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Literature Library


The Discovery of Freedom

The Discovery of Freedom

With new forewords by Roger Lea MacBride and Hans F. Sennholz

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, the product of decades of experience in attempting to get readers to listen, and succeeding:

For sixty known centuries, multitudes of men have lived on this earth. Their situation has been the everlasting human situation. Their desire to live has been as strong as ours. Their energy has always been enough to make this earth at least habitable for human beings. Their intelligence has been great.

Yet for six thousand years, most men have been hungry. Famines have always killed multitudes, and still do over most of this earth. Ninety-five years ago, the Irish were starving to death; no one was surprised. Europeans had never expected to get from this earth enough food to keep them all alive.

Why did men die of hunger, for six thousand years?

Why did they walk, and carry goods and other men on their backs, for six thousand years, and suddenly, in one century, only on a sixth of this earth's surface, they make steamships, railroads, motors, airplanes, and now are flying around the earth in its utmost heights of air?

Why did families live six thousand years in floorless hovels, without windows or chimneys, then, in eighty years and only in these United States, they are taking floors, chimneys, glass windows for granted, and regarding electric lights, porcelain toilets, and window screens as minimum necessities?

Why did workers walk barefoot, in rags, with lousy hair and unwashed teeth, and workingmen wear no pants, for six thousand years, and here--in less than a century--silk stockings, lip sticks, permanent waves, sweaters, overcoats, shaving cream, safety razors. It's incredible.

For thousands of years, human beings use their energies in unsuccessful efforts to get wretched shelter and meager food. Then on one small part of the earth, a few men use their energies so effectively that three generations create a completely new world.

What explains this?

This is a thrilling and even dangerous book--dangerous to anyone who aspires to rule over others. They had and have a fierce opponent in this marvelous journalist of liberty. The book is featured on Mises.org as a literary application of the Misesian idea--not a piece of theory but a book animated by high ideals and packed with high energy.

This book contains some of the most thrilling history and rhetoric you will ever come across.

Publication Information John Day Company, New York, 1943
Updated 5/14/2010