Ruling, or Dominant, Love
If someone were to ask you who or what you love more than anything else, you might think of a person, a place, or an activity. Perhaps you would try to imagine who or what is most important to you. However, when Swedenborg writes about a person’s ruling, or dominant, love, he’s talking about more than an emotion.
What we love constitutes life itself to us: what our love is like determines what our life is like and therefore what we are like as human beings. In particular, it is the love that is dominant or supreme in us that makes us who we are.
That love has many loves that are subordinate to it, loves that derive from it. They take on various guises, but they are all nevertheless present within the dominant love, and together with it make one kingdom. The dominant love acts as the monarch or head of the rest; it governs them and works through them as intermediate goals, in order to focus on and strive for its primary and ultimate goal of all, doing this both directly and indirectly.
The object of our dominant love is what we love more than anything else. (New Jerusalem §54)
A dominant love, then, is more than just what we value; it’s who we are.
Four Types of Love
Swedenborg describes dominant loves differently in different places throughout his writings, but he generally divides them into heaven-oriented, or good, loves and materially oriented, or bad, loves.
Good loves can be broken down into two different types. The first, love of the Lord, means having not only a love of the Divine, but a desire to manifest divine goodness in the world. It’s a state of being open to divine love and wanting to make it a part of yourself to the greatest extent possible.
The second, love of the neighbor, means expressing that love to others—not only the people living next door, but everyone you meet. It means being good to people individually, but also serving the communities in which you find yourself and the world in general. It means doing your best to live in such a way that you are benefitting others.
There are also two types of bad loves: love of the world and love of self. Love of the world can mean a desire for power or to dominate others. It can also mean a love of material things, like money or cars or nice clothes and so on. However, Swedenborg emphasizes that having or wanting material things isn’t in itself inherently bad:
We all need to make sure that we have the necessities of life, such as the food, clothing, housing, and more that are necessary for whatever civic life we are involved in. We need to provide these not only for ourselves but also for our dependents, and not only for the present time but also for the future, since unless we acquire the necessities of life for ourselves we are not in any condition to extend caring to others; we ourselves are instead in need of everything. (New Jerusalem §97)
Even aside from our daily needs, there are positive reasons why we might seek wealth or power. For example, if someone uses their money to help others, or seeks power to make a change in society for the better, they are demonstrating love of the neighbor rather than love of the world. But when a person’s primary focus is seeking wealth or power for its own sake, or if they are willing to engage in harmful behavior in order to achieve those ends, then it becomes an evil love.
In the same way, love of self isn’t a bad thing when it refers to self-esteem. But when loving oneself crosses the line into ego and a person starts to see other people as lesser beings who can be hurt without consequence, or that person’s self-love results in getting disproportionately angry when denied even the smallest desire, their love of self takes a negative form.
In the Afterlife
Even though Swedenborg describes people as having ruling, or dominant, loves, in life it’s rare for us to be any one thing. We have good days and bad days; we make mistakes, have misunderstandings, and react to things based on all kinds of temporary moods. Developing a dominant love is a gradual process that consists of many different choices and crossroads throughout our lives. That’s an important part of spiritual growth, or regeneration.
However, it’s important that we do make the effort to develop good loves, not just because it will make this life better, but because it determines where we go after death:
A great deal of my experience has testified to the fact that we are our love or intention after death. All heaven is differentiated into communities on the basis of differences in the quality of love, and every spirit who is raised up into heaven and becomes an angel is taken to the community where her or his love is. When we arrive there we feel as though we are in our own element, at home, back to our birthplace, so to speak. (Heaven and Hell §479)
Ultimately, if we choose to do so, we can climb the ladder of different kinds of love to achieve the purpose for which God created the universe: union with the Divine.
Our short video “The Universal Categories of Love” gives a quick overview of this concept. Or, for a more in-depth look, “The Four Kinds of Love” goes into the four types of ruling love described above; you can also read a recap of the video.
For more about how dominant love fits into spiritual growth, check out Regeneration: Spiritual Growth and How It Works, a collection of excerpts from Swedenborg’s writings that’s available in our bookstore.