The People's Romance: Why People Love Government

Using Schelling's analysis of mutual coordination and focal points, I interpret Smithian sympathy as sentiment coordination. When the yearning for sentiment coordination seeks, further, for it to encompass the whole social group and looks naturally to government for the focal points, we have The People's Romance. This yearning for encompassing sentiment coordination asserts itself by denying individual self-ownership. Government activism and coercion become romantic ends in themselves. The People's Romance is evident in the writings of communists, social democrats, and others who champion the achieving of a "common understanding," "common endeavor," or "shared experience." The People's Romance helps to explain a wide variety of political and cultural puzzles. By and large, this collectivist yearning is deeply misguided, mainly because people neglect or underestimate its costs and damages. I explore whether The People's Romance can be compatible with libertarian goals and values, and conclude in the negative.

Daniel B. Klein
Published in: Independent Review
2005