On Patriotism (1961)

by Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968)

[Online editor’s note: Letter to Jasper Crane, in Roger Lea MacBride, ed., The Lady and the Tycoon: Letters of Rose Wilder Lane and Jasper Crane (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1973), pp. 266-69. Here excerpted for nonprofit educational purposes under what we understand to be “fair use.”

Context: Lane is here responding inter alia to Crane’s comment in his letter of February 8 that “we aren’t anarchists, but patriotic and law-abiding citizens.” (As for the correspondence to which Lane is referring in the opening paragraphs, your guess is as good as mine.) – RTL]

February 14, 1961
Dear Saint Valentine:
OP.1 Happy birthday to you.
OP.2 Herb Cornuelle used firmly to refuse any and all confidences, asserting unequivocally that absolutely everything he knew was in the public domain. In the years since he went to the pineapples in Hawaii, my appreciation of this wisdom has risen into orbit. I haven’t adopted his policy, however. Maybe a pride in skill handicaps me; I am truly expert in never NEVER telling; the ivory casket behind my placid brow is cram-jammed with never-told secrets.
OP.3 But, see how wily Herb was, and I suppose is. Days ago I had an airmail from — enclosing Leonard Read’s formal note to him and beginning, “Dear Rose, I wonder if Mr. Crane or somebody is behind this? ... But I’m taking it ...” etc.
OP.4 To this I replied, Horray! Horray! And if you have any sneaking notion that I was behind this, all I can say is that I didn’t even know that FEE had any such arrangement, and wouldn’t have done anything like this if I had known. (If this be duplicity, make the most of it!)
OP.5 So, as the columnists say, I “envisage” the moment when — will tentatively express thanks to you and you, in shock, will be unable to doubt such evidence of my untrustworthiness. O, Herb, how wise thou art!!
OP.6 To me the very word, patriot, has collectivist connotations. Pater, father; patria, fatherland; patriarch, generating source and ruler of a family-Whole. And patriotism is everywhere regarded as obedience to, dependence on, self-sacrifice for, the divinely ordained Ruler: The Government (whether Emperor, Queen, Parliament, or FDR).
OP.7 Detour: Look for instance at the whole American press, even the Wall Street Journal, on these anti-trust cases against the electric companies; all condemning the hapless victims on “moral” grounds. The assumption is that obedience to Acts of legislators is moral. In that case, genocide is moral: “liquidating” Jews or kulaks was and is obedience to absolutely legal orders from absolutely legal authorities. Price-fixing (if done by men other than politicians in office) is a crime but certainly no sin; morality has nothing to do with it. At the same time that brother Kennedy is sending men to jail and wrecking corporations, (ruining hundreds of thousands of little small stockholders in them) for the crime of price fixing, big brother Kennedy is all set to bribe, intimidate and blackmail legislators into fixing prices. And the whole American press yaps about the immorality of the criminals, while discussing the expediency of the proposed legislation. This is only a little indication of the practical effect of patriotism; patriotism being a lingering tradition of the Divine government of a human Whole, which is at least as old as the first Living Gods: Ur Nammu, Khammurabi, Pharoah [sic], Ptolemy, Augustus Caesar. Every one of them, and men in all Governments, since then, and now, was or is a robber, murderer, treacherous betrayer of trust, and all have been and still to some extent are, worshipped as somehow holy, somehow having some quality or attribute of God. It is incredibly fantastic, but it is a fact.
OP.8 I have immeasurably less respect for “the office” of President or for any President personally, than I have for you. And I do not go into rhapsodies about “my country,” its rocks and rills, its super highways and wooded hills, as Bob does in that “Tiger” piece you sent me. This whole world is almost unbearably beautiful; why should I love Oak Creek Canyon or California’s beaches or Washington’s Sea Island counties any more than the Bocca di Cattaro or Delphi or the Bosphorus? Because I, me, the great RWL, was born in the Dakota Territory? The logic seems weak, somehow, don’t you feel?
OP.9 My attachment to these USA is wholly, entirely, absolutely to The Revolution, the real world revolution, which men began here and which has – so to speak – a foothold on earth here. If reactionaries succeed in destroying the revolutionary structure of social and political human life here, I care no more about this continent than about any other. If I lived long enough I would find and join the revival of the Revolution wherever it might be in Africa or Asia or Europe, the Arctic or Antarctic. And let this country go with all the other regimes that collectivism has wrecked and eliminated since history began. So much for patriotism, mine.
OP.10 As to anarchy, you can find me with Woodrow Wilson (that lying treacherous scoundrel who began this World War; truly a Platonic “idealist,” he was) who said words to the effect that increase of freedom is decrease of Government. The difference between W.W. and me is that I mean what I say. I am not wildeyed and whiskered and I do not contemplate throwing a home-made bomb at Mr. Kennedy but I am FOR any and every way of diminishing the size, the activity, the extent of Government per se, and all respect for Government, to the eventual end of eliminating Government totally. Anarchy is absence of earthly Authority over human beings, by definition and etymology; so I am an anarchist.
OP.11 I am not a utopian, though, so I am not impatiently trying or expecting to establish the Kingdom of God on earth next year, or next century, or even next millennium. I will even concede that progress toward it may be the ancient Greek’s – I forget his name at the moment. Who was it who described that progress which perpetually advanced half the distance to the goal in each successive period of time and therefore never arrived at the end? [Online editor’s note: While her description is inaccurate, Lane clearly means Zeno of Elea (c. 490-c. 430 BCE). – RTL] It is the direction of the movement that matters. Progress is advancing toward a goal. That old Greek’s racer never quite reached the goal, true; but in time he was much nearer it than he would have been if he had perpetually backed away from it. When Jefferson said that the least Government is the best Government, what was he advocating but anarchy? The lesser and lesser and lesser the Government the better and better and better, and the nearer no Government.
OP.12 As to being law-abiding, I deny that legislators make law. They create legal Acts, statutes, which may or may not coincide with real Law, and in fact seldom do. Generally a statute is an order which “executive” Government uses physical force to “enforce” upon persons not in The Government, but believed to be subject to it, and the great majority of such legislative Acts are intended to prevent or hamper or stop harmless and useful human action, so the enforcement of them has that lamentable effect. Consider the so-called “laws” that we more-or-less obey nowadays; how many of them do no harm? Is it virtuous, or desirable in any way, to concur in doing harm?
OP.13 I am “law-abiding” purely for expediency, for self-defense, in the main against my conscientious principles, so at bottom I am ashamed of not being a conscientious objector practicing Ghandi’s [sic] or Thoreau’s civil disobedience. I did refuse to be rationed; I do absolutely refuse to be Social-Secured; but I should refuse to pay taxes and be in jail, only what would become of my little Maltese puppies? and my own little area of freedom? and my books and my friends and correspondents? I shall be reluctantly a martyr only when backed into the last corner of the last resort. No heroine, alas.
OP.14 I do think that immeasurable harm is being done by the general and increasing, self-defensive “lawlessness” in this country. Not because it is disobedience to statues [sic], but because it is training nearly all of us (I suppose, not Eleanor Roosevelt. But does she need such training?) in trickery and deceit and lies and distrust of everyone; it is Europeanizing us. Americans used to be simple people, more honest, trusting, neighborly, generous than people were or ever had been anywhere else. Those qualities are a tragic loss.
OP.15 My sundecks were cleared of snow yesterday so now the downstairs windows are covered quite to their tops and above. But a tunnel to the mailbox remains open, though the sky is promising more snow. Hoping your windows are not the same.

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