Among libertarians, Rose Wilder Lane is best known as the author of the libertarian classics The Discovery of Freedom and Give Me Liberty. Outside of the libertarian movement, she is known if at all as the at least partial ghostwriter of her mother Laura Ingalls Wilders popular Little House on the Prairie series of books. (See William Holtzs Lane biography.) A chapter of Lanes literary career that is relatively unknown to both groups, though it brought her an enormous readership at the time, is her stint as a weekly columnist, from 1942 to 1945, for the Pittsburgh Courier, the u.s.s leading black newspaper and a prominent voice for racial equality.
David and Linda Beitos article Selling Laissez-faire Antiracism to the Black Masses: Rose Wilder Lane and the Pittsburgh Courier, in the Fall 2010 issue of the Independent Review (pp. 279-294), seeks to draw attention to Lanes neglected work for the Courier. Ive been hearing about this material informally from David for years, and its exciting though frustratingly tantalising to see a bit more. (The full article wont be going online for several months, so consider this an advance plug.)
Before her discovery of the Courier, Lane by her own admission had had a blindspot on the issue of race; she had heard of lynchings and other racial injustice, but had assumed they were isolated incidents. After she began reading the Couriers documentation of the extent of racial oppression in the u.s., she declared that she had been an utter fool and a traitor to the cause of human rights. (p. 284) Soon she had joined the papers campaign against racism by becoming one of its regular writers.
Race was not the only topic of her columns; she advanced libertarian ideas across the board, often taking left-libertarian positions. For example, she defended the striking United Mine Workers for refusing to submit to tyranny (p. 288); praised Samuel Gompers as a proponent of an antistatist form of labour activism (for Gompers actual merits or otherwise, see here); championed free mutual associations as an alternative to the welfare state (p. 285); expressed concern about the tendency of women to subordinate their interests and identity to those of men and family (p. 286); and saw the Big Boys politically connected plutocrats as the chief enemies of the free market, declaring that they can get themselves murdered in cellars for all Id care. (p. 285) (Her views on such subjects could be complicated, though. During her early flirtation with Marxism shed even written a book praising Henry Ford as a practical implementer of Marxism.)
But her columns did frequently deal with race issues; and in the Beitos judgment, [n]o libertarian has ever more creatively weaved together antiracism and laissez-faire than Lane. (p. 283) According to the Beitos, Lane anticipated … the strategy of the lunch-counter sit-ins of the 1960s by suggesting that blacks should emulate the crusade of … women like her who had once asserted their right to smoke in restaurants. (p. 284) She also subverted the assumptions of traditional discourse on race by talking about the need to solve the White problem (after all, its those doing the oppressing who constitute the problem) and parodying stereotypical portraits by writing:
The American White is generally a friendly fellow, good-hearted, generous, and meaning no harm to anyone. His errors, even his cruelties, come from the false beliefs instilled in him by his environment and training. He needs help to overcome them. (p. 284)
Lane rejected the concept of race as a ridiculous, idiotic, and tragic fallacy (p. 283) that did not exist (p. 291), preferring the terms dark-skinned and pale-skinned; nowadays she would be called a social constructionist about race, and like todays social constructionists she wrestled with the problem of whether and how to make use of existing racial categories and identities. Thus, on the one hand, she called on all people, black or white, to renounce their race (p. 283) and even rejected the idea of a Negro novel as being as irrelevant as the idea of a blond novel. (p. 286) But on the other hand, although she heartily approved of calls for the abolition of the term Negro, she also conceded that doing so was not a decision for her to make, noting that to millions, the term represented pride in achievement and the fellowship in the struggle for human rights. The strategic choice between renouncing racial identities and embracing them thus constituted a genuine dilemma. (p. 284)
Lanes recognition of the tensions involved in accepting or rejecting socially constructed racial identity anticipates more recent debates over gender and sexual orientation. Judith Butler, for example, argues in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity that the identity categories often presumed to be foundational to feminist politics … simultaneously work to limit and constrain in advance the very cultural possibilities that feminism is supposed to open up (p. 187/200), and that appeal to such categories presumes, fixes, and constrains the very subjects that it hopes to represent and liberate. (p. 189/203) Yet at the same time she acknowledges that it still makes sense, strategically or transitionally, to refer to women in order to make representational claims on their behalf. (p. 181/194)
Heres hoping that more of Lanes Courier material gets made available.