Many people have many different views of Isabel Paterson. Some appear before her death and many after. Some appear before Stephen Cox’s biography of Paterson and many more appear afterwards.
Let’s look at a few to determine what they may tell us.
As I have restated on several occasions this blog is not meant to dwell on politics. However, Isabel Paterson had many viewpoints; as an author, a literary critic, a US Citizen, an editor and as a person.
Stephen Cox, I am sure, has been asked to review Paterson’s life by many separate organizations. Therefore much of the information about Isabel Paterson rests within Stephen Cox’s book and in his mind.
I do not list conservative, libertarian or liberal print material to influence you. I simply list them as a matter of citation and information for anyone who wishes to know the source.
NOTE: I have heavily edited this piece by Cox to help you understand the individuality and uniqueness of Isabel Paterson, not her politics.
Before Ayn Rand there was Isabel Paterson.
By Stephen Cox
The Economist recently reported that Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, first published in 1957, is back on the bestseller lists.
For the uninitiated, Atlas explores a future world in which the nation’s economy is collapsing because of government interference.
Rand’s disciples are a devoted lot.
[However] Mention the name Isabel Paterson in such a gathering, and you’re likely to draw blank looks. For all the fervor that Rand inspires, little notice is paid to the woman who most inspired her.
Paterson (1886-1961) was a novelist and literary critic. She was slight, just over five feet tall, with a delicate taste in food and drink, a deep love of nature, and a nationally famous sense of humor. Stubborn and sharp-witted, she was also one of the New Deal’s fiercest foes.
Paterson’s Golden Vanity, one of the few good novels about the Depression, focuses on reputed experts’ outrageous failures of foresight. Its climactic scene is a confrontation between an investor and the financier she entrusted with her money—a man who worked, with the government’s assistance, to create a baffling maze of bad investments. When she hears him admit, “We could not foresee…,” she has finally had enough. “Why couldn’t you foresee?” she demands. “If you can’t foresee, what are you paid for?” She is wrathful, and there is dignity in her wrath.
Her idea was simply to leave people alone to make their own investments, to earn profits and keep them, and to liquidate unprofitable enterprises.
In Rand’s opinion, The God of the Machine, Paterson’s great work of economic and historical theory, “does for capitalism what Das Kapital did for the Reds” and “what the Bible did for Christianity.” In her book, Paterson conceptualized capitalism as an enormous circuit connecting producers and consumers throughout the world, using real money and real profits to generate new efficiencies and larger amounts of energy.
Paterson’s relationship with Rand also fared badly. In 1948, an argument ended their friendship. As Paterson had written, “one genius is about all a house will hold,” and each of these geniuses had a very considerable temper. But there was an even more important reason for the break-up: Paterson’s belief in God.
Russell Kirk, the philosopher of American conservatism, had his own quarrelsome relationship with Paterson. Yet, he said, she “stood out courageously, in defiance of the Lonely Crowd. I thought that everyone must be reading her … and could never forget her.”
Probably no one who encountered Isabel Paterson easily forgot her. Now a new generation needs an introduction. In this moment when, under stress, basic ideas are being recovered, Atlas is surging in popularity, and the historic failures of the New Deal are being re-examined, it is time to revisit her wit and learning. “The principle of the lever remains the same.”
Stephen Cox is professor of literature at UC San Diego. His two latest books are The New Testament and Literature and The Woman and the Dynamo, a biography of Isabel Paterson.
And now another view of Isabel Paterson; this time from a New York City blog. Once again I have edited some of the politics out of the piece.
I believe a third viewpoint is warranted. Also heavily edited.
Our Forgotten Goddess: Isabel Paterson and the Origins of Libertarianism.
Reason Online ^ | Feb 2005 | Brian Doherty
Posted on Tuesday, September 06, 2005 9:55:52 PM by gobucks
[Commentary on the book, “The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America”, by S. Cox]
Paterson swam against a mighty tide with The God of the Machine. Old Right journalist Albert Jay Nock believed, with much evidence, that individualists were “superfluous men” in Roosevelt’s America. Libertarian ideas, he thought, were like a delicate candle flame ever threatening to gutter; they could only be tended to monkishly by a tiny and obscure remnant. These three books published in 1943 tried to bring the philosophy to a wide, popular audience that the authors hoped was ready for it.
Nock declared that Lane’s [Rose Wilder Lane] and Paterson’s works were “the only intelligible books on the philosophy of individualism that have been written in America this century.” The two female journalists had “shown the male world of this period how to think fundamentally.…They don’t fumble and fiddle around—every shot goes straight to the centre.”
In The God of the Machine, her one work of political philosophy, Paterson tried to explain American exceptionalism. But she herself was a native Canadian, born Isabel Bowler (or possibly Mary Isabel Bowler; Cox was unable to ascertain her birth name) on an island in the middle of Lake Huron on January 22, 1886, one of nine children. Her family moved to the U.S. shortly thereafter, roughing it in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the Utah territory. She spent her girlhood farming, ranching, and communing with Indians in the American West.
“She would never regard the frontier as the breeding ground of puritan virtues,” writes Cox. “She was aware that other people did. Those people, she could only suppose, had ‘never lived on the frontier,’ where freedom to loaf was more highly prized than hard work and stern ambition.” Paterson did recognize that “frontier society offered ‘the most civilized type of association’…because it had ‘the absolute minimum of external regulation’ and therefore ‘the maximum of voluntary civility and morality.’”
While she was aware of the popular theory that “America’s chief inheritance from its frontier past is ‘aggressiveness,’” Cox writes, she considered that theory “‘nonsense.…On the frontier you have to be polite to your fellow men, and it won’t get you anywhere to be aggressive to a blizzard.’ What worked out West wasn’t aggressiveness but ‘a peculiarly individual, mind-your-own-business confidence.’” Paterson cultivated that ethic in herself. Her libertarian vision, then, was not based on atomistic individualism or notions of markets as enforcing sternly puritan virtues of unremitting hard work (though she recognized, as she feared many did not, that the physical benefits of modern market culture did require someone, somewhere to innovate and labor).
And finally the viewpoint of a cartoonist.
A link to cartoon series #2