During WWII, while American forces battled dictatorial regimes overseas, three writers back home were unleashing a full-scale assault on the ideas at the very base of tyranny. Isabel Paterson’s The God of the Machine, Rose Wilder Lane’s The Discovery of Freedom, and Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, all published in 1943, launched the modern American liberty movement. These women, once described as “the three furies of modern libertarianism,” have been the subjects of separate biographies. But Freedom’s Furies by Timothy Sandefur is the first book-length exploration of their relationships and the context surrounding their 1943 books. Sandefur and I recently discussed Freedom’s Furies on the Philosophy for Flourishing podcast. Here are highlights from our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.
Jon Hersey: Why do Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand matter today? Why did you take the time to write about them?
Timothy Sandefur: Well, I think their ideas are profoundly important—ideas about freedom, morality, and what sort of government we should have to protect our right to live our lives freely. Obviously, these ideas closely relate to my work as a lawyer trying to vindicate the freedoms that are promised to us by the Constitution.
But the broader answer is that I just find them to be fascinating people. I’ve always loved intellectual history, learning about how people figured things out and learned from each other. And these particular personalities are so fascinating. I initially set out to write a biography of Rose Wilder Lane, because she’s such an intriguing figure. But that’s been done before, and I decided that instead, I would focus on this curious fact that in 1943, all three of these women published books that began the free-market, individualist movement, or at least restarted it in the United States. And it turns out that they knew each other, they had similar influences, and they worked together in interesting ways.
Hersey: Could you give us a glimpse of who they were, starting with Isabel Paterson? . . .
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