In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I offer this wonderful bit from Jennifer Roback Morse’s transformational book, Love and Economics, in which she observes a particular vacancy in modern discourse and policymaking:
Economics has been a successful social science because it focuses on things that are true: human beings are self-interested and have the capacity for reason. But it is equally true that we have the capacity to love. This capacity is no less human, and no less defining of who we are. Too much of our public discourse has proceeded as if these two great realities of the human condition, reason and love, were in conflict with each other. The Right favors the cold, calculating, tough-minded approach of the intellect: man is essentially a Knower. The Left favors the warm, fuzzy, emotional approach of the heart: man is essentially a Lover. Yet the Left at its most extreme has given us the cold, impersonal state and its bureaucracy as the answer to social problems. At the same time, the Right at its most extreme has given us the irrationality of trying to reduce man to the sum of his bodily needs…
…It is time to cross this divide in the sphere of public discourse as well. The consequences of going off the deep end into either the direction of Love or Reason and ignoring the other can be grim indeed.
Noting the French Revolution’s bloody altar to the “Goddess of Reason,” and, somewhat inversely, the Russian Revolution’s chaotic attempt to unite humanity under “one giant family,” Morse argues that the American Revolution was distinct because it preserved the “underlying social and cultural order.” It unleashed the powerful forces of freedom and individualism, but did so in a way that kept love for the other in focus.
This, she argues, gives us a glimpse of what a civilization of love might look like:
We might argue that the American Revolution was the most successful of the modern revolutions because it preserved the underlying social and cultural order intact, even while it created reasonable economic and political institutions. The family was surely among the key components of that underlying cultural order. Families were then and are now, held together by a thousand ties of affection, obligation and habit. This is love that is more than mere sentiment, and more than the erotic urges of the body. Love is a decision.
What will we have then? We will have a society in which people can work, be productive and enjoy material prosperity, and at the same time a society in which people can relax into the comfort of the people who love them, the comforts of home. It will not be a perfect society. But it might be a society in which families hang in there for each other, and work out their problems together. We will have a society that is worth living in, and worth dying for. In short, we will have a civilization of love.