I’m not sure I ever thought that John Piper and Hardt/Negri would make for good bedfellows, but in reading this interview with Michael Hardt, his and Negri’s notion of politics as a project of love has strong resonance with Piper’s Christian Hedonism. Here’s an excerpt from the Hardt interview:
Hardt: [How] can you get anyone to take you seriously when [you discuss love and joy in politics]? This is definitely an interest of mine, and I think of Toni’s, too. We’ve said to each other for a while, but without finding a way to do it, that we would like to make love a properly political concept. One has to expand the concept of love beyond the limits of the couple, even the psychoanalytic limits of coupling. One good model is through Christian and Judaic traditions, where love means, in a way, a constitution of the community. Premodern notions of love have this political character. As it has gained in sentimentality, love has lost its political efficacy. That’s one project. It seems to me a summation of various things that interest me to think of politics as a project of love.
I started becoming interested in politics as an undergraduate, but I was repulsed by the political atmosphere, which seemed to me mostly an atmosphere of moralism and abnegation—a search for purity, but a search that meant we should feel guilty for the privileges we have and try to avoid them. Or we should maintain a kind of purity by not watching violent movies, eating certain things and not others. In Central America, a lot of the activists coming from Europe and North America were driven by guilt and acting for the good of others. But I learned from the Central Americans that there was another kind of activism which was not about our guilt but about our joy. It was not about going and doing politics because I need to give up something in order to help others—I’m getting something out of it. One group thought, I’m here to help them. The other group thought, I’m here so that they can teach me how to live better.
Helping others is not even in tension with making my life better. All of that is part of the same thing. To make the world better, I don’t need to give up things, I need to gain things. I need to gain a more joyful life. I remember a lot of stifling discussions, “Well, you can never get people in the U.S. to do anything because they’re all so comfortable, and you’ll never get them to give up things.” I remember thinking, Man, those in the U.S. are all so miserable; if you could just show them the joy of what a different life could be. I remember thinking about politics, rather than as an ascetic redistribution, as a collective project for the increase of joy. The younger generation of activists today seems to have learned this. If one traces the transformations of activism in the U.S., ACT UP and Queer Nation were a real hinge, making demonstrations fun, making them funny, great slogans. The relationship between a demonstration and a party becomes quite confused.
Smith: Or even a carnival.
Hardt: Right. The whole talk now about movement as carnival is perfect for this. It may not be the only way of conducting politics, but it’s the only politics I want. That might be an adequate definition of love: a politics of joy.