October 9, 1946
Mrs. Rose Wilder Lane
Box 42, R 4
Dear Rose Wilder Lane:
Thank you with all my heart—and in more ways than just literary—for the two mentions you gave me in your September issue. The thing that meant a great deal to me was the fact that you told me privately that you liked my pieces in The Vigil—and then you also said it in print. I consider that an action of great professional integrity. You see, I am slightly embittered on this point. I have known several persons who paid me high compliments in private correspondence and conversations, but carefully avoided doing so in print. It is an attitude I was never able to understand, so your action made me feel better about people in general.
You asked my opinion of your review of Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson”. Your review is excellent, and I agree with all of it (except one small point). I think you have been eminently fair in giving him credit for the virtues of his book—and there are many. But you picked quite properly on its basic weakness. I think this is another case such as that of Ludwig von Mises. Hazlitt tried to divorce economics from ethics. He presented a strictly economic argument, telling how things work out, and carefully omitting to state why the way they work out is proper—that is, what principles should properly guide men’s actions in the economic field. He did not say that we should sacrifice minority groups for the sake of the whole, but that was certainly the implication of his book, which is certainly a collectivist implication.
This is an example of why I maintain that no book on economics can have real value or importance if economics are divorced from morality. When one attempts to do it, one merely spreads the implications and premises of the collectivist morality and defeats one’s case for the more thoughtful readers.
I wish you had blasted one particular passage in the book, which made me more angry than all the other flaws, and really spoiled the book for me. That was the passage where Hazlitt states that a virtuous, responsible man of wealth should donate to charity and should refrain from buying luxuries, because these take productive resources away from the manufacture of necessities for the poor (p. 192). That was really a crucial betrayal of our case. It is not true as economics, and it is wrong as morality. It is pure,
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I take exception only to one paragraph in your review, on the second page, which refers to “love thy neighbor as thyself”. First, I have never agreed with that slogan. It is just as impossible and improper as the idea of loving your neighbor above yourself. (What we owe our neighbors is respect, not love.) Second, your sentence, “human beings survive on this planet only by working together in that mutual effort”, is an unfortunate one. I know what you intended to say, but this particular sentence could be taken as a statement of collectivism. It is true that if men want to live together, they cannot do it by robbing one another; but it is not true, as a general statement, that human beings can survive only by working together. The best among humanity can survive alone, and actually do so; in fact, they make it possible for the less competent ones to survive.
Also, I would object to the statement that one’s own welfare “depends upon the welfare of all other persons”. (The italics are mine.) It depends upon one’s own efforts and upon dealing with others justly (that is, according to the proper moral principles). But that is all. My welfare does not depend on whether the Cambodians have or haven’t got any milk. I think you probably agree with me on this—but you see where your sentence, taken as a general statement, could be interpreted in the Henry Wallace kind of way.
I was delighted to see you take the position that you are an “extremist” and proud of it. So am I. At least, there are two of us.
And this leads me to something which is actually tragic. I have had a crushing disappointment, and I think you are the only one who will understand how I feel about it. By this time you have probably read “Roofs or Ceilings?”, the second booklet issued by Leonard Read’s organization. I think you will agree with me that that booklet is the most dreadful thing ever put out by a conservative organization. Nothing done by poor Mr. Peck or any of our other befuddled conservatives, can equal this thing. I never expected that from Leonard Read. He was really my one last hope of a conservative who would act on the proper principles, and take some positive practical action for our cause; and it is awfully hard to see a last hope go.
Here again is a case of our “almost” friends, and in this case no excuses or forgiveness are possible. The mistake is too terrible and the principles betrayed are too important. I wish you would tell me, if you can, what is the matter with Leonard. What happened to him in New York?
I am enclosing a copy of a letter I wrote to Mr. Mullendore about this “Roofs or Ceilings?” He agreed with me. Please keep this letter confidential between us—I do not want to embarrass Mr. Mullendore in any way, since this letter was
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intended for him and since he said that he would take action upon it. But I wanted you to see my reasons for the burning indignation I feel against that booklet and against a conservative organization that would issue it.
I was delighted with your account of the action taken by the veterans at the Danbury town meeting. That really cheered me up. I hope it is an indication of the future.
With best regards.
I see by the papers that we are both members of the American Writers Association. There’s a battle that I want to fight to the finish!
See AR’s November 3, 1946, letter to Lane [Letter 281] for a continuation of these topics.