Capitalism and Love

What the world needs more of is love.

Few would disagree with this statement. Even the most ardent statist wouldn’t dare doubt the power of romantic love nor the happiness it breeds in those caught within it. But what many have failed to appreciate is the connection between capitalism and love as we know it.

Most Americans view romantic love today as the ultimate truth; something completely individualistic, to be found freely without coercion, and to be nurtured throughout one’s life through a lifelong commitment and marriage. Yet this is drastically different than the way love has been treated throughout history; it is vastly different than the way it is currently thought of in many countries today . Love is the same the world over, but the freedom to pursue romantic love as a means to marriage is largely a western tradition that has coincided with the growth of markets. While love in America often means a relationship with the end goal of marriage, many individuals throughout history have had their marriages arranged by family, often without any consideration for the ideas of love or affection.

As free enterprise has spread and wealth has grown immensely and vastly a common criticism is that profit has overshadowed more important things. Yet without its rise, people wouldn’t have freedom in arguably one of life’s most important endeavors — the free choice in who or what to commit their life to.

Many eastern countries still see marriage as something too important to not be dictated by one’s family, and many are forced into arranged marriages with people they barely know. These business-like arrangements may lead to companionship, and sometimes perhaps even love after the fact, but love and marriage are still seen as more-or-less mutually exclusive — an idea that would repulse most Americans.

The starting point for a society’s culture is rooted in the family. Because most western families are rooted in romantic love and the bond that endures through it, romantic love is actually a driving force in the American market economy. Anthropologist E.A. Hoebel said “few people are so given to romantic love as Americans. In our individualistic sentimentalism we exalt the ideal of marriage based on love.”

What is important to note is that Hoebel points to our individualism as a necessary factor in marriage based on love. The free market thrives in societies where the individual is free to innovate, work towards incentives, and keep the fruits of their own labor. This same individualism is what drives the immediate impulse in Americans to rebel against arranged marriage sans love. Also, in England, as feudalism began to be replaced by a modern capitalistic economy, the change in overall sentiment among all members of society could be seen in the rapid erosion of centuries-old cultural norms and traditions For example, this is clearly evident in many Jane Austen novels where the heroine often rebels against attempts at upward mobility through marriage connections. (See more on this from Alan MacFarlane.)

Nothing — not even market forces — can compare to the violent, passionate, and powerful forces of romantic love. In understanding its power in forming the family bond through marriage one must also understand the mechanism that has brought romantic love into the heart of the marriage contract. The free market has turned marriage from a business arrangement engineered by kin into something much more honorable, desirable, and sacred than what has been to generations past merely an opportunity for material gain. Indeed, the market where free has been both the greatest enabler of human happiness as well as the ultimate benefactor of that age-old adage, “there are some things money just can’t buy.”

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