Issues & Insights

Exploring Freedom’s Furies    

Timothy Sandefur has a new book out this month, “Freedom’s Furies.” Published by the Cato Institute, it tells the story of three women – Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand – “who strove to keep liberty alive in an age of darkness,” becoming known as “the three furies of libertarianism” in the process.

These women are relatively well known in libertarian circles for the pivotal roles they played in reviving commitment to liberty when it was at a very low ebb, but not well known by others. And Sandefur’s book offers an excellent way to introduce people to their work on behalf of the one thing that actually advances all of our interests – the protection of the individual rights that comprise our liberty. So, in hopes of communicating that it is well worth not just reading about these women, but reading what they had to say, I offer a very subjective top 10 list of insights from each of them that I have found powerful in understanding liberty.

Isabel Paterson

If everyone were invariably honest, able, wise, and kind, there should be no occasion for government. Everyone would readily understand what is desirable and what is possible in given circumstances, all would concur upon the best means toward their purpose and for equitable participation in the ensuing benefits, and would act without compulsion or default.

Since human beings will sometimes lie, shirk, break promises, fail to improve their faculties, act imprudently, seize by violence the goods of others, and even kill one another in anger or greed, government might be defined as the police organization. In that case, it must be described as a necessary evil. It would have no existence as a separate entity, and no intrinsic authority; it could not be justly empowered to act excepting as individuals infringed one another’s rights, when it should enforce prescribed penalties. Generally, it would stand in the relation of a witness to contract, holding a forfeit for the parties. As such, the least practicable measure of government must be the best. Anything beyond the minimum must be oppression.

The power to do things for people is also the power to do things to people.

No law can give power to private persons; every law transfers power from private persons to government.

Politics consists of the power to prohibit, obstruct, and expropriate … it always tends to encroach on the primary field of freedom, in such manner that the producer may be compelled to obtain permission before he can get to work.

Men are born free … they must therefore institute government by voluntary agreement, and thus government must be their agent, not their superior.

The sole remedy for the abuse of political power is to limit it; but when politics corrupt business, modern reformers invariably demand the enlargement of the political power.

The least practicable measure of government must be the best. Anything beyond the minimum must be oppression.

Government cannot “restore competition,” or “ensure” it. Government is monopoly; and all it can do is to impose restrictions.

Whoever is fortunate enough to be an American citizen came into the greatest inheritance man has ever enjoyed. He has had the benefit of every heroic and intellectual effort men have made for many thousands of years, realized at last. If Americans should now turn back, submit again to slavery, it would be a betrayal.

Any time when finance is under attack through the political authority, it is an infallible sign that the political authority is already exercising too much power over the economic life of the nation through manipulation of finance, whether by exorbitant taxation, uncontrolled expenditure, unlimited borrowing, or currency depreciation.

Rose Wilder Lane

The need for government is the need for force; where force is unnecessary, there is no need for government.

When men set up an imaginary authority armed with force, they destroy all opportunity to exercise their natural freedom.

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 … Then the citizen must lose the use of his natural human rights; his exercise of free action … must be checked and curbed and prevented, by force.

Since every individual is self-governing, the men in public office have no natural authority over anyone but themselves. Any authority that they exercise over any other man must be granted to them by that man.

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.

The Bill of Rights in American Constitutions is a statement of the uses of force which American citizens do not permit to men in American government … If Americans ever forget that American government is not permitted to restrain or coerce any peaceful individual without his free consent, if Americans ever regard their use of their natural liberty as granted to them by the men in Washington or in the capitols of the States, then this … attempt to establish the exercise of human rights on earth is ended.

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 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; of increasing the prohibitions of government’s action, and thus decreasing the use of brute force in human affairs.

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.

Ayn Rand

Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.

The moral justification of capitalism is man’s right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.

Individual rights are not subject to a public vote … the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities.

The collective cannot decide what is to be the purpose of a man’s existence nor prescribe his choice of happiness.

Under a proper social system … A private individual may do anything except that which is legally forbidden; a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted … This is the American concept of ‘a government of laws and not of men.’

The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights … government that initiates the employment of force against men who had forced no one … reverses its only moral purpose.

No one’s rights can be secured by the violation of the rights of others.

Man holds … rights, not from the collective nor for the collective, but against the collective … man’s protection against all other men.

The right to life is the source of all rights – and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible.

It is the institution of private property that protects and implements the right to disagree.

Since the Furies were three ancient Greek goddesses of vengeance and retribution who punished people for crimes against the natural order, one can see why William F. Buckley termed these three women “the three furies of libertarianism.” They saw liberty as the natural, beneficial order for best serving human beings and were persuasive in arguing for it, yet they were anything but gentle in their impassioned responses to violations of liberty which threaten all of us. Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane and Ayn Rand were all remarkable, though quite different, providing an interesting set of intersecting stories, yet insightful words from all of them helped Americans resist inroads on their freedom. In an era during that has seen many of our liberties not just threatened, but seriously infringed, their insights are particularly worth careful consideration.   

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University.

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