Judith Thurman has a weird piece in The New Yorker that with the most tenuous of connection continues the game of (unfairly, to the libertarians….) linking Paul Ryan with them. She talks about him and Ayn Rand, then mentions Rose Wilder Lane, who helped ghostwrite her mother Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series, and then she's off to the races on one of her hobbyhorses, Miss Lane, a Founding Mother of modern American libertarianism with her 1943 classic The Discovery of Freedom: Man's Struggle Against Authority.
Thurman manages to make Lane's political ideas all just seem weird and peculiar, connecting through her limited choice of details Lane's belief in individual rights, limited government, and the fecund powers of liberated human energy as arising from her "tragic" life, with "suicidal depressions" and a baby dead in infancy, her "left wing idealism" eventually dying, inclined to want to murder presidents. And:
Old friends were dismayed by her increasingly erratic militance. One of them described her as "floating between sanity and a bedlam of hates."
Thurman's just reporting the facts, man. (Sort of; see a big fact error, even beyond these tasteless character assassinations, below.) For a truer sense of the thinking and mentality and character and often very bright and cheerful personality of this woman who Thurman paints as merely depressed and hateful (why else be a libertarian?), I suggest reading her collection of letters exchanged with industrialist Jasper Crane, The Lady and the Tycoon.
Thurman engages in typical misrepresentation of Rand, I have to assume deliberately, with this nasty aside:
Lane and Rand exchanged collegial letters for a while in the late nineteen-forties and early nineteen-fifties. But when Lane invoked the Biblical imperative to "love thy neighbor as thyself," and protested that "without some form of mutual coöperation, it is literally impossible for one person on this planet to survive," Rand "tore apart [her] logic" and denounced it as collectivist heresy. That sort of impulse, she concluded (to help your neighbor save his burning house, for example) led inexorably "to the New Deal."
That sounded insane to me, the "to help your neighbor save his burning house" part, so I checked the letter Thurman must have been referring to, reprinted on page 345 of The Letters of Ayn Rand, in which Rand says to Lane: "Take your own example–about rushing to put out the fire in a neighbor's house. You may (and would) certainly do that–if your own house is not on fire at the same time."
Reads a little differently than the implication of Thurman's parenthetical, doesn't it?
As Thurman ends:
as Lane suggested rather plaintively in her argument with Rand, the pioneers would have perished (in greater numbers than they did) had they embraced the philosophy of every man for himself.
Of course, Lane and Rand's philosophy was not at all of "every man for himself" but of every man in social cooperation that does not depend on one man using violence and force to get what he wants from the other.
But that doesn't sound bad enough to make the reader walk away thinking he hates Paul Ryan (and libertarians) just a little bit more than when he started, so it wouldn't be appropriate for Thurman's purposes.
Judith Thurman in the current New Yorker, in an article largely (and curiously) hooked off a now-16-year-old book, The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane, by William Holtz, uncovers what seemed (to anyone unfamiliar with modern libertarianism's history) like a fascinating and somewhat dark secret: that the hugely popular and influential Little House books were highly influenced, edited, maybe even "ghostwritten" to a significant extent, by Laura Ingalls Wilder's radical libertarian daughter and fellow novelist, Rose Wilder Lane….Rose Wilder Lane could certainly have set Ms. Thurman straight on her absurd assertion that the current crisis is one of laissez-faire capitalism.
The famously fact-checked magazine also mistakenly claims that Roger MacBride, Lane's heir (though no blood relation), was the Libertarian Party's first presidential candidate in 1976; not so, he was their second. The first one was John Hospers, in 1972.
What MacBride did do in 1972 for the LP, which would have been an interesting story for the New Yorker reader, was cast in his role as Virginia elector the first electoral vote in American history for a woman, the LP's female VP pick Theodora (Tonie) Nathan.
I wrote in Reason back in 2005 about the third woman in the trinity of great libertarian heroines who arose in 1943, Isabel Paterson; the article has bits on Lane as well. Here's me on the similarities between the two and their 1943 political treatises (Paterson's was God of the Machine):
Lane and Paterson not only wrote very similar books; they had very similar lives. Both began as American frontier girls; both had troubled relations with their parents. Both married young and quickly lost track of their husbands; both were popular novelists turned political philosophers; both grew into eccentric rural dotages, refusing Social Security and communicating with only a small, select circle of ideologically congenial confreres.
Lane and Paterson both seemed glad enough to see their husbands disapper….. Lane had many intimate friendships, involving long-term travel and living arrangements, with other women; Paterson remained a proud exemplar of the Virginia Wolff dream of a woman with a Room of Her Own–in Paterson's case, one she built herself, both literally and figuratively.
Although libertarianism as a modern American ideology and movement was born largely from the work of Paterson, Lane, and Rand, women have tended not to play a large role in continuing the tradition….Why haven't women figured more prominently in the libertarian movement during the past few decades? All three of these women would reject the question's premise. They came to their conclusions and their careers as unique individuals, not as women, they would insist. They were individual–and individualist–phenomena, not examples of a type. These were not conventional women. None was concerned with specifically "feminine" issues, which helps explain why Paterson, Lane, and Rand have not attracted much attention from contemporary feminist scholars.
Lane's story is told at length in my 2007 book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.