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Review of The Discovery of Freedom Man’s Struggle Against Authority

Posted by heyrandy on March 26, 2008

The Discovery of Freedom Man’s Struggle Against Authority by Rose Wilder Lane, John Day Company, New York, 1943. 262 pages, no index

In this book Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House on the Prairie fame, writes of man’s age long struggle to do as he will. What gets in the way, Mrs. Lane says, is Authority. It doesn’t matter whether the authority is the State, the Church, or one’s customs and beliefs. One of these is just as inhibiting to freedom as the other.

From this one can deduce that Mrs. Lane is an anarchist, although she never says so. She is advocating an anarchist agenda, based upon her reading of history. She claims that when ever men have been able to remove the restrictions placed upon them by Authority, humans have advanced in knowledge and prosperity.

To support this thesis she divides history into three periods in which men were free: Abraham through the nation of ancient Israel, the Islamic golden age, and the American era. She divides the world into two part: the Old World and the Revolution. It has been the characteristic of the Old World to resist the freedom of man. The Old World is Authority, a pagan belief that all men cannot be free, only the rulers.

The Revolution, however, is the struggle, sometimes armed, of free men against the Old World Authority. The struggle is one of religion–one’s beliefs are what is driving some to seek freedom and others to seek Authority.

This conflict is what the author thinks is behind the centuries long persecution of Jews. It was the Jews that first said that men are free. This brought them into conflict with Authority and eventually lead to the destruction of the Jewish nation of Israel and the pogroms of more modern times.

Lane next looks at the Golden Age of Islam. Here we see, she says, what happens when men are left to themselves: advance learning, prosperity, discovery and preservation of knowledge, and a culture that attracts people from everywhere. This age ended when the Ottomans gained Authority over much of the Islamic world. But it was not just the Ottomans that threatened the freedom of the Muslims. The Crusades are to be viewed, in part, as a reaction of European Authority (what are the Popes if not an Authority?) to the Freedom across the Mediterranean.

The last division is the American Era. Here Authority is defeated by armed force. Here freedom is still in place (not so much as when she wrote), but the threats to it are real and omnipresent. These threat are even inherent within the republic. The tyranny of the majority is one; the tyranny of the well connected minority is another. The American experiment is not yet finished, so the analysis is yet to be performed.

Lane’s casting the struggle as one of a religious nature is the strength of her book. In this secular age we tend to forget that deeply held beliefs are a driving force of human action–we are not all just beer and sports– there are people who are dedicated to Freedom and there are perhaps even more who are dedicated to Authority. She is right to indicate that this is a long term struggle that shows no sigh of ending. It cannot end. People want to have both at the same time, an impossibility!

I think she paints a little too rosy a picture of the Muslim world. Yes, it was an advanced culture, but so was China’s, and it was never free. The political machination of the Popes and European kings did lead to the Crusades. The Pope’s granting of immediate entrance into Heaven for any Christian who died in the struggle for Palestine was a motivation. It would have been better if the Pope, claiming to have this power, granted it to everyone everywhere, but that would have undermined his Authority. I hope he granted it to himself!

It is in the American Era that Lane demonstrates her thesis with the most vigor. One has only to see the rapid progress that this country has made in the 50 years before she wrote, and the 50 years after, to realize what free men can do. The technology is impressive. This is, she points out, all because of the idea that men are naturally free. This freedom is not the gift of the government, as it is in much of Europe. No, this freedom is what man is meant to be, what man was created as.

The author does not explain why some want Authority and assail Freedom. There is no reference to the real source of human struggle: the sin of Adam. Lane got it right to call the struggle between Authority and Freedom, but she missed it when she did not tell us of their true genesis.

She does not deal with the issue of slavery, even though slavery has been an ancient practice. This is a major omission in a book surveying the struggle for freedom.

It is never a question of whether or not we will have Authority; it is a question of what Authority. Someone has to settle disputes. There has to be a basis for Law. These issues are left unanswered.


One Response to “Review of The Discovery of Freedom Man’s Struggle Against Authority”

  1. […] Here’s a review. […]

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