Today, December 5, marks the birthday of Rose Wilder Lane (Daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder) born 1886 and died 1968. She was one of the last century’s most ardent defenders of American freedoms. In books such as The Discovery of Freedom (one of the top 100 non-fiction books of the 20th century in a readers’ poll) and Give Me Liberty, which laid out her conversion from socialism based on her experience in such a regime, she asserted the supreme importance of individual liberty.
To commemorate what Lane stood for, consider some of her insights from Give Me Liberty:“Like all Americans, I took for granted the individual liberty to which I had been born…it seemed the natural element in which human beings lived.”
“…in Russia, an essentially medieval, planned and controlled economic order was taking over the fruits of the industrial revolution while destroying its root, the freedom of the individual.”
“I came out of the Soviet Union no longer a communist, because I believed in personal freedom.”
“I saw how rare, how new in history, is a recognition of human rights…It has been a political principle to only a few men on earth, for little more than two centuries.”
“I understood at last that every human being is free; that I am endowed by the Creator with the inalienable liberty as I am endowed with life; that my freedom is inseparable from my life, since freedom is the individual’s self-controlling nature. My freedom is my control of my own life energy, for the uses of which I, alone, am therefore responsible.”
“I hold the truth to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable liberty, with individual self-control and responsibility…The extent to which this natural liberty can be exercised depends upon the amount of external coercion imposed upon the individual.”
“Americans have had more freedom of thought, of choice, and of movement than other peoples have ever had…”
“The test of the worth of personal freedom, then, can only be its practical results in a country whose institutions and ways of life and of thought have grown from individualism. The only such country is the United States. Here on a new continent, peoples with no common tradition founded this republic on the rights of the individual. This country was the only country…dominated by…individual liberty…as a political principle.”
“Individual liberty is individual responsibility. Whoever makes decisions is responsible for results… Free men paid for their freedom by leaving…false and illusory security. The question is whether personal freedom is worth the terrible effort, the never-lifted burden, the unavoidable risks, of self reliance.”
“…individual freedom of choice and of action cannot long exist except among multitudes of individuals who choose it and are willing to pay for it. Multitudes of human beings will not do this unless their freedom is worth more than it costs, not only in value to their own souls but also in terms of the general welfare and the future of their country, which means the welfare and the future of their children.
In The Discovery of Freedom, Lane drew out how freedom relates to its corollary–responsibility:
“Anyone who says that economic security is a human right has been too much babied. While he babbles, other men are risking and losing their lives to protect him. They are fighting the land, fighting diseases and insects and weather and space and time, for him, while he chatters that all men have a right to security and that some pagan God–Society, The State, The Government, The Commune–must give it to them. Let the fighting men stop fighting this inhuman earth for one hour, and he will learn how much security there is.”
Rose Wilder Lane’s insightful works have brought many to see the paramount importance of freedom (or more often, the tragedy of its absence) in human lives. That is a lesson which needs to be re-learned by every generation–ours, in particular, due to the ongoing erosion of freedom that we face. And no one said it better than she did, in her own autobiographical sketch:
“I am now a fundamentalist American; give me time and I will tell you why individualism, laissez-faire and the slightly restrained anarchy of capitalism offer the best opportunities for the development of the human spirit. Also I will tell you why the relative freedom of human spirit is better–and more productive, even in material ways — than…any other rigidity organized for material ends.”