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Libertarians and the Struggle for Women's Rights

March 23, 2015 in Economics

By David Boaz

David Boaz

March is Women’s History Month, which reminds me of the role women played in launching the libertarian movement and the role that women with libertarian values have played in advancing women’s rights.

In the dark year of 1943, in the depths of World War II and the Holocaust, when the most powerful government in the history of the United States was allied with one totalitarian power to defeat another, three remarkable women published books that could be said to have given birth to the modern libertarian movement. Stephen Cox, Isabel Paterson’s biographer, writes that “women were more important to the creation of the libertarian movement than they were to the creation of any political movement not strictly focused on women’s rights.”

Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who had written Little House on the Prairie and other stories of American rugged individualism, published a passionate historical essay called The Discovery of Freedom. Isabel Paterson, a novelist and literary critic, produced The God of the Machine, which defended individualism as the source of progress in the world. And the most famous, Ayn Rand, published The Fountainhead.

The women were very different. You could hardly get more traditionally American than Lane, the daughter of the bestselling chronicler of the American frontier. She traveled throughout Europe as a journalist after World War I and lived for long periods in Albania. Paterson too was born to a poor farming in family, albeit in Canada. She made her way to Vancouver and then to New York City, where she became a prominent newspaper columnist. Ayn Rand was born in czarist Russia and came to the United States after the Communist takeover, determined to write novels and movie scripts in her adopted language.

A libertarian must necessarily be a feminist, in the sense of being an advocate of equality under the law for all men and women.”

The three women became friends, though the three strong-minded individualists eventually fell out over religious and political differences. By that time, though, the individualist tradition in America had been revived, and a fledgling movement was under way.

Paterson, Lane, and Rand were not, however, the first libertarian women to advocate for individual rights.

The equality and individualism that underlay the emergence of capitalism and republican government in the 18th century naturally led people to start thinking about the rights of women and of slaves, especially African American slaves in the United States. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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