- Paperback: 261 pages
- Publisher: Ludwig von Mises Institute (2007)
- Language: English
- ASIN: B000XG8TE0
- Average Customer Review: 36 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,208,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Discovery of Freedom
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What an American original was Rose Wilder Lane! What a treasure! She lived from 1886 until 1968, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and widely considered a silent collaborator on the Little House series. Regardless, she was a great intellectual, writer, and editor in her own right, and was even one of the highest paid writers in the US during her days as a journalist, war correspondent, and novelist. This is her non-fiction book (1943), one that had a huge impact on American libertarian thought in the 20th century. In fact, Robert LeFevre called it "one of the most influential books of the 20th century." When Arno Press asked Murray Rothbard to pick out a library for reprinting, he included The Discovery of Freedom in it. It's no wonder: here we have an eloquent hymn to human energy and its creative power. She sought to highlight the difference it made in America that the individual was permitted freedom from government authority. The Americans broke from the idea that dominated all over human history that they must depend on some overarching authority in government to grant them well being, and thus when good happens, we owe ever more to the powers that be. The one idea that this is not the case, that human beings have within themselves the capacity to make their own way, she wrote, created the most glorious civilization in world history. Her passion was to help others see the cause: not authority but individual initiative and action. She traced out this idea to provide sketches of history from the ancient world to the mid-20th century, believing that she had discovered the answer to what transformed the world from a dark, miserable, sickly, and dangerous place to one where humans thrive and create. She further condemned all political trends of her time from Fascism, to Communism, to the New Deal, and blasted war as the most destructive action of all. Her prose is stark and strong.
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And I really wonder how much Rothbard and Von Mises borrowed from Rose without acknowledging it; so much seems word for word from Rose. The quality of the work makes one wonder: where are the female libertarians today? The scholars and speakers and journalists? Libertarianism isn't for old white guys in America, but that is unfortunately what the Von Mises Institute has become...hopefully more will pick up this book and be inspired by her ideas, as they are for everyone.
The point I want to add is that the book suffers slightly from poor editing, but I believe I have an explanation for that.
Ms. Lane was a novelist, but also an essayist. She is sometimes listed as a "journalist" but most of her non-fiction work was "op-ed" rather than factual reporting. Reading the book I noticed that it came across as very coherent in segments, but overall it seemed somewhat disjointed with strange repetitions that come across as almost hypnotic.
Considering her background as a popular essayist or columnist, I realized that the book is not one, continuous narrative, but a collection of separate articles written by her over the years. Whoever compiled the assorted shorter works into one volume, Ms. Lane or an editor, they did not make this fact readily apparent, nor did they make sufficient effort to blend and link the sections into a more consistent narrative.
I have been avid to recommend the book to people, but the discontinuity made me hesitate because the book, as such, does seems slightly flawed. Having intuited the reason for the lack of "flow," I now whole-heartedly (but with this caveat) recommend the book to anyone with an interest in the ideology of individualism, liberty and human axiology.
Ms. Lane crafted an excellent premise that cannot be over-emphasized or repeated too often: Man succeeds when free. Using history, economics, philosophy, religion, psychology, and sociology, Ms. Lane coherently explains recorded human history and gives it a logical framework for understanding. The stories read like a novel, rather than a textbook. Her prose is succinct, precise and very effective. Her first chapter should be memorized and recited in grade schools throughout this land.
Buy a copy for your favorite student as a graduation present. Give one to your congressman, store clerk, or a total stranger on the bus. Leave it at the Starbuck's or the State License Bureau. This is the finest piece of non-fiction I have ever read. Do yourself a favor and read it at least once a year.