The Nature of Self-Love

The Nature of Self-Love

I wondered at first why it is that the love of self and the love of the world are so diabolical, and that they who are in those loves are such monsters to look upon; since in the world little thought is given to self-love, but only to that puffed-up state of mind [animus] outwardly manifest which is called pride, and which alone is believed to be self-love, because it appears to the sight. Moreover self-love, when it does not so inflate itself, is believed in the world to be the fire of life, by which a man is incited to seek employment, and to perform uses, in which unless a man saw honour and glory his mind would grow torpid. Who, it is said, has done any worthy, useful, and distinguished action, but for the sake of being celebrated and honoured by others, or in the minds of others? And whence is this but from the ardour of love for glory and honour, consequently for self? It is therefore unknown in the world that self-love in itself regarded is the love that rules in hell, and which produces hell in man.

The love of self consists in a man’s wishing well to himself alone, and to no others except for the sake of himself,—not even to the church, his country, or any human society; as also in doing good to them for the sake of his own reputation, honour, and glory; which unless he sees in the uses he performs to others, he says in his heart, What does it concern me? What does it concern me? Why should I do this? Of what advantage is it to me? And so he lets it pass. Whence it is evident that one who is in the love of self neither loves the church, nor his country, nor society, nor any use, but himself alone. His delight is only the delight of the love of self; and as the delight that comes from his love constitutes the life of a man, his life is a life of self; and a life of self is a life from a man’s proprium, and the proprium of man, in itself regarded, is nothing but evil. He who loves himself loves also his own; who in particular are his children and grandchildren; and in general, all who make one with him, whom he calls his own. To love these is also to love himself; for he looks upon them in himself, as it were, and himself in them. Among those whom he calls his are also all who praise, honour, and reverence him. (HH n. 555, 556)

Such indeed is the nature of the love of self, that in so far as the reins are given to it, that is, in so far as external restraints are removed,—which are the fear of the law and its penalties, and of the loss of reputation, of honour, of gain, of employment, and of life,—in so far it rushes on, until at length it not only desires to rule over the whole terrestrial globe, but also over the whole heaven, and over the Divine [Being] Himself. It has no limit or bound. This propensity lurks within every one who is in self-love, although it is not evident before the world, where the above-mentioned restrains keep it back. That this is so no one can fail to see in potentates and kings, with whom there are no such curbs and restraints; who, so far as they succeed in their purposes, rush on and subjugate provinces and kingdoms, and aspire after unlimited power and glory. That it is so is still more manifest from the Babylon of this day, which has extended its dominion to heaven, and transferred to itself all the Divine power of the Lord, and lusts continually for more. (ibid. n. 559)

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