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Commentary

In Memory of Rose Wilder Lane, One of the Great Advocates of Liberty



December 5 marks the anniversary of the birth of Rose Wilder Lane (daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder), one of the past century’s most ardent proponents of liberty.

In books such as Give Me Liberty (1936) and The Discovery of Freedom (1943), she developed the inseparable connection between life and liberty and the importance of individuals understanding the implications of their freedom. Therefore, for fans of Lane’s writing, as well as those not yet fans, consider some of her most powerful words on liberty and government:

  • “The need for Government is the need for force; where force is unnecessary, there is no need for Government.”
  • “Government is guns...To get butter, they must use guns; they have nothing else to use.”
  • “Government...cannot control anyone, it can only hinder, restrict, or stop anyone’s use of his energy.”
  • “When men set up an imaginary Authority armed with force, they destroy all opportunity to exercise their natural freedom.”
  • “How absurd it is to believe that a Government can give anyone liberty.”
  • “Every individual is self-governing.”
  • “The ‘Bill of Rights’...is a statement of the uses of force which American citizens do not permit...Government.”
  • “American Government is a permission which free individuals grant to certain men to use force in certain necessary and strictly limited ways...which Americans can always withdraw.”
  • “The true revolutionary course which must be followed toward a free world is a cautious, experimental process of further decreasing the uses of force which individuals permit to Government...thus decreasing the use of brute force in human affairs.”
  • “The men who began the Revolution created and bequeathed to every future American the tools for progressively reducing the use of force in human affairs...The American who leaves Government to the politicians... to increase their power and use it upon other Americans for his benefit... is trying to evade his responsibility.”
  • “In demanding that men in Government be responsible for his welfare, a citizen is demanding control of his affairs by men whose only power is the use of force...the citizen must lose the use of his natural human rights; his exercise of free action...checked and curbed and prevented, by force.”
  • “Weakening the Government, hampering the use of force in human affairs, is the only way to permit individuals to use their natural freedoms.”
  • “Legally restricting Government’s action to its smallest possible minimum reduces (to the smallest possible minimum) the use of force in human affairs, and thus permits... individuals to speak and act with the greatest possible freedom. Precisely by restricting Government, American Constitutional law permits Americans to act more freely than any other people on earth.”
  • “Every American politician is constantly assailed by [people] fiercely determined to make the men in this Government exceed the Constitutional limits of their use of force...And whenever they succeed... they reduce the area of every American’s free action.”
  • “Further progress toward greater use of freedom is in further reducing and restricting Government.”
  • “The protection of an American’s liberty is not in voting, it is in the Constitutional restriction of the office-holder’s interference with individuals; and in every American’s vigilant defense.”
  • “The more Americans believe that Government is a controlling authority, the more this Government is compelled to use force to hinder and restrict the exercise of natural individual freedom.”
  • “Human energy...works effectively only to the extent that Government is weak, so that individuals are least prevented from acting freely...All history shows this fact. Every detail of common experience today proves it.”

Rose Wilder Lane has brought many to see the paramount importance of freedom in human lives and recognize the more common tragedy of freedom’s absence—government abuse of force, which is why Ed Crane has said that she “must be read by anyone who is seriously interested in the heritage of liberty.”

Her lessons need re-learning by every generation, and ever-more-thoroughly, as government keeps metastasizing.


Gary M. Galles is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University, and Adjunct Scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.






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