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Denis de Rougement, romantic love, marriage


Denis de Rougemont’s Love in the Western World has become something of a classic since it first appeared in 1939. Rougemont traces the development of romantic love from its origins in the twelfth century to its mutated condition in the twentieth. His thesis is that romantic love and marriage are fundamentally opposed. “My central purpose,” he wrote in his Preface to the 1956 revised edition, “was to describe the inescapable conflict in the West between passion and marriage; and in my view that remains the true subject, the real contention of the book as it has worked out.” Whereas romantic love is passionate love, based on eros and completely absorbed in itself, marriage is an expression of Christian love or agape, which recognizes and accepts the existence of others in their whole concrete reality. The profanation of romantic love since its inception in twelfth century has debased the institution of marriage, which formerly contained passion through Christian love. Now, however, “passion wrecks the very notion of marriage at a time when there is being attempted the feat of trying to ground marriage in values elaborated by the morals of passion.” Rougemont intends not only to defend marriage, but also to advocate its value and importance for modern society (pp. 23-25; 71; 286; 315).