This being Valentineâ€™s Day, a day in which our thoughts naturally turn to love, one would think that a blog dedicated to the teachingsÂ of Ludwig von Mises would have nothing relevant to say. After all, Mises is best known as an economist and most people would not expect an economist to have any noteworthy insights on love, other than perhaps to give us the inflation rate in the price of a dozen roses on annual Valentineâ€™s days from 1960 to 2011 among Manhattan flower shops. But Mises was not your typical economist. He was something of a polymath who wrote about history, politics, and philosophyâ€“ and, yes, about love.
His reflections on amour can be found in Chapter 4 of Socialism. Though not always beyond criticism and the need for some correctives, itâ€™s a rich discussion which cannot be entirely distilled in a blog entry. Whatâ€™s worth singling out on this day of romance is his historical account of the idea of love. That idea, he rightly points out, has not always existed. It evolved over time, reaching its current significance thanks to the development of capitalism.
Prior to capitalism, the chief and most respected mode of acquiring resources was through war. It was, as Mises calls it, the age of violence. The military ethos that this entailed made itself felt in the relation between the sexes. Men dealt with women the way they dealt with the objects of military battle â€“ as things to be subjugated, owned, and controlled, ultimately for the purposes of generating legitimate heirs. As such, the laws and customs used to consider women as the property of men. Marriage was deemed a transfer of the woman between men.Â Â
With time, the limitations of this master-servant framework began to dawn on men. They grew to recognize that the pleasures of sex are greater to the extent that women are drawn to intercourse out of desire rather than the fulfillment of their marital duties. There was increasing consciousness, too, of the joys to be had from female companionship. Sentiments of love thus arose, rising to an especially high pitch with the ideals of chivalry in the medieval world. Yet love hadÂ still notÂ been connected to marriage.Â The latter was still seen as a partnership meant to serve family, socio-economic, and in some cases political, considerations.
According to Mises, the bourgeois capitalist world changed all that by establishing the primacy of contractual relations in human affairs. Such relations became the social norm because the prevalent mode of acquiring goods shifted from the fighting of war to the conducting of trade. The essence of trade, after all, is two parties contracting to exchange good and services. While it did not happen immediately, the contractual idea inevitably came to define what constitutes legitimate sex and authentic love.Â
Thus we find ourselves in the present situation in which individuals are expected to both freely consent in coming together as a couple.Â Being free to unite with anyone else who is equally willing, people will naturally only enter into lasting relationships with someone they love.Â In this way, Mises concludes, capitalism finally links marriage and love.
Happy Valentineâ€™s Day.