Rose Wilder Lane: Pioneer of Educational Freedom

My eight-year-old daughter Abby recently started reading Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was prompted, in part, by watching the Little House on the Prairie television episodes with her great-aunt. Coincidentally, I have been reading more lately about some of the key women in history who promoted the ideals of individual freedom, limited government, non-coercion, and voluntary cooperation through trade. Rose Wilder Lane is one of these women. She was born on this day in 1886.

Liberty Should Always Trump Coercion

The daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Almanzo Wilder, baby Rose is the child many of us remember from the ninth Little House book, The First Four Years. Perhaps those years of growing up on the prairie instilled in Lane a sense of rugged individualism and self-reliance that ultimately found their way into her writings throughout the 20th century. By the late 1920s, she was said to be one of the highest-paid women writers in the US. She became an outspoken critic of Roosevelt’s New Deal, Social Security, and other government programs she felt disempowered individuals and gave greater authority to the state.

In her 1943 book The Discovery of Freedom, Lane makes a compelling case for individual freedom and limited government power. She traces the roots of compulsion in many areas of life, including education, and explains why liberty should always trump coercion. She writes:

American schooling is now compulsory, enforced by the police and controlled by the State (that is, by the politicians in office) and paid for by compulsory taxes. 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. (pp. 259-60).

Lane goes on to say that this type of American education, imported from Prussia by 19th-century education reformers, “is ideal for the German state, whose subjects are not expected ever to know freedom,” but it is “not the best preparation for inheriting the leadership of the World Revolution for freedom” (p. 260). She laments the “substitution of compulsory State education for the former American free education,” saying that formerly “American children went to school because they wanted to go, or because their parents sent them,” not because it was mandated of parents under a legal threat of force (p. 258).

As Abby digs into the Little House series (which Lane was instrumental in helping to create to catalog the experiences of her parents), I learn alongside my daughter, fascinated by the life and works of baby Rose, who would grow up to become a pioneer of liberty.

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Voltairine de Cleyre

Nobody asked but …

I have rediscovered Voltairine de Cleyre recently, or maybe I should just say “discovered.”  I had previously known her only from quotes and pocket-sized bios.  Listening to an audiobook of essays, however, I am learning of the artfulness that keeps her famous more than a century after her death in 1912.  I recommend a closer acquaintance, a focused attention, on her ideas — passages short and long, extracts and whole.

Pardon me for posting a quote, but I know of no other way to entice you to a closer look.

Anarchism, to me, means not only the denial of authority, not only a new economy, but a revision of the principles of morality. It means the development of the individual as well as the assertion of the individual. It means self-responsibility, and not leader worship.

This is a life-affirming definition of anarchy in just a few words, including the rejection of authoritarianism, the reliance on the natural effects of the marketplace, the calling for humanitarian principles such as the NAP, the encouragement of individualism, and the acceptance of responsibility.

— Kilgore Forelle

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The Art and Science of Physical Removal

Part 1: Removing Yourself

I have long been of the opinion, as a Voluntaryist, that there are only two legitimate ways of voting: With your money, in terms what products and services you choose to buy (outside of taxation, of course, where you are effectively given no choice), and with your feet – choosing where you prefer to live, all things and circumstances taken into consideration. It follows, then, that most libertarians of whatever stripe gravitate towards locales where, at least, the politics and general presence of government are not as aggressively antithetical to the basic enjoyment of life as others. For example, at present, I am seriously considering getting out of Vermont sometime during the next few years, and taking up residence in Wyoming – where taxes are both less numerous and lower, the cancerous hysteria of gun control has not yet taken root, and where there is still a rural, low-population environment (not to mention one almost certain to contain a higher percentage of like-minded people). In short, all the things Vermont had once upon a time, and no longer does.

There is certainly nothing wrong or immoral about wishing to improve one’s circumstances by choosing to go and live somewhere else – so long as one has every intention of paying one’s own way rather than leeching from whatever Welfare State may exist in one’s new chosen location. There is nothing wrong with wanting to cohabitate amongst one’s own “tribe,” as it were. Having libertarians (and even a couple of conservatives here and there…maybe) as neighbors is always preferable – to me, at least – than being surrounded by roughly 70% Democratic “progressive” lefties who are almost sexually enthralled by Marxism of every conceivable variant. Surely, the former promises a better life. So, I’ll be investigating that – thoroughly and in full – over the next couple of years. You’ll likely hear from me more on that as things unfold. Stay tuned.

Part 2: Removing Others

So now suppose I’m living my new life happily in the Big Sky Country of Wyoming, enjoying that big boost in freedom that was rapidly dying back over my shoulder there in Vermont…and before too long, the same kind of leftist disease begins to take hold within Wyoming’s Forever West political system.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe has this rather blunt commentary to make about just such a situation: “There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”

Now this is not to say, first off, that Wyoming is a strictly “libertarian social order” to begin with. More accurately, it might be characterized as predominantly conservative Republican in flavor – with some inevitable libertarian blandishments as a consequence. That stated, conservative and libertarian camps both, I would think, have a mutual vested interest in seeing that leftist ideology does not gain serious ground or take root in the Wyoming landscape. Such concern can be quite correctly characterized as nothing more nor less than self-defensive in nature: People who are paying few and low taxes, enjoying virtually unrestrained gun rights, and relishing most or all of the trappings of rural rugged individualism do not want these conditions to be reversed or undone – most especially not at the hands of some Marxist-inspired brigade of self-styled do-gooders who believe with almost religious fervor that they’ve come to the unwashed lands to teach the heathens how to live a better, more civilized life under full-on socialism.

So for the conservatives, the solution to this equation is very easy: Out come the pitchforks, and away we go. For the libertarian camp though, there’s a bit of a problem.

Unlike all forms of statism, libertarian ethics demand tolerance. Unlike libertarianism, however, statism requires force. I think you can see the quandary this seems to present.

And I’ll repeat a line from above: Such concern can be quite correctly characterized as nothing more nor less than self-defensive in nature.

Ever since my awakening as a libertarian some 25 years ago now, I have spoken with probably a couple of thousand leftists – from garden-variety Democrats, to hardcore Marxists. Out of all of them, I have come across maybe two who I sincerely believed when they told me that they did not wish their views or economic system to be imposed on others by force. One of them even used the term “libertarian socialist” – which made me laugh derisively at the time. But I’m older now, and no longer laughing. I think that’s a valid term to describe such a philosophical position. I also think, through experience, that scarcely one in a thousand leftists possess a viewpoint of such benign integrity. The overwhelming majority of them are more than willing to use whatever level of violence and brute force they feel is necessary to bend you to their will – to force you to be subjugated to their ideas whether you agree with them or not.

And I will say unequivocally that these are the leftist elements about whom Hoppe is spot-on correct. Those who would agitate and proselytize for the dismantling of a libertarian socio-economic environment – which, no doubt, would have likely taken tremendous efforts and sacrifice in order to build in the first place – in favor of mandatory economic regulations, taxation, gun control, redistribution of wealth, etc. – such individuals must indeed be “physically separated and removed” from the midst of a region or territory which has managed to construct a libertarian society.

As would, for that matter, anyone from any ideology that sought to reinstitute involuntary political governance in any form.

Legitimate self-defense, after all, should never require apologism.

That said, it is the even smallest potential for “libertarian socialism” that causes me to distance myself somewhat from Hoppe. That one-in-a-thousand leftie who just wants to live peacefully in a commune with his or her buddies down the road – so long as their chosen lifestyle and preferred economic models are kept among themselves and other willing participants who are free to leave at any time – is not and should not be considered a problem. So long as, being the phrase of paramount import here. Hoppe’s absolutism lends itself too readily to a total witch-hunt mentality otherwise. Thus, allow me to offer a revision of his above maxim, more in line with purist libertarian sentiment:

“There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists who agitate for political and economic control over others in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.”

Liberty, sovereignty, and autonomy are key elements of my own personal vision. Not living as a slave to a bunch of parasitic politicians and soul-sick bureaucrats, as the Left would have us do – all the better to control, manipulate, and dominate us to death. It is a vision worth both projecting and fighting for, I think, especially in the face of a world bent on ever-increasing authoritarianism and control.

I’m thinking I may be able to do that more effectively by physically removing myself to a different geographical locale, surrounded by a different culture. We’ll see. Life is strange, and can take many unexpected twists and turns.

Should I get there, however, when I do, I’ll then be prepared to defend my place, person, and property in it. Not with indiscriminate prejudice against others whose philosophies I find abhorrent, but with a more finely targeted and focused sense of just what is absolutely necessary in order to do so.

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The Idyllic Present

Things that seem idyllic to us from the 1950’s were probably commonplace or even annoying to people then.

The alley full of kids playing kick the can was a dirty mosquito trap. The sandlot was an eyesore. The drug store was just a store. But to us, these are idyllic representations of things we long for.

What normal or annoying things today will seem idyllic in the future?

I started wondering this while sitting on a bench in front of Wal-Mart with my son. We were waiting for my wife and looking at a small fenced enclosure between us and the vast, nicely landscaped parking lot. The enclosure had large trees full of chirping birds. SUVs meandered in and out as we watched the birds and people coming and going from the parking lot.

Retail parking lots seem unsightly and annoying to most people. But as I sat I realized it was all quite pleasant. It reminded of some of the greatest attributes and ideals of our culture. Peaceful commerce. Exchange. Strangers greeting each other. Efforts to make parking both convenient and nice looking. Order, community, spontaneity, and individualism all at once. Convenience and attention to detail.

The suburban shopping scene is taken for granted or looked down on today. Someday, someone will see it in a movie and long to experience such an idyllic setting. They won’t be wrong.

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Randolph Bourne

Nobody asked but …

This morning I listened to Jeff Riggenbach’s podcast, The Libertarian Tradition.  In particular, I heard the episode covering Randolph Bourne’s life and his contribution to the cause of individualism.  The text of Riggenbach‘s presentation is also found at the Randolph Bourne Institute’s web pages.  I realized, too late, that I had failed to mark the 100th year since Bourne’s untimely* death in December 1918.

Bourne packed a lot of ideas into his short life, and did much writing for someone who was repeatedly canned for being so forthright with his ideas.  Today, his legacy includes the Randolph Bourne Institute and its instrument, Antiwar.com.  Furthermore, Bourne is famous for the very durable quote, “War is the health of the State.”  I urge you to read Wendy McElroy’s exploration of this phrase.

But we would be remiss in ignoring others of Bourne’s observations.  To wit:

The American intellectuals, in their preoccupation with reality, seem to have forgotten that the real enemy is War rather than imperial Germany. There is work to be done to prevent this war of ours from passing into popular mythology as a holy crusade.

The ironist is ironical not because he does not care, but because he cares too much.

Really to believe in human nature while striving to know the thousand forces that warp it from its ideal development-to call for and expect much from men and women, and not to be disappointed and embittered if they fall short- to try to do good with people rather than to them- this is my religion on its human side.

For we do not do what we want to do, but what is easiest and most natural for us to do, and if it is easy for us to do the wrong thing, it is that that we will do.

In America our radicalism is still simply amateurish and incompetent.

In your reaction to an imagined attack on your country or an insult to its government, you draw closer to the herd for protection, you conform in word and deed, and you insist vehemently that everybody else shall think, speak, and act together. And you fix your adoring gaze upon the State, with a truly filial look, as upon the Father of the flock.

The State is not the nation, and the State can be modified and even abolished in its present form, without harming the nation. On the contrary, with the passing of the dominance of the State, the genuine life-enhancing forces of the nation will be liberated.

We can easily become as much slaves to precaution as we can to fear.

With the shock of war the state comes into its own again.

I had nearly let Randolph Bourne slip into obscurity.  I now make it one of my life’s purposes to keep that from happening.  I heartily commend Bourne to your attention in that spirit.

— Kilgore Forelle

* Bourne was only 32 when he died in 1918’s flu epidemic.

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Identity and Social Constructs

Younger than 10 years old, people generally don’t consider most realms of identity. Some issues regarding sex are considered since children tend to naturally gravitate towards similar interests and sex often weighs heavily on childhood interests.

Once we hit puberty, we become a new type of social creature. We try to discover where we belong, who we are, where/who is our tribe, what ought we desire in life, how will we get what we desire in life, etc. To this ends we experiment, explore and try to carve out a niche for ourselves in the world. For some people this seems relatively simple, while for others it seems such a monumental struggle that can end with suicide.

Often a girl will try out being sexy, cute, quirky, tomboy, and a myriad of other attributes to find out what can stick and work productively at getting attention and finding a sense of belonging. However, that is just one small aspect. The same girl will explore the role she plays to her peers, her family, and every other realm of life. Is she an intellectual? Is she a jock? Is she an artist? Is she sweet? Is she a rebel? All questions and attributes the person is seeking out.

While this search is natural and necessary, it is also total bullshit.

This pubescent (and post-pubescent) search for identity is a negotiation of individual desires with artificial social constructs. The individual must live in society and they need an avenue to build their lives. This means they must negotiate with these social constructs to fulfill their desires. To fully live outside of these constructs is to live outside of society. We must all learn to navigate these waters.

One of the worst things about our journey in this realm is that we are often force into atmosphere with rigid hierarchies, forced association and general inflexibility. This makes it so pressure is high and the consequences seem dire. This makes identity seem so incredibly important, rigid and dire … when it doesn’t have to be.

All identities are bullshit. They are artificial constructs that we are using. Ideally we can use them productively, and ideally they can be flexible, forgiving, and voluntary. As we age and exit forced atmospheres usually the social pressures lift and our identities become less important. We choose our associations and our identities become flexible and much less meaningful. Hopefully, we start seeing identity merely as an artificially means of accomplishing our desires rather than an actual thing we must conform ourselves to. Of course, it doesn’t happen this way for everyone.

I often tell people I happen to be male, but I don’t feel like a man. When I say this I always get a huge look of surprise as they almost anticipate me revealing the new identity I’ve been hiding this whole time. I let them down when I tell them that “man” isn’t a feeling. No matter what I feel I will be a biological male. No matter what I feel, the social construct of “man” will be artificial and bullshit.

I’m not trying to proclaim the end of identity. I’m trying to point out the artificial nature of identity. I advocate a world of voluntary association, role flexibility and individualism where we use identity merely as a flexible description rather than a pigeon hole. I don’t feel like a man because I would have to concretize what a man feels like and I have no desire to pigeon hole myself or anyone else. Biological male means something. The identity of man means nothing.

I pity most people who get lost in identity. These are people pigeonholing themselves. These are people who can’t accept themselves. These are people who can’t negotiate who they are and how they feel with society and so they abandon themselves and opt to become an artificial construct.

At points in our lives we all have felt lost without identity. However, when we have been content with our social lives and liked ourselves most of us have been able to look at identity as a meaningless construct. Identity is only meaningful for someone who is lost. It is a false map that leads you to the wrong destination.

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