Libertarian History/Philosophy

It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand Isabel Paterson

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Writing in The American  Conservative, Stephen Cox praises Isabel Paterson, one the three women largely responsible for what we call libertarian thought, and the lady whom literary critic Edmund Wilson once derided as "the last surviving person to believe in [the] quaint old notions on which the republic was founded."

Paterson's Golden Vanity, one of the few good novels about the Depression, focuses on reputed experts' outrageous failures of foresight. Its climactic scene is a confrontation between an investor and the financier she entrusted with her money-a man who worked, with the government's assistance, to create a baffling maze of bad investments. When she hears him admit, "We could not foresee…," she has finally had enough. "Why couldn't you foresee?" she demands. "If you can't foresee, what are you paid for?" She is wrathful, and there is dignity in her wrath.

The fundamental problem, Paterson proposed, is confusion of the economy with politics. In 1932, when Hoover was still in office, she said that "our 'best minds' … have already got the political machinery dangerously entangled with the economic system, disrupting both; and they are now demanding that the government should save them from what they've done to it." As others stood for separation of church and state, Paterson stood for separation of politics and business. She wanted no new government programs to save an economy that government programs had already disrupted. Readers wrote to her, asking her to identify her own plan for the government to solve the nation's problems. She replied, "What these correspondents really demand is dope. If we don't believe in their dope, what dope can we suggest in place of it? None whatever. We do not even know a remedy for gullibility."

More here.

Brian Doherty wrote about Cox's 2005 bio of Paterson, "Our Forgotten Goddess," here.

Hat Tip: Alan Vanneman

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  1. The God of the Machine is epically awesome.

  2. The children who have eaten their cake, are the natural enemies of the children who have theirs.

  3. I’m not familiar with the Edmund Wilson quote, but are you sure he intended to “deride” her with it? He showed signs of being a proto-libertarian. See, e.g., his chapter on Alexander Stephens in Patriotic Gore.

  4. The fact that Paterson is so often forgotten by modern libs is shameful.

  5. In 1932, when Hoover was still in office, she said that “our ‘best minds’ … have already got the political machinery dangerously entangled with the economic system, disrupting both; and they are now demanding that the government should save them from what they’ve done to it.”

    No parallels there.

    Nope.

    No sir-ee.

    Not a one.

    I don’t see a single thing that looks like today.

    Nothing.

    Except, of course, that our ubermensch, led by our leading Lord and Savior ™ leader, will thrust us into a Bright Future. We shall sing Union chorals in front of His facsimile likeness in the local Federal Lounge until the end of days.

  6. I’m with JP. I think that Wilson quote is a compliment, not an insult.

  7. We do not even know a remedy for gullibility.

    Sweeeeeet!

  8. Speaking of Rand, nobody saw the parody of “The Fountainhead” on “The Simpsons” last night? (“The story of Maggie Roarke.” Its on Hulu, starts at the 17 minute mark.)

    Lisa: Mom, isn’t that book the Bible for right-wing losers?

    Mrs. Skinner: Yeah, but the guy on the book jacket is one sexy slice of beefcake!

    For a website called Reason….

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