I’ve written about the Culture of Life and wrote yesterday about Roger Scruton’s “Why Beauty Matters” BBC feature. Following on from those posts I want to highlight another part of Scruton’s BBC feature.
In our time we sexualize way more than is healthy, to the point where two men or women cannot demonstrate a substantive friendship without sexuality being raised. We also know that it’s profitable to market a very specific and sexualized version of love. Fight the New Drug is a nonprofit advocating for a vision of love that’s essentially the opposite of the most sexualized, narrow conception of love, which is porn.
Scruton’s “Why Beauty Matters” introduces the Platonic vision of love at the ~26 minute mark as a counter to the narrower versions of love that dominates our culture. He explains:
Sexual desire presents us with a choice: adoration or appetite. Love, or lust. Lust is about taking. Love is about giving. Lust brings ugliness. The ugliness of human relations in which one person treats another as a disposable instrument . To reach the source of beauty, we must overcome lust.
This “longing without lust” is what we mean today by Platonic love. When we find beauty in a youthful person, it is because we glimpse the light of eternity shining in those features from a Heavenly source beyond this world. The beautiful human form is an invitation to unite with it spiritually, not physically. Our feeling for beauty is, therefore, a religious and not a sensual emotion.
This theory of Plato’s is astonishing. Beauty, he thought, is a visitor from another world. We can do nothing with it, save contemplate its pure radiance. Anything else pollutes and desecrates it, destroying its sacred aura.
Plato’s theory may seem quaint today. But it is one of the most influential theories in history. Throughout our civilization, poets, storytellers, painters, priests, and philosophers have been inspired by Plato’s views on sex and love.
Scruton illustrates his point by citing Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus at the 29 minute mark. Venus looks upon the earth from “a place beyond desire.” Scruton explains Venus as “beauty to be contemplated, but not possessed.” I think we live in a time when our existence is seen as predominantly transactional, and so to see anything as something to “contemplate but not possess” is a step toward recovering a healthier and more humane perspective.