Freedom’s Furies: How Isabel Patterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand Found Freedom in the Dark AgesTimothy Sandefur, Cato Institute, 500 pages, $19.95
with Freedom’s Furies, Timothy Sandefur shows how Isabel Patterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Anne Rand defended individualism and the free market when America was in the grip of depression and war. Although these three outrages have long been identified as the founders of modern American libertarianism, Sandefur breaks new ground by exploring their relationship to each other and tracing the evolution of their thought. All three women offered their own unique defenses of individual liberty, and their differences anticipated the differences between libertarians and classical liberals today.
Sandefur, vice president for legal affairs at the Goldwater Institute, begins with the trio’s literary influence, particularly the novelist Sinclair Lewis. All three, he wrote, Lewis’s books “revealed the ways in which modern mass culture punished originality and honesty and rewarded obedience and fanaticism.” Everyone joined Lewis in rejecting conformity, but they resisted his dismissal of all bourgeois virtues—and Rand also rejected his pessimism.
The New Deal and World War II had a tremendous impact on these three thinkers. Sandefu describes the historical context well, paying particular attention to the authoritarian side of President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. In fact, professors looking for a book to assign in classes studying American history from the 1920s to the 1950s should give it serious consideration. Freedom’s Furies. It masterfully details the causes of the Great Depression, the excessive influence of the federal government during the New Deal, and wartime attacks on political, economic, and civil liberties. Sandefur notes that not only was individual liberty under attack, but “it is almost impossible to find any published material that makes a strong, intellectual case for free markets.” Anger realized they had to make their own.
And so is Patterson’s God of machines (A Philosophical Treatise), by Lane The discovery of freedom (a pop history crossed with a manifesto), and Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead (an educational novel) was published in 1943. All three authors believed that the morality of self-sacrifice should be rejected. Both Rand and Patterson argued for a form of moral egoism, and they would debate at length who influenced whom. But the two differed greatly in their styles: Rand was deeply influenced by 19th-century romanticism while Patterson was committed to naturalism. For his part, Lane argued that human power develops man and that “every man, in his nature, is free.” Humanity needed to discover this truth; Hence the title of his book.
All three authors independently developed some important insights from classical liberal academics. For example, Patterson’s critique of the New Deal included the argument that central planning was impossible because bureaucrats “would have to know all the factors present and past from which to proceed in the future, and anticipate all possible new ones. Similarly, God of machines Anticipated Karl Popper’s critique of “arrested society” which he wrote two years later. Patterson acknowledges that all utopias are “ultimate…they are static societies”; As such, he suggests, they cannot adapt, because “creative processes do not work to order.” In short, “Men must think to live, and to think they must be free.”
Lane anticipated Hayek’s critique of government planning in a short 1936 book titled give me freedom. He argued, in Sandefur’s words, that “to truly organize an economy…government bureaucrats would, in principle, need infinite knowledge.” Lane also hit upon some important insights that later became associated with the economics of public choice. The “major fallacy” of the 1930s, he writes, was the idea that bureaucrats could manage the economy better than individuals. Instead, Lane asserted that “there is no reason to think that public officials are exempt from the short-sightedness, corruption, or ignorance that plagues the decisions of private citizens.”
Sandefur details the trio’s views on religion and how it relates to their defense of freedom. Although all three believed that natural rights existed independently of government, they reached this conclusion in different ways. Both Lane and Patterson argued that the existence of a god is necessary. Rand, an atheist, disagreed; He believed that man could reason our way to the justification of natural rights.
Lane annoyed the other two women with her insistence that Christian ethics could be reconciled with a strong defense of individual liberty. His argument that humans have a moral sense leads us to care about our neighbors, upset Rand and Patterson, who held that humans should look after their own happiness and have no moral obligations to others. Patterson was offended by the vagueness of Lane’s “all men are brothers” thesis and responded, “Stalin is not my brother.” This helped end Lane and Patterson’s friendship. Lane’s religious views and Rand’s atheism alike made any deep friendship between the two women difficult, and they met only once in person. As Patterson grew up, his notorious temper and habit of hurting those close to him drove a wedge in his relationship with Rand.
While this is an exceptional book, it is not without flaws. The most striking flaw is the lack of attention to the way in which outrages applied their individualism to minorities. Sandefur noted that “on race relations, freedom of speech, and sexual autonomy, they were decades ahead of their time in adopting views later classified as ‘liberal’.” This is absolutely correct, which is why it is disappointing that the book does not delve into that point in more detail.
Sandefur mentioned, for example, that the lane was rented Pittsburgh Courier (one of the nation’s largest black newspapers) in 1942, but did not elaborate on the arguments he made in his articles there. Associate historian David T. Beito and I have compiled more than 80 of Lane’s columns into a collection that will be published in 2024. For more than two years the courier, Lane applied his ideals of individual freedom and his unique concept of human strength to black Americans and their struggles. Rachel Ferguson and I appear in our book Black liberation through the marketplaceClassical liberals and libertarians have a deep tradition of fighting for minority rights in America.
Still, the flaws are minor compared to the contributions of this book. Freedom’s Furies Offers hope to new generations of classical liberals and libertarians living under the threat of authoritarianism abroad and libertarianism at home. Compared to the hegemony at home of the 1930s and 40s and the rise of fascism and communism abroad, our own problems don’t seem so bad.
In the midst of that darkness, Sandefur writes, Patterson, Lane, and Rand argued that “the American spirit of self-reliance was at the core of everything else—political liberalism, economic growth, genius as essential to development. Edison and the Wright brothers and the peaceful pursuit of happiness for millions of unknown citizens.” .” Individual freedom and self-reliance are still keystones, and successors of outrage must continue to promote freedom in the face of darkness today.