The Importance of Knowing that Men Are Free
by Jackie Maw, January 2001
I had the opportunity recently to read Rose Wilder Lane's The Discovery of Freedom. A renowned writer in American Libertarian circles, Miss Lane wrote this compelling book during the 2nd World War and daringly gainsaid much of the popular belief of the time by promoting existentialism and noting in great detail the consequences befalling individuals throughout history each time they surrendered their freedom to Authority. Regardless of the name of the Authority, be it Divine Right, feudalism, monarchy, communism, fascism or democracy; each and every one denied that men were free and as a result, all suffered unbearably because of it.
In all history, Miss Lane sites just three attempts by individuals or groups to overthrow the incumbent Authority and take back control of their own lives. Please note, that is NOT to replace one Authority with another, more agreeable form, but to completely eradicate Authority altogether and replace it with a truly free society predicated on the basis that the individual is solely responsible for his own actions as he and he alone, is possessor of his life.
Two such attempts include the Saracens, who, some 1300 years ago, built the world's first universities. A Saracen university had no programme, no curriculum, no departments, not rules, no examinations; it gave no degrees nor diplomas. It was simply an institution of learning. Not of teaching, but of learning. A man, young or old, went to a university to learn what he wanted to know. Men who knew (or thought they knew) something, and wanted to teach it, opened a school to sell their knowledge. Success depended upon the demand for the knowledge they had. If they prospered, other teachers joined them.
A second more recent example was the American Revolution, led by Thomas Paine and resulting in the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. What made this event so truly remarkable was that for the first time in history, individuals were undertaking to create an entirely new kind of Government. Thus, even under penalty of death for signing the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues knew that nothing on earth is more valuable than an individual who knows that men are free. As Jefferson stated in plain fact: "We pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honour". "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
However, and it would be fortuitous for us to take heed of this, all revolutions are bound to fail unless the ideas that created them are sustained. The French revolution lasted twelve years. It ended when French democracy elected the Emperor Napoleon. The American Revolution only lasted 150 years when in 1929, the American people suspended their exercise of individual freedom, and once more, bowed down before Authority.
But what a difference those 150 years of freedom made to the progress of our civilization! For 6000 years individuals suffered dreadfully at the hands of Authority. However, for those years following the American Revolution, human energy created an entirely new world. We saw the greatest number of inventions ever seen before in the history of the world. The unhindered use of natural human rights caused a terrific outburst of human energy, changing all life values and utterly transforming the material world, the results of which we can see in every home - from the electric light bulb to the telephone to the automobile.
This new world was created because when, left to his own devices, man's natural desire is to create to improve his lot. However, obedience to Authority stops the effective working of human energy and stifles man's ability to be creative and productive. As history serves to remind us, the effects of this are, once more, a return to intolerable suffering caused by a dramatic reduction in the standard of living.
And anyone who says that economic security is a human right has clearly never grasped the meaning of the concept ‘working for a living'. While he babbles, other men are risking and losing their lives to protect him. They are fighting the sea, fighting the land, fighting diseases and insects and weather and space and time for him, while he chatters that all men have a right to security and that some pagan god - Society, The State, The Government, The Commune - must give it to them. Let the fighting men stop fighting this inhuman earth for one hour, and he will learn how much security there is. Let him make, from seed to table, just one slice of bread and he will hear no more from him about the human right to security. If every man and woman worth living did not stand up to the job of living, did not take risk and danger and exhaustion beyond exhaustion and go on fighting for one thin hope of victory in the certainty of death, there would not be a human being alive today.
Rose Wilder Lane's "The Discovery of Freedom" should belong in every thinking man's library and read often, as a reminder that freedom (together with every facet of our lives) has a price tag attached to it.
In his old age, Jefferson, considering the future, could not be sure that the Revolution would succeed (how right he was). "Eternal vigilance, he said, is the price of liberty."
Eternal vigilance indeed.
The author is a Libertarian living in Christchurch, New Zealand who writes for the Free Radical.