The Independent Women’s Forum has a core commitment to finding truth and bringing facts to bear on matters that have become confused in the public understanding and in policy debates. Simply put, the IWF loves myth busting. In her book Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work, author and economist Jennifer Roback Morse skillfully separates myth from reality and sheds some much-needed light on important questions confronting women, men, and families. IWF President Nancy M. Pfotenhauer

When I first encountered the ideas of freemarket economics and libertarian political theory, I was captivated by their logic, consistency, and simplicity. But if I’m completely honest with myself, I have to admit that I was also enchanted by the application of these ideas to my personal life. I enjoyed believing that I could do anything I chose to do and still expect a reasonably good outcome.

In my book, I do not attack laissez-faire economics — not only is the free-market alive and well, it’s really the only intellectual game in town. The issue is whether these ideas have direct counterparts in the conduct of our personal lives. In the past I tried to argue by analogy from free-market ideas to a full-fledged philosophy of life. My book, Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work, is a reflection of why that analogy does not work.

The free society needs the family because the family does an important job that no other institution can do. The family transforms helpless little babies from self-centered bundles of impulses, desires, and emotions into adult people capable of social behavior. The family teaches the child to trust, to cooperate, and to restrain himself.

Neither the free market nor self-governing political institutions can survive unless the vast majority of the population possesses these skills. Let me repeat that main theme: Our free society needs self-governing individuals. People inculcate these qualities in their children as a side effect of loving them. After all, we’re not born as fully rational adults capable of grasping our true interests, able to make contracts, able to defend our property rights. We’re born as helpless babies.

Most parents cannot articulate the physiological and psychological significance of the activities that they do with their children. Indeed, if you were to ask the mother of an infant what she does, she is unlikely to be able to describe her activities except in the most general way. She might be able to tell you how many times she changed her baby’s diapers, but she would probably forget to mention that she looked into her baby’s eyes, wiggled his toes, and laughed while imitating all of his babbling sounds. She might tell you about folding the laundry and doing the dishes, but she probably won’t remember that she rewarded every little noise that the baby made by smiling at him, or imitating his sound, or having an imaginary conversation with him.

Therein lies the problem of viewing the parental role in a materialistic and scientific kind of way. We might convince ourselves that the parents’ responsibility includes only the things on a list of currently known impacts on the human body and physiology. But the set of things that parents do out of love for their children is much more extensive and exhaustive than any such list. Many acts of love, while observable in principle, cannot be fully articulated. Not even experienced parents or scientific observers can list all of them. People do what the child needs without necessarily having a complete understanding of what they’re doing and why.

Economics has been a successful social science because it focuses on things that are true. Human beings are self-centered, and have the capacity for reason. But it’s 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 one another.

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 bureaucracy as an 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.

Inside the home, the family as a whole benefits from being able to call upon both of these deep realities of the human condition. Mother may very well react to junior staying out past his curfew by worrying about his safety and smothering him when he gets home. Father may very well calculate that it is in junior’s long-term interest to receive the verbal equivalent of a swift kick in the pants. The kid probably needs both. Marriage at its best allows people to cross this divide, at least inside the home.

It’s 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.

Take, for example, the French Revolution, which raised an altar to the goddess Reason. Yet that revolution, allegedly based on reason, produced one of the most irrational, chaotic, and bloody periods in French history.

The Russian Revolution tried to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, in which everything would be owned in one common, giant family. And that revolution produced oceans of blood and ushered in a new period of material privation unequaled even in Russian history.

We might argue that the American Revolution was the most successful of the modern revolutions because it preserved the underlying social and cultural order, 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 love is more than mere sentiment and more than the erotic urges of the body. Love is a decision. And like all decisions, the decision to love can be guided by reason. The tragic history of the last two centuries, coupled with the relative success of the American experience, suggests that it would be prudent to avoid either extreme — of trying to build a society on reason alone or on sentiment alone.

What form of society is best for us to seek? 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 people who love them, the comforts of home. It will not be a perfect society, but it might be a society in which people 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 can have a civilization of love.

A senior fellow at both the Independent Women’s Forum and the Hoover Institution, Jennifer Roback Morse is author of Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work (Spence Publishing). This is an excerpt from the talk she presented to the IWF at the National Press Club in June.