Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

“Study Natural Law”

A  quick note from the road.

As we were driving today, not far across the Illinois border in Racine County, Wisconsin, we saw a barn with the following sign painted on the roof (I kid you not): STUDY NATURAL LAW. We couldn’t get the camera out quickly enough to photograph it, but thankfully someone else has.

Looks like there’s a farmer in WI who’s on the right track, though perhaps it’s just a bit of wordplay: as it turns out, there’s an interesting backstory to the barn and farm.

In the 1920s, he [Alfred Lawson, once a professional baseball player] promoted health practices including vegetarianism and claimed to have found the secret of living to 200. He also developed his own highly unusual theories of physics, according to which such concepts as “penetrability”, “suction and pressure” and “zig-zag-and-swirl” were discoveries on par with Einstein‘s Theory of Relativity.[6] He published numerous books on these concepts, all set in a distinctive typography. Lawson repeatedly predicted the worldwide adoption of Lawsonian principles by the year 2000.

He later propounded his own philosophy—Lawsonomy—and the Lawsonian religion. He also developed, during the Great Depression, the populist economic theory of “Direct Credits“, according to which banks are the cause of all economic woe, the oppressors of both capital and labour. Lawson believed that the government should replace banks as the provider of loans to business and workers. His rallies and lectures attracted thousands of listeners in the early 30s, mainly in the upper Midwest, but by the late 30s the crowds had dwindled.

In 1943, he founded the University of Lawsonomy in Des Moines to spread his teachings and offer the degree of “Knowledgian,” but after various IRS and other investigations it was closed and finally sold in 1954, the year of Lawson’s death. Lawson’s financial arrangements remain mysterious to this day, and in later years he seems to have owned little property, moving from city to city as a guest of his farflung acolytes. In 1952, he was brought before a United States Senate investigative committee on allegations that his organization had bought war surplus machines and then sold them for a profit, despite claiming non-profit status. His attempt to explain Lawsonomy to the Senators ended in mutual frustration and bafflement,.[7][8]

Martin Gardner devoted an entire chapter of Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science to Lawsonomy.

A farm near Racine, Wisconsin, is the only remaining university facility, although a tiny handful of churches may yet survive in places such as Wichita, Kansas. The large sign, formerly reading “University of Lawsonomy”, was a familiar landmark for motorists in the region for many years and was visible from I-94 about 13 miles north of the Illinois state line, on the east side of the highway. Although the sign still exists, the “of” has now been replaced by the URL of their website. As of a storm in spring 2009, the sign is no longer there although the supporting posts are still visible. Driving north on I-94 a sign on the roof of the building nearest the freeway says “Study Natural Law.”

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.