TCS Daily


Red for Romance

By Daniel B. Klein - February 14, 2005 12:00 AM

The Atlantic Ocean separates me from my wife and daughter this Valentine's Day. At the supermarket a few days ago, I lovingly read dozens of cards. I picked some out and covered them with adoring scribbles. I also sent a card from our cat, Tuco. I covered the envelopes with LOVE 37¢ stamps.

I strolled to the mailbox with the envelopes in my hand. They radiated affection. They were deep red.

Imagine Valentine's cards in blue. Blue hearts on blue backgrounds, inside blue envelopes. It would just be wrong. We know in our blood that the color of Valentine's Day is red.

Likewise, the new U.S. political chromatics is just wrong. It emerged during the 2000 election and has stuck. The Democrats, however, should be red, not blue. And for the Republicans, blue is perhaps fitting enough.

Red is a warm color. It is emotional, even sensual. Red is the natural color of romance.

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith explained that human beings have a natural yearning for shared experience and sentiment. I feel comfort and relief when my sentiments are coordinated with fellows, making our sentiments, our experience. The more intimate the sentiments, the warmer the bonds of affection. On Valentine's Day we go deeper than usual. It's a red day.

Love is for everyone. It is only an added factor that propels the yearning Leftward.

The added factor is the yearning not only that sentiment be shared, but shared by all. A key aspect of the Left is the appeal of an encompassing sharing of sentiment. The appeal of the Left is The People's Romance.

For an experience to be encompassing, it will depend on a force that is supreme in power and permanence. The government is unparalleled in power and focal as an encompassing romantic force.

William James's "moral equivalent of war" was the promise of a collective endeavor to unite the souls of the people. Activist government creates an encompassing narrative and romance.

The Left is about collective romance. Read Marx closely, and at heart you will find the aspiration for encompassing sentiment. In Marx and the Leftist train, the collectivity is a vehicle of fulfillment and liberation. In collectivism we escape alienation, which Marx closely identified with the division of labor. In collectivism we achieve our humanness.

It is no accident, then, that red has been the color of the Left. The Left is romantic politics. In Europe, the Left parties are still red. In Europe, the First of May is celebrated as worker solidarity day. It is a day of Leftist parades, a sea of red, nowadays with a splash of green.

Blue is cool and dispassionate. In Sweden, where my Valentine's Day cards will arrive, the conservative party, the Moderates, take the color blue.

The true blues strive to resist any impulse to view government as romantic force. They believe George Washington's claim: "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence -- it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master."

Government is no means of fulfillment. It is no expression of becoming. It is a dangerous power, often even brutal. We must coolly account for every action. We must girdle it with icy blue.

Adam Smith said that the rules of justice are like the rules of grammar. They tell us don'ts. Don't steal, and don't write, "I loves you." The rules of justice and of grammar are blue; enforcing them is a dull business of sifting through tangible materials, to be carried out dispassionately. Smith said we may normally satisfy the rules of justice by sitting still and doing nothing, just as we satisfy the rules of grammar by writing nothing. Smith distinguished the rules of grammar from the rules for truly beautiful writing. Those rules are ill-defined and deal with intangibles. And you can't satisfy them by writing nothing. They are akin to the Left's notion of "social justice," a sublime realization of collective beauty. Because "social justice" doesn't work as a system of justice, David Hume called it "the vulgar definition of justice."

George Washington's icy blue girdle was finally torn asunder by Franklin Roosevelt. Social Security was and remains popular because, in Social Security, all take care of all. Social Security collectivizes the story of our well-being. Social Security succeeds politically because it represents The People's Romance, not because it provides tangible services that weren't and wouldn't be better provided by voluntary society.

Leftists always fail to see the coercive nature of the policies they advocate. The fantasy of a shared encompassing sentiment allows the Left to think of government as consensual. In a shared progressive experience, there is a sense of agreement. The Left portrays Social Security as a social contract, rather than what it really is, namely, a particular combination of tax and spend.

Now the media are stuck in the wrong color scheme. But, make no mistake, in the larger scheme of things the Democrats are red. They are still mired in The People's Romance, even though that is met with increasing skepticism. Increasingly, people think like George Washington: Icy blue in their attitude toward government, and red only in Valentine's Day and other private affairs.

Daniel B. Klein is associate professor of economics at Santa Clara University, and associate fellow of the Ratio Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. His email address is dklein@scu.edu.

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