Aug 1, 1976
Klasman, Living with Equals
“The achievement of human liberty rests more on human emotions than many libertarians like to admit.”
Jerry Klasman’s Livings With Equals (subtitled An Indivudualist’s Guide to Emotional and Romantic Happiness) constitutes a step forward in extending the concept of individual liberty to thousands of people—people who are not libertarians and who could not care less about the political and economic rhetoric of freedom, but who are interested in ideas that have some bearing on their personal problems… and especially on their romantic problems.
Living With Equals appeals to the self-interest of its audience by setting forth a comprehensible view of romantic love. It stresses the importance of psychological autonomy as a guiding factor in a successful and happy relationship. And, early in the game, Klasman makes it clear: “Sovereignty or slavery. You can’t have it both ways.”
The trouble with most romantic relationships today is that they are generally based on The Myth—the myth of the happy-ever-after marriage, the myth of emotional and romantic security, the myth that one lifestyle preordained by society is appropriate for all. These myths have their origin in authoritarian attitudes that most people accept unquestioningly—attitudes of psychological control and ownership of other people.
Klasman cuts through The Myth with clarity: “Equality in romantic relationships requires a meshing of sovereignties comparable to the meshing of gears in a machine. The teeth on each of two gears mesh and transmit energy that makes the machine move. Similarly, the values of two people mesh and make a relationship move…. Living with equals requires living with differences, accepting of the realities of your lover’s life even when they don’t match yours. And of one reality you can always be sure: You and your lover are not identical.”
Klasman explains the nature of values and emotions—how they function in our individual lives and how they come into play in our romantic lives. He also talks about differences—the kind that make a relationship grow, and the kind that bring a relationship to an end. “Respecting your lover’s sovereignty is the ONLY way to be sure that the relationship is built on voluntarism and freedom of choice rather than on the abdication of sovereignty, on ownership.”
Part of learning about individual sovereignty is learning about the nature of jealousy, to which Klasman devotes an entire chapter. Klasman views jealousy as “the ownership trip… the ne plus ultra of authoritarianism.” According to Klasman, jealousy is “the emotional response to the loss, or threat of loss, of emotional property.” He is careful to differentiate jealousy from envy and insecurity, emotions with characteristics of their own, and he gives constructive ways to deal with them.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Living With Equals is the chapter entitled, “Monopolies: Coercive and Natural.” No, Klasman has not turned from love to economics, but has employed an economic analogy to describe two kinds of exclusive romantic relationships—one in which two people remain exclusive because of choice (natural), and one in which two people remain exclusive because of obligation (coercive).
This will surely be the most controversial issue raised in Living With Equals, as there are some people who would argue that an obligation to be sexually faithful does not consitute a breach of sovereignty. But Klasman’s arguments in favor of natural romantic monopolies rather than coervice ones, as he defines them, are extremely cogent and worthy of serious consideration.
Finally, Klasman tells us that living with equals is “the emotional freedom to give everything to your lover and the relationship without being concerned that the gift will be used in an attempt to restrict your freedom.”
It will be books such as Living With Equals that will finally lead the way to a common understanding of what individual freedom entails. This book exposes—without the rhetoric of heavier works—the advantages of being autonomous, of being sovereign in your own life. Psychological laissez faire, for many people, must necessarily precede political laissez faire. Unless the spirit of individuality is a deeply felt and deeply held personal conviction, the implementation of human liberty in the political spectrum is likely to falter.
“ ‘Sovereignty or slavery. You can’t have it both ways.’ ”
The achievement of human liberty rests more on human emotions than many libertarians like to admit. The fact that the way to people’s minds is through their hearts may seem unfortunate, but it is often the case. And where this is so, it will be books like Living With Equals that strike the first blows for liberty. Reviewed by Susan Love Brown / Delacorte, 1976 / $6.95