The ‘Little House’ Books as Libertarian Fables

Over the past twenty years, and as the Wilder family archives have been studies in greater detail, it has become increasingly clear that, as put by Christine Woodside, “two women, not one, produced the Little House books.”

The stated author on the books themselves is of course Laura Ingalls Wilder, but now most everyone accepts that the books were heavily revised and influenced by Ingalls’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane.

Woodside’s piece, published this week in The Boston Globe notes that

A close examination of the Wilder family papers suggests that Wilder’s daughter did far more than transcribe her mother’s pioneer tales: She shaped them and turned them from recollections into American fables, changing details where necessary to suit her version of the story. And if those fables sound like a perfect expression of Libertarian ideas—maximum personal freedom and limited need for the government—that’s no accident. Lane, and to an extent her mother, were affronted by taxes, the New Deal, and what they saw as Americans’ growing reliance on Washington. Eventually, as Lane became increasingly antigovernment, she would pursue her politics more openly, writing a strident political treatise and playing an important if little-known role inspiring the movement that eventually coalesced into the Libertarian Party.

It’s a shame that the Little House books are dismissed by many as children’s literature, and thus not to be read by adults. In reality, the books contain top-quality prose and are extremely well-crafted with excellent characterization, foreshadowing, and scenes of true menacing danger, such as the scenes that depict the labor riots on the railroad where Pa worked.

This quality is of course what we would expect from books edited by Lane who was one of the most respected authors of her time, and who was a regular author for the Saturday Evening Post and rumored to be one of the most highly-paid writers in America at one time. In 1943, Lane wrote The Discovery of Freedom, one of the most influential libertarian essays of the 20th century. (Available at the Mises Institute here.)

Indeed, as I note in my book on the Western genre, the Little House stories offer one of the few truly libertarian views of the American frontier. The tradtional Western genre of course, tells us that civilization on the frontier is primarily made possible powerful by the force of government and its cavalry, sheriffs, and marshals. The common people, the ones who till the soil and build the towns, are generally in the background as hapless victims. Lane and Wilder bring those villagers (i.e., the capitalists) to the fore of the story of the frontier and makes them the true heroes.


10:51 am on August 14, 2013