Libertarian Genesis: How a Little House on the Prairie Inspired the Libertarian Party

This is not technically an article about speculative fiction. The marriage of science fiction and libertarian thought can not be dismissed however, and this marriage has given us some of the greatest works of science fiction of the twentieth century. I have discussed in earlier articles the idea that all modern American science fiction is a direct descendant of our common frontier heritage. The same can be said for libertarianism. It found its first expression in the pioneer spirit and that spirit rekindled it into an actual political movement in the late twentieth century. Where did this movement come from and who was the driving force behind it?

According to the Libertarian party website the history of the party starts in 1971. While that may be the official date of the start of the party it is far from the beginning of the story. To find that beginning we need to look much further back to 1886 and a little house in the Dakota territory.  Here Rose Wilder (later Rose Wilder Lane) was born the only child of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Most Americans know the story of Laura Ingalls and her frontier experiences. Her story is probably one of the most important series of American children’s novels. While most people know of Laura few know what happened to her Daughter Rose.

Rose became a writer and journalist. She helped her mother develop her stories into workable form and she is also probably responsible for ghost writing the first few books in the series. These stories based on her mother’s experience have been popular since they were first published in 1932. Growing up in poor and seeing the deprivation that often accompanied frontier living and work conditions Rose Wilder Lane became if not a communist… a fellow traveler. In her own words

“Politically, I cast my first vote — on a sample ballot — for Cleveland, at the age of three. I was an ardent if uncomprehending Populist; I saw America ruined forever when the soulless corporations in 1896, defeated Bryan and Free Silver. I was a Christian Socialist with Debs, and distributed untold numbers of the Appeal to Reason. From 1914 to 1920 — when I first went to Europe — I was a pacifist; innocently, if criminally, I thought warstupid, cruel, wasteful and unnecessary. I voted for Wilson because he kept us out of it.

In 1917 I became convinced, though not practicing communist. In Russia, for some reason, I wasn’t and I said so, but my understanding of [Bolsdevism?] made everything pleasant when the Cheka arrested me a few times.

I am now a fundementalist American; give me time and I will tell you why individualism, laissez faire and the slightly restrained anarchy of capitalism offer the best opportunities for the development of the human spirit. Also I will tell you why the relative freedom of human spirit is better — and more productive, even in material ways — than the communist, Fascist, or any other rigidity organized for material ends” (Lane, WPA Life History Collection)

As a journalist she traveled to Russia in 1917 to see the glorious revolution first hand and intended to bring back news of the worker’s paradise to America. What she found there changed her life forever. She had seen for herself the depravity of communist Russia and it struck her to the core. This was not what she thought it would be and her beliefs were shattered. Out of these fragments she began to construct a new philosophy based on individualism that she coined “The Libertarian Movement”.

Lane wanted this new movement to be based on the values and beliefs of the frontier. A movement for rugged individuals who defied the world and could make it without government intervention or interference. A movement that would focus on making oneself the best that they could be. She fully developed these libertarian ideas while working for the largest African American newspaper of the day “The Pittsburgh Courier”. During her time working for the paper she strove to inject her libertarian philosophy into  her writing. Emphasizing to African American entrepreneurs that they did not need government interference to give them equality, but that they could grasp the reigns of the economy and make themselves more than equal through hard work.

Rose Wilder Lane continued throughout her life to push her ideas of self determination and free market capitalism as the answer to the ills of society. Writing several books on the subject and becoming the little known founder of the libertarian movement. She died at the age of 81 in 1968 only one day before she was to tour Vietnam as a journalist. Three years later her vision would be realized in the birth of the Libertarian party.

As Paul Harvey often says….”Now you know the rest of the story.”

Lane, Rose Wilder. “AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF ROSE WILDER LANE.” WPA Life History Collection. Web. 4 Feb. 2013

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