"The Discovery of Freedom" Rose Wilder LaneSubmitted by Ron Johnson on Sun, 11/24/2013 - 20:24
The modern libertarian/constitutional conservative movement owes its' existence to a handful of thinkers who, at the peak of the collectivist era (1930's, 1940's), kept the knowledge of individual liberty from disappearing forever. Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of the author of 'Little House on the Prairie' books, wrote a tome of immense passion and power. My copy of "The Discovery of Freedom" is only 262 pages long, yet it covers the arc of history going back thousands of years and documents the struggle to find and implement freedom in human society. My take away from the book: the struggle for freedom is never hopeless. Human beings, using their natural independence, will always be asserting themselves, and Authority can, and does, fail.
Her essential thesis is that human energy can only be exercised by individuals. Left to their own devices, they will throw that explosive energy into making a better life for themselves, and by extension for an entire society. All that governments can do is attempt to control that energy through force, which will fail because human energy will find a way to defeat it. However, humans can defeat themselves if they believe, as humans have for millennia, that people must be subject to Authority to function. In that case, people will replace one source of Authority with another but they will not find their energy...it will have been suppressed by their own minds. They will be subjects, not free people. They will flounder as a society.
Lane published "Freedom" in 1943, about the same time the "Fountainhead" was published. The ideas expressed were actually similar to those of Ayn Rand. I found myself at times wondering if Rand had read Lane while refining her own thoughts for "Atlas Shrugged." I also heard Ron Paul's words "Liberty is a new idea, Tyranny is ancient." Those are Lane's sentiments exactly.
Frankly, there is so much packing into this thin book that I find it impossible to recount it all. She lays out a panorama of subjects, including the ancient Jews, the Saracens, Communism (with which she was once enamored until she saw it in action after WWI), Fascism, steamboats, clipper ships, Feudalism, the American Revolution, Napoleon, Hitler, compulsory education, and on and on. She comments on all of it honestly and brutally, not using tired and hackneyed two-dimensional stereotypical pronouncements.
I'll give you just one example: she derides the emergence of the new American Empire (1943!!) with a quote from John Quincy Adams in which he asserts that the day will come when America will "determine whether the territories of Ceylon and Madagascar, of Corsica and Cuba, shall be governed by rules and regulations emanating from your Congress..." all because of the Louisanna Purchase! I've read a lot in my time, but I have never read those words...and a moment's thought tells me that they are indeed true. Our current situation was created when we annexed our first territory and established the principle that we are entitled to tell others how to live.
I'll give you one more of her sharply insightful paragraphs, this one concerning the introduction of compulsory education in her lifetime:
"The inevitable result is to postpone a child's growing-up. He passes from the authority of his parents to the authority of the police. He has no control of his time and no responsibility for its use until he is sixteen years old. His actual situation does not require him to develop self-reliance, self-discipline and responsibility; that is, he has no actual experience of freedom in his youth..."
She goes on to diagnose what happens to a school system when children are dragooned to school by the threat of force. Speaking of the teachers, she says:
"They do not subject American children to rigid German discipline. On the contrary, they try to make schools so enjoyable that the children will not realize that the police compel them to be there (But the children know it.) The teachers try to make learning easy, a game. But real learning is not easy; it requires self-discipline and hard work. The attempt to make learning effortless actually keeps a child from discovering the pleasure of self-discipline and of the mental effort that overcomes difficulties and does a thoroughly good job."
I hesitate to quote more of the book. Nearly every paragraph is quotable with a nugget of truth and a handy turn of phrase. She is clear-thinking and a sharp writer.
Recently I have become disheartened by the general direction of discourse in America. Even after all of the excitment of Ron Paul's candidacy for the Republican nominations, it seems that the country just continues to slide in the wrong direction regardless of his fine words, our sign waves, our participation in voting and activism. Nothing was getting better. I contemplated writing a piece for the DP about How it Will End for America, and it was going to be a downer.
But upon finishing this book, I realize that the struggle we are in is nothing new. It is an eternal fight against Authority that sometimes suceeds spectacularly. There have been times when governments WERE rolled back....1776...Britain during the mid-1800's. Freedom CAN be achieved. It can happen suddenly and unexpectedly. There is no script that dictates things must only get worse.
We have the energy. We can use it to remake the world.