The Day After

Independence Day plus one and I'm still feeling a warm love-of-country glow. I thought it would be appropriate to let today's selection from Mrs. Lane reflect that.

What follows is a consideration of American exceptionalism, written in 1943. Mrs. Lane was of the opinion that too much government can be harmful to freedom and the work that free people wish to do. Given its own way, the dead hand of bureaucracy will try to smother innovation in the name of stability (and bribe money). Innovation complicates things.It's difficult enough riding herd on known quantities, so the frugal bureaucrat strives to minimize perturbations. Don't rock the boat.

At the same time that she railed against this seemingly universal cultural trait, she recognized the necessity of coordinated action, especially when confronting a powerful and unified foe. Survival sometimes calls for sacrifices. Still, it would be entirely too possible to lose vital freedoms by using shortsighted means to save them. Sixty two years of hindsight would seem to support the notion.

Here it is: the New World.

No one expected anything like this. No one could imagine it. A hundred years ago, fifty years ago, thirty years ago, no one could imagine a world such as this.

For six thousand years men and women lived and died young in hunger, filth, and disease. Believing that Authority controlled them, in six thousand years they contrived to build pig-sty shelters (and pyramids, and marble palaces) and to sow grain and cook meat, to saddle horses and yoke oxen and chain slaves to mills and oars…

Americans at this moment are suspending their exercise of individual freedom; and what is happening to their transportation, their shopping, their normal building, their housekeeping?

This submission to Authority has always been permanent in the Old World. Americans will turn their terrific energy, the energy of free men, temporarily into war, as Spaniards turned their energy into the conquest of the American hemisphere and all of Europe. Nothing on earth can stand against this American energy in war. But if ever Americans believe that the effectiveness of human energy comes from submission to Authority, they will win this war and lose the New World.

Inch by inch, it comes. Some recent supreme court decisions (are they merely insane, or are they bought and paid for?) could depress the perkiest optimist. That'd be me.

The free exercise of natural human rights creates this New World. Stop this exercise of human rights, shed individual responsibility and individual freedom, submit to “control” of ordinary human affairs, and this whole new world of economic abundance, this unprecedented wealth of food, shelter, health, knowledge, comforts, luxuries, pleasures, this young world of swift transportation, swift communication, this dynamic complex of productive human energies encircling the whole planet, can no longer be improved, then no longer be created, then no longer exist.

In Mrs. Lane's estimation, the American propensity for productive anarchy-within-bounds was what led to the explosion of American creativity she witnessed during her lifetime (1886-1968). Growing up with sod huts and covered wagons, she lived to see the early years of Project Apollo. In 1965, she went to Vietnam as a war correspondent.

Recognizing the fragility of the enabling conditions of progress, she could only hope for the best and try to remind us of how far it's taken us. The next passages, probably based on personal experience, serve that purpose both admirably and (to my mind) charmingly.

Forty years ago nobody imagined this America. (There was a $40-a-month mechanic, working ten hours a day, six days a week at his job, and tinkering nights and Sundays in the woodshed behind his little rented house—no bathtub, no running water, no light but a kerosene lamp—in a far, cheap suburb of Detroit; even he did not imagine this America.)

There were no cars, no highways, no radios or planes, no movies, no tall buildings, no electric lights, no toothpaste, not many toothbrushes, no soda fountains, no bottled soft drinks, no hot-dog stands, no High Schools, no low shoes, no safety razors or shaving cream, no green vegetables in the wintertime and none in cans, no bakers breads or cakes or doughnuts, no dime stores, no super-markets. An orange was a Christmas treat, in prosperous families.

There was no central heating, and only the very prosperous had bathtubs. They were tin or zinc, encased in mahogany in the homes of the very rich. The rich, too, had gas-lights. Some streets in the largest cities were lighted, with gas-lamps.

Spring came to American children when mama let them go barefoot. No moderately prosperous parents thought of letting children wear out good shoe-leather in the summertime. Stockings were cotton. Sheets were made at home, of muslin seamed down the center, for looms had never made muslin as wide as a bed. Mother made all the families clothes, except Father’s best suit, and sometimes she still made that.

Forty years ago, a journey of ten miles to the next town (by buggy or mail-hack or train) was planned and prepared for, at least some weeks in advance. America has been made over. Making America over is a continuous process, now almost a hundred years old.

When Americans began the Revolution, no one expected this. Thomas Paine and the other revolutionists of his time were not thinking of changing living conditions. They were thinking of moral values.

What actually occurred, when men could act freely, was a terrific outburst of human energy, changing all life-values, and utterly transforming the material world.

We've come a far piece, no doubt, but there's plenty left to do. This is no time to say "Enough."

posted by Justin on 07.05.05 at 10:16 AM


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Day After:

» Quote of the Day - Rose Wilder Lane from The Benjo Blog
This quote comes via Justin at Classical Values. I couldn’t resist posting it here, if only for my own reference. Forty years ago nobody imagined this America. (There was a $40-a-month mechanic, working ten hours a day, six days a week at his j... [Read More]
Tracked on July 6, 2005 2:09 AM


The comments are so true, recent time I spent In Kazakhstan, a basic needs scociety that has recently achieved democratic freedom, is a real time example of what happens when people have the oppertunity to forge ahead for themselves without being totally controlled/hindered by government.

hscheie   ·  July 5, 2005 5:03 PM

"What the have-nots have not is freedom."
-Ayn Rand

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