For many Americans, Thanksgiving is the greatest of all holidays, and for good reason. Because Thanksgiving is the ultimate celebration of productivity and abundance, it is quintessentially American. For Poetic Justice Warriors, gratitude is more than attitude, it is a principle for living. In this spirit, we recognize one of America’s most ardent champions for the blessings of freedom, Poetic Justice Warrior Rose Wilder Lane.
Thanksgiving as we know it is commonly associated with two harvest festivals, one in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, and one in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1623. Before that, Thanksgiving religious services can be traced back to the English Reformation in 16th century Europe, and more generally, nearly all religions over time. However, the most compelling rationale for our Thanksgiving celebration was memorialized by Rose Wilder Lane in her inspirational 1943 book The Discovery of Freedom, and she doesn’t go back a few hundred years, she goes back a few thousand years.
The Ultimate Rediscovery of Reason
In the opening section of her book, Lane declares an obvious but widely ignored fact,
For six thousand years, most men have been hungry. Famines have always killed multitudes. Ninety-five years ago, the Irish were starving to death; no one was surprised. Europeans had never expected to get from this earth enough food to keep them all alive. Why did men die of hunger, for six thousand years?
In her relentless pursuit of why, Wilder Lane invokes Aristotle’s Law of Identity – everything has specific attributes.
Their situation has been the everlasting human situation. Their desire to live has been as strong as ours. Their energy has always been enough to make this earth at least habitable for human beings. Their intelligence has been great. The human situation on this earth is not changed; it can not be changed.
Reality was most harshly realized by America’s 17th century colonists, “The wretched refuse of your teeming shores is precisely what Europe sent.”
In America these failures, outcasts and refugees came up against the actual human situation on this earth. This left the colonists stranded between an empty sea and an unknown wilderness, both of them totally indifferent to his fate. They had to attack bare earth with their hands. They learned that the only source of wealth is human energy.
In the 18th century there was a sudden and stunning development – the conscious rejection of Old World authority. The prospect for human flourishing was to become reality for the first time ever. Here Wilder Lane acknowledges Aristotle’s Law of Causality – everything behaves according to its nature.
In one century, human energy has created an entirely dynamic world, constantly changing under the drive of terrific, incalculable energy. What explains this? What explains the effectiveness of any kind of energy ? Nothing but the existence of conditions which permit that energy to operate naturally.
How did five generations of Americans, in one small corner of earth, launch these conditions that no other society has ever imagined? As she explains, the freedom to trade was their key to survival. It was an uncompromising foundational principle.
The Americans knew something about reality; they were fighting the sea and the earth for their lives. The American rebellion was one continuous revolt against Authority pretending to control a planned economy. So when the British Government tried to control them, they ignored it.
Rose Wilder Lane understood human nature as America’s Founders did. “Government has no power but force, it can not control any man.” Americans knew that their economic freedom required political freedom, meaning the inviolability of individual rights.
Only an individual who recognizes that his self-controlling responsibility is a condition of human life, and fully accepts the responsibility, can protect human rights in the infinite complexity of men’s relationships with each other. Only this individual protection of all men’s rights can keep their natural freedom operating on this earth.
What is extraordinary about the history Rose Wilder Lane writes is that she ignores rulers. Instead, she writes about the countless bourgeois individualists, like herself, who produce, trade, build families, and actually improve human life. People whose steadfast core principles confirm Aristotle’s Law of Non Contradiction – something’s essential attributes are always an attribute.
Individuals began this Revolution. They began it in every colony. In Lexington, one man began that war. For the first time in all history, an individual ordinary man, without rank, without power, without influence, not acting under orders, acting from his own will, responsible and self-controlling, fired on the King’s troops.
Rose Wilder Lane described the significance of this achievement, and its byproduct – the unimaginable abundance we celebrate on Thanksgiving, in her 1936 Saturday Evening Post article titled Credo:
Americans today are the kindest people on earth. Only Americans pour wealth over the world, relieving suffering in such distant places as Armenia and Japan. Such are a few of the human values that grew from individualism while individualism was creating this nation.
Rose Wilder Lane’s Epiphany
As poetic justice would have it, Wilder Lane was an enthusiastic Communist in the 1920s. While working for the Red Cross in post-war Europe, which in her mind was the hope for civilization, she unexpectedly encountered bandits, bureaucratic corruption, runaway inflation, and rising tyranny. The last straw was during her visit to the Soviet Union four years after the Bolsheviks had taken over. Anticipating glowing reports, she was astounded by the force of the rejection for the new regime by the farmers and villagers she met. “I came out of the Soviet Union no longer a communist, because I believed in personal freedom.”
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Wilder Lane began editing and publishing the manuscripts of her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Of course this became a very popular and successful series of books that culminated in the Little House on the Prairie hit television series in the 1970s and 1980s. In the book series Wilder Lane portrayed her young mother’s attitude as:
Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences. No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. When I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn’t anyone else who has a right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good.
The freedom, and the responsibilities attached to it, described by the young Laura Ingalls Wilder would not have been possible then, and would likely not exist today, if it weren’t for the revolution of the mind that President John Adams attributed to every one of America’s founding patriots. Here, Wilder Lane expands on Adam’s sentiment,
They acted as individuals, each man with his own knowledge of reality. How and when each of these men chose between the conformity and submission that looked like safety, and the fight that looked hopeless, no one can know.
But they knew. Some read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense pamphlets or Benjamin Franklin‘s Gazette, and many read local papers, but the Bible taught most of them that every person was self-controlling and responsible. At the same time, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were accomplished students of human nature, and scholars of Enlightenment beacons Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke. The result of their collaboration was America’s magnificent Declaration of Independence.
According to historian Albert Jay Nock, Poetic Justice Warrior Rose Wilder Lane made “all of us male writers look like Confederate money. She didn’t fumble and fiddle around—every shot goes straight to the center.” Her forthright book, The Discovery of Freedom, gave depth of meaning to the Shot Heard Around the World, and gives the world the ultimate purpose for our Thanksgiving celebration.