Rose Wilder Lane

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The question is whether personal freedom is worth the terrible effort, the never-lifted burden and risks of self-reliance.

Rose Wilder Lane (December 5 1886October 30 1968) was an American journalist, travel writer, novelist, and political theorist. Although her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, is now the better known writer, Lane's accomplishments remain remarkable. She is considered a seminal force in the founding of the American Libertarian Party.


  • I somehow always have this idea that as soon as I can get through this work that’s piled up ahead of me, I’ll really write a beautiful thing. But I never do. I always have the idea that someday, somehow, I’ll be living a beautiful life.
    • Written in the 1920s, as quoted in The Ghost in the Little House, ch. 8, by William V. Holtz (1993).
  • I so much like real things - the realities that come naturally from the depths of us like - what shall I say? - the way trees grow, from some inner essential principle of them, just expressing itself.
    • Letter to Arthur Griggs (June 22, 1920).
  • I can imagine nothing more wonderful than always wanting to keep a man...It's this NOT wanting to keep them, and yet not quite being able to disentangle one's self, never quite having the ruthlessness to stike at the hands on the gunwale with an oar until they let go -- that's the horrible thing.
    • Letter to Dorothy Thompson (December 29, 1927).
  • I'm not "filled with my art". I ain't got no art. I've got only a kind of craftsman's skill, and make stories as I make biscuits or embroider underwear or wrap up packages.
    • Letter to Guy Moyston (June 25, 1925).
  • I want to finish work on my mother's juvenile (Farmer Boy manuscript) by the end of June. There's a curious half-angry reluctance in my writing for other people. I say to myself that whatever earnings there may be are all in the family. Also I seize upon this task as an excuse to postpone my own work.
    • Diary (May 29, 1933).
  • I am too sick to work and haven't money enough to last 2 months and pay income tax. I want to keep going but do not see quite how, and there is no alternative - rather than justify my mother's 25-year dread of my "coming back on her, sick", I must kill myself. If she has to pay funeral costs, at least she will cut them to the bone and I will not be here to endure her martyrdom and prolong it by living.
    • Diary (sick and depressed) (December 9, 1933).
  • Life is a thin narrowness of taken-for-granted, a plank over a canyon in a fog. There is something under our feet, the taken-for-granted. A table is a table, food is food, we are we—because we don’t question these things. And science is the enemy because it is the questioner. Faith saves our souls alive by giving us a universe of the taken-for-granted.
    • Journal entry (1923), as quoted in The Ghost in the Little House, ch. 7, by William V. Holtz (1993).
  • Making the best of things is … a damn poor way of dealing with them.... My whole life has been a series of escapes from that quicksand.
    • Letters to Guy Moyston, (August 25, 1924 and July 11, 1925).
  • The first twenty years of my life were wasted...I didn't fit my environment, and I didn't know any other.
    • Diary, (1927).
  • My mother cannot learn to have any reliance upon my financial judgment or promises. It's partly, I suppose, because she still thinks of me as a child...She even hesitates to let me have the responsibility of bringing up butter from the spring(house), for fear I won't do it quite right!...This unaccountable daughter who roams the world, borrowing money here and getting shot at a pride, in a way, but a ceaseless apprehension, too.
    • Letter to Guy Moyston, (July 18, 1925).
  • And I say again, you need not worry any more about money. If I were to drop dead this instant, I have enough to double your present income if you never touched a cent of the principle. If you take a notion to do something that costs more than your income warrants, you need only let me know. You can have it.
    • Letter from Albania to Laura Ingalls Wilder, (October 27, 1926).
  • It was like being quite alone on the roof of the world. I felt that if I were to go to the edge and look over … I would see below all that I had ever known; all the crowded cities and seas covered with ships, and the clamor of harbors and traffic of rivers, and farmlands being worked, and herds of cattle driven in dust across interminable plains. All the clamor and clatter, confusion of voices, tumults, and conflicts, must still be going on, down there—over the edge, and below—but here there was only the sky, and a stillness made audible by the brittle grass. Emptiness was so perfect all around me that I felt a part of it, empty myself.
    • Letter to the Clarence Day (June 10, 1926)
    • Describing her stop on a remote Russian plateau while with the Red Cross after WWI.
  • We joined long wagon trains moving south; we met hundreds of wagons going north; the roads east and west were crawling lines of families traveling under canvas, looking for work, for another foothold somewhere on the land.... The country was ruined, the whole world was ruined; nothing like this had ever happened before. There was no hope, but everyone felt the courage of despair.
    • Written in 1935, recalling her family’s migration from drought-stricken South Dakota to the Missouri Ozarks in 1894; the 650-mile trip had taken them six weeks.
    • As quoted in The Ghost in the Little House, ch. 1, by William V. Holtz (1993).
  • That way of life against which my generation rebelled had given us grim courage, fortitude, self-discipline, a sense of individual responsibility, and a capacity for relentless hard work.
    • Written in 1935, as quoted in The Ghost in the Little House, ch. 2, by William V. Holtz (1993).
  • The question is whether personal freedom is worth the terrible effort, the never-lifted burden and risks of self-reliance.
    • Said in 1936, as quoted in The Ghost in the Little House, prologue, by William V. Holtz (1993).
  • One thing I hate about the New Deal is that it is killing what, to me, is the American pioneering spirit. I simply do not know what to tell my own boys, leaving school and confronting this new world whose ideal is Security and whose practice is dependence upon government instead of upon one’s self.... All the old character-values seem simply insane from a practical point of view; the self-reliant, the independent, the courageous man is penalized from every direction.
    • Journal entry (April 15, 1937), as quoted in The Ghost in the Little House, ch. 14, by William V. Holtz (1993)
    • Commenting on the domestic policies of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  • Since 1914...I wait for the natural to return; for newspapers to report news with care for accuracy and grammar; for schools to teach and for pupils to study; for faces to be sane and intelligent, and even humorous; for American artists and poets and writers to be exuberant and is all gone with the music of Vienna and the gaiety of San Francisco. But I still see everything against that background, and really I see nothing funny anywhere. The Beatnik beard and the mini skirt and the topless waitress, they ARE funny, I know they are funny but they only make me tired, I don't laugh.
    • letter to Roger MacBride (March 5, 1968).
    • reflecting her impressions of the world of 1968, at the age of 81.
  • The prairies were dust. Day after day, summer after summer, the scorching winds blew the dust and the sun was brassy in a yellow sky. Crop after crop failed. Again and again the barren land must be mortgaged for taxes and food and next year’s seed. The agony of hope ended when there was not harvest and no more credit, no money to pay interest and taxes; the banker took the land. Then the bank failed.
    • On the Way Home, ch. 1 (1962).

Old Home Town (1935)[edit]

  • Writing fiction is … an endless and always defeated effort to capture some quality of life without killing it.
    • Ch. 1.
  • Two deep human desires were at war … the longing for stability, for form, for permanence, which in its essence is the desire for death, and the opposing hunger for movement, change, instability and risk, which are life. Men came from the east and built these American towns because they wished to go no farther, and the towns they built were shaped by the urge to go onward.
    • Ch. 1.
  • It was not seen that woman’s place was in the home until she began to go out of it; the statement was a reply to an unspoken challenge, it was attempted resistance to irresistible change.
    • Ch. 1.
  • Even the street, the sunshine, the very air had a special Sunday quality. We walked differently on Sundays, with greater propriety and stateliness. Greetings were more formal, more subdued, voices more meticulously polite. Everything was so smooth, bland, polished. And genuinely so, because this was Sunday. In church the rustling and the stillness were alike pervaded with the knowledge that all was for the best. Propriety ruled the universe. God was in His Heaven, and we were in our Sunday clothes.
    • Ch. 1.
  • There is a city myth that country life was isolated and lonely; the truth is that farmers and their families then had a richer social life than they have now. They enjoyed a society organic, satisfying and whole, not mixed and thinned with the life of town, city and nation as it now is.
    • Ch. 1.

Give Me Liberty (1936)[edit]

  • The words we use are the most clumsy symbols for meanings, and to suppose that such words as "war," "glory," "justice," "liberty,” “home," mean the same in two languages, is an error.
  • No jailer can compel any prisoner to speak or act against that prisoner's will, but chains can prevent his acting, and a gag can prevent his speaking.
  • In our ignorance, we could not see that the Kaiser’s Germany and the Communist International were merely two aspects of the Old World’s reaction against the new, the American principle of individual liberty and human rights.
  • History is nothing whatever but a record of what living persons have done in the past.
  • To believe that any action based on an ignorance of fact can possibly succeed, is to abandon the use of reason.
  • The picture of the economic revolution as the final step to freedom was false as soon as I asked myself that question. For, in actual fact, The State, The Government, cannot exist. They are abstract concepts, useful enough in their place, as the theory of minus numbers is useful in mathematics. In actual living experience, however, it is impossible to subtract anything from nothing; when a purse is empty, it is empty, it cannot contain a minus ten dollars. On this same plane of actuality, no State, no Government, exists. What does in fact exist is a man, or a few men, in power over many men.
  • Representative government cannot express the will of the mass of the people, because there is no mass of the people; The People is a fiction, like The State. You cannot get a Will of the Mass, even among a dozen persons who all want to go on a picnic. The only human mass with a common will is a mob, and that will is a temporary insanity. In actual fact, the population of a country is a multitude of diverse human beings with an infinite variety of purposes and desires and fluctuating wills.

Discovery of Freedom: Man's Struggle Against Authority (1943)[edit]

  • Men are alive on this earth, only because the imperative human desire is to attack the enemies of human life.
    • p. viii.
  • This is the nature of human energy; individuals generate it, and control it. Each person is self-controlling, and therefore responsible for his acts. Every human being, by his nature, is free.
    • p. xii.
  • Freedom is the nature of man; every person is self-controlling and himself responsible for his thoughts, his speech, his acts.
  • I am a contributing creator of American civilization; it does not create me. I control the stem of this civilization that is within my reach; it does not control me. It can not even make me read Spengler, if I'd rather read a pulp magazine.
    • p. 18
  • When Government has a monopoly of all production and all distribution, as many Governments have, it can not permit any economic activity that competes with it. This means that it can not permit any new use of productive energy, for the new always competes with the old and destroys it. Men who build railroads destroy stage coach lines.
    • p. 32
  • Men stood up in Parliament and pointed to the American facts. What had created the clipper ships? Not the American government. Not protection, but lack of protection. What made the British marine second-rate? Safety, shelter, protection under the British Navigation Acts… The result was catastrophe. American clipper ships ran away with the Indian trade. They ran away with the trade in England's own home ports.
    • p. 238
  • American clipper ships opened the British ports to free trade. Half a century of American smuggling and rebellion and costly ineffectual blockades; seven years of war in America, and the loss of the thirteen colonies; and all the sound and sensible arguments of English liberals and economists, could not break down the British planned economy. American clipper ships did it.
    • p. 239
  • The great English reform movement of the 19th century consisted wholly in repealing law. There was nothing constructive in it; it was wholly destructive. It was a destruction of Government's interference with human affairs, a destruction of the so-called ‘protection’ that is actually a restriction of the exercise of natural human rights. In that mid-19th-century period of the greatest individual freedom that Englishmen have ever known, they made the prosperity and power of the British Empire during Victoria's long and peaceful reign.
    • p. 239

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