comes across as a romantic and a skeptic—a rare combination. I hope to post some more excerpts in the coming weeks.
The phenomenon of love, perhaps, more than anything else, shows the secondary place of justice and morality in human life. We live suspended in an unstable solution; only for immediate purposes of practical life a certain stability is introduced—called justice and morality. The rest is favor and affection.
The stirrings of love can be felt, like those of ambition, before we have an object. This true particularly of the young. The potentiality felt in advance of any choice of object. In love with love. What does this imply about the nature of love?
lt would appear from [Vladimir] Soloviev‘s argument that to love without being loved in return is enough.
Does being loved add anything to love? If so, what?
Love not dependent upon being requited. But requited love has something.
1) Love, the supersession of egoism.
2) Being loved in return—the return of modified egoism.
The self not fully achieved except in requited love.
Love & Death
Tristan a ‘fatal’ love. Passion is linked with death.
Preference for what thwarts passion, hinders the happiness of love, parts lovers.
Tristan & Iseult never miss an opportunity to be parted; creation of reasons for parting; preference for pains over pleasure. It is a romance about the parting of lovers in the name of passion in order that the love shall be intensified. What they love is love itself or being in love. The partings are dictated by the passion itself. The love of love is the love of death. The longing for what annihilates us.
‘Happy love has no history—in European literature.’ [Denis De Rougemont, Passion and Society, page 63]
Assumes too readily that art represents what we want in life.
Love & perfection: an immortal love—not a ‘poise in imperfection.’
European culture has known two myths of love—Tristan & Don Juan—both are myths of excess.
Loving is two people who are in flower giving shade to one another; there is no fruit.
Loving & being loved is to live in a world in flower. The egoism of being in love is to believe that you can make the world flower for the person you love. But many things can stand in the way. I never succeeded in doing this for Patricia; tho there was often promise of it & some moments of fulfillment. She loved me enough to spare my dream of love; but she had no dream herself & was therefore invulnerable.
If only she could have extorted compliance from me. But she was not positive or great enough to do this; & I am not naturally compliant. In any case it is difficult for a lover to be compliant: I should have done better as a husband for then love might have engendered compliance without the feeling of loss.
Love is a fearful struggle to give oneself to another. To be happy in love one must either find one’s love answered in the manner one desires it to be answered, or one must love in so unpremeditated a manner (without any preconceived image of how it needs to be answered) that disappointment is impossible.
The first is a miracle, the miracle that every lover desires to perform; but deep love which seeks a premeditated answer is difficult because the miracle of being able to answer it seems impossible to perform. The second is to love like a god or a child—something that passionate men have to learn & find difficulty in learning.
Perhaps, in love, depth and this kind of unpremeditation go together; or perhaps deep love cannot easily avoid unhappiness, the unhappiness of not being answered? These things cannot be arranged. Every man has his special coin in which he wishes to be paid.
Loving is like gambling-winning & losing are equally irrelevant; what matters is wagering, the adventure.
‘Gamblers & lovers really play to lose.’ How much truth is there in this?
Love is a human invention, the invention of a new pain & a new pleasure of which only those who know themselves & others as individuals are capable.