ACCORDING to his biographer, Mary Sennholtz, “Leonard Read was one of the most notable social philosophers of our time. His name will forever be associated with the rebirth of the freedom philosophy.” In Gary North’s words, “the libertarian movement … can be traced to Read’s vision.”
The primary reason for those evaluations is that in 1946, when the prospects for freedom in the world were bleak, Leonard Read established the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), which North called “The granddaddy of all libertarian organizations,” and which inspired the formation of many other free-market organizations throughout the world. As not just FEE’s founder and leader but its heart and soul, Leonard Read traveled widely giving speeches, produced a wide array of pro-freedom pamphlets, and participated in hundreds of seminars to advance individual liberty—self-ownership and the solely voluntary arrangements it enabled.
He also wrote prolifically, including almost 30 books. And the core of his message was summarized well by Jacob Hornberger: Leonard Read took an absolutely uncompromising approach to the principles of freedom. He argued that man’s purpose on earth, whatever it is, requires the widest possible ambit for human growth and maturation. Therefore, he believed, a person should be free to do whatever he wants in life as long as it is peaceful.
Read’s foundation for his beliefs came from moral philosophy. As described by Bettina Bien Greaves: He reasoned that if it is moral to respect the life and property of individuals, then it is immoral to violate their rights to life and property; if it is moral to deal peacefully with others, then it is immoral to use force, fraud, or threat of force to impose one’s wishes on others; if voluntary transactions among private-property owners are moral, then to hinder or prevent voluntary transactions among willing traders is immoral.
No one, neither private individual nor public agency, should take property by force or coercion from one person for the benefit of another. These principles led Read logically to believe in the morality of private-property rights, a free-market economy, and free trade, and to the conviction that government intervention that violates private property, hampers free markets, and interferes with free trade is immoral.
Consider the following selection of Leonard Read’s shorter wisdom on liberty: We do not want nor can the people prosper under any form of governmental planned economy. The rise of civilized societies is the result of freedom.
In an essentially free society … no person imposes his will by force upon any other person … then knowledge, ideas, insights are free to emerge from many millions of potential sources. Creativity, in this event, has no external inhibition! Not enough knowledge exists in any discrete individual to rule a single person, let alone a society.
When the responsibility for one’s own welfare is surrendered to government, it follows that the authority to conduct one’s life goes where the responsibility is reposed.
Before a life can be valued for its own sake—not simply a means to someone else’s goal—that life must retain its own power to choose, along with its own quality, its own dignity.
Doing politically what we reject doing individually in no manner alters the immorality of the act; it merely legalizes the wrong … to anyone who believes in the right to life and to one’s honestly acquired property—no moral absolution is gained by legislation.
The person who attempts by force to direct or rearrange the creative activities of others is in a very real sense a slave-master. Given … the unrestrained freedom to act creatively … there will be as much good done by each for others as there is good within us to give.
Justice and so-called social justice are opposites … to promote the latter is to retard the former.