Libertarians don’t really have their own holiday. Communists have May Day. The woke have MLK’s birthday. Nationalists have July 4th or their local equivalent. But libertarians have nothing.

I propose Valentine’s Day. The way people think about love is the last relic of the way that libertarians think about everything.

Love operates on the non-aggression principle. To a first approximation, the only rule is that you may not seize it by force. Otherwise, anything goes.

(except prostitution - the significance of which could be an entire post of its own)

Love is unfair. Some people go on dozens of dates with supermodels, then have happy marriages with their perfect partner. Other people die alone, through no fault of their own. They were born ugly, or with fewer social skills, or with less money, or disconnected from the social networks that would allow them to meet good partners. Usually when something is this unfair, we demand it be made fairer, maybe through redistribution. In love, nobody demands this - except incels, who are universally loathed for it.

Love is unsafe. A mistake in love will ruin your life. Usually when something is this dangerous, we regulate it. Here are some common-sense regulations on love that could be part of your chosen party’s platform at the next election:

  • Nobody is allowed to date without a license. These work like drivers’ licenses; you have to take a short class, and pass a short test demonstrating that you understand consent and basic relationship skills.

  • Dating licenses can be revoked for sufficiently serious crimes - eg cheating, domestic abuse, or persistent alcoholism/drug use.

  • Three month waiting period for marriage.

  • Centralized government database of who is in a relationship with whom at any given time. You can check the database to make sure your partner isn’t leading a double life.

  • After three messy breakups, you have to take a remedial relationship skills class before you can date again.

  • You can’t use race as a criterion for choosing partners. If someone thinks you rejected them because of their race, they can sue for unlawful discrimination.

Am I joking? The last one yes, but I don’t know about the others. Probably some of these policies would make the world a better place overall, at least as a first-order effect. So why am I against them? Why is everyone against them? I can make up good reasons, but they’re not my real objection. It’s more of a gut feeling of “if we did this, we would be pathetic and less than fully human”. This is how people used to think about everything else1. For some reason nobody except libertarians has this gut feeling about anything else anymore, so we go and do the things that superficially look like they’ll make things fairer and better and safer. But for some reason, everyone still has the gut feeling about love2.

The most fragile thing in the world is a social consensus in favor of freedom. Thirty years ago, it sounded horrifying and dystopian to think that the government could monitor everyone’s phone calls and read their emails. Now the government does this all the time, and if you don’t like it you’re soft on terror, or far-right extremism, or whatever it’s bad to be soft on this year. The basic libertarian experience is to go to sleep confident that some freedom is rock-hard and universally-agreed upon, only to wake up the next morning and find that every newspaper in the country has simultaneously declared it Problematic. All your friends agree it’s Problematic. If you ask them “But just yesterday, didn’t you say that if that freedom was ever taken away, life wouldn’t be worth living?”, they just sort of go glassy-eyed and say that you’re being soft on the thing it’s bad to be soft on. This process came for everything your grandparents held dear, it’s coming for everything you hold dear, and it will come for everything your children hold dear. Except, maybe, love.

In every fantasy book, there’s the Magical Hidden Valley with the Mystical Ring Of Protection that means the forces of the Dark Lord can never reach them. Even as corruption creeps over everything else, the Magical Hidden Valley stays pure and beautiful. The Chosen Hero has to convince the inhabitants of the Magical Hidden Valley to abandon their safety and join the fight to save the rest of the world. That’s love. It has some sort of Mystical Ring Of Protection against statism. That’s all I can say.

This is the point where I should say that “and therefore, it works better than other things, which means libertarianism is generally correct” I don’t know. Love is kind of a disaster. People get their hearts broken all the time, or marry obviously incompatible people, or just never find love at all. Most female murder victims are killed by their romantic partners, and even for the male victims it’s pretty high up there. I failed in love for twenty years, until I finally caught the last train out of Singlesville before the station closed for the Night Of Dating Apps Ruining Everything. I cannot claim at all, in any way, that love works “well”. If it didn’t have the Mystical Ring Of Protection, people would have paved over it and replaced it with some much more presentable institution years ago.

Maybe I’m being too pessimistic. 95% of people describe themselves as at least “satisfied” with their romantic relationship, and 60% as “extremely satisfied”. Is there any other institution that can say the same? One of the oldest libertarian arguments is that what looks good can be totally different from what actually works - a regulatory agency that allows 100 boring-but-great drugs that each save thousands of lives (but also thalidomide) gets worse PR than one that only allows 50 boring-but-great drugs (but bans thalidomide), even though the first has saved far more lives and served its constituents better. Maybe for all our fretting about love and all of its high-profile blow-ups, behind the scenes it’s mostly just sickeningly happy couples living great lives together. I’ve written many long screeds against our society’s norms around love, but my wife is objectively the best person in the world, and I can’t be fully dissatisfied with any system that allowed me to find her.

Still, the only part I’m really confident in is the “not being pathetic and less than fully human” thing. I notice that some big fraction - maybe the majority - of songs, books, movies, and other culture - is about love. Love is still an adventure. For something to be an adventure, it has to be dangerous. Brimming with the chance to fail in a terrible and final way, or to succeed beyond your wildest imagination and be happy forever. One of the most interesting books last year that wasn’t about love was Going Infinite, about FTX. This is not a coincidence. Love is like a crypto scam, tantalizing you with the promise of infinite riches before dashing you against the rocks. In the unregulated spaces, a few of the colors of primal human experience still leak in, as unfair as God, and we throw ourselves on the wheel and see where we land. Or at least we read books about the kind of people who do that.


Is this true? I tried to think of other fields of human activity that have this property. The first that came to mind were art and child-rearing. But art is distorted by government subsidies, and lots of dictatorial countries regulate what kinds of art are permissible in a way even they don’t try to regulate love. And some states and countries ban home-schooling, which effectively mandates very strong state intervention into child-rearing. Maybe in some sense these interventions are no greater in magnitude than some love-related ones (eg against prostitution). But it still seems like love is near-unique in the degree to which everyone is united against regulation.


Maybe this is an overly simple story. There were more regulations on love until very recently - bans on interracial marriage, bans on gay marriage, etc. Maybe it’s not just that love resists regulation, but that it’s becoming progressively less regulated at the same time the economy etc becomes progressively more regulated.