A Free Society


Seattle, Washington, November 9, 1958

Dear Professor Petro:

Your book, The Labor Policy of the Free Society,’ has helped me make up my mind on the matter of compulsory unionism. This battle was recently fought in the State of Washington. Why we should have lost in the public forum on an issue of this importance is difficult to comprehend.

The decline in the importance of the individual seems to be in full swing. A minority of men and women in the union movement realize that their interests are not served by compulsory membership; but the will of the majority prevails. In discussions with friends, I have tried to show that the free society does not enslave anyone—that it serves all our interests best in the long pull. But their position is that com­pulsory unionism is necessary to prevent exploitation and to assure bar­gaining power in other respects. They point out what they regard as the hopeless position of the wheat farmer if he were exposed to the free market.

In the light of what happened in five of the six states which voted on voluntary unionism, do you now have misgivings in regard to your definition of the free society? Do you now feel that you and von Mises are out of date in your economic views? Do you feel that these are per­haps beautiful principles but that the world does not want them?

Very truly yours, Lawrence Noonan

New York, N. Y., November 14, 1958

Dear Mr. Noonan:

I am more than ever convinced that the free society is the only society proper to mankind and the goals of men. The collectivist trend can lead only to death and destruction, to a primitive and brutalizing end, not only of the finest and most elevated human aims, but also of humble peace and goodness. Dictation of the affairs of men by a ruling elite, no matter how selected, can bring about only such results. Realization of the best there is in men is possible only within a social structure built around the principles of full personal freedom: private property, freedom of contract, free markets, and law and order.

Whether or not these insights will ever prevail, presents a doubtful question. No mortal man is in a position to answer it, or ever will be. Preoccupation with it is therefore either foolish, as a waste of time and spiritual energy, or arrogantly presumptuous. The real problem for every man is whether or not he feels that personal freedom is the only possible or acceptable basis of life in society. If he feels that it is, he then faces the further problem: what shall I do about it? The answer depends upon one’s own character, will, and inclination. One may choose any of the courses lying between total inaction and total com­mitment. One thing seems clear to me: Prevailing trends toward col­lectivism, a current defeat or even a series of defeats for the freedom principle, popular unenlightenment, or lack of interest—none of these has any bearing on whether or not one does or should favor freedom. He who loves life does not voluntarily relinquish it; he may not be able successfully to resist murder and destruction, but he should never con­fuse it with life, and will, in fact, not love life less because it looks as though he must lose it.

Sincerely yours, Sylvester Petro


New York: Ronald Press, $5.00. Also see page 16 for a review of Professor Petra’s new book on the McClellan Committee hearings.


July 1959

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December 2014

Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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The full text of Hazlitt's famed primer on economic principles: read this first!


Frederic Bastiat's timeless defense of liberty for all. Once read and understood, nothing ever looks the same.


There can be little doubt that man owes some of his greatest suc­cesses in the past to the fact that he has not been able to control so­cial life.


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No one knows how to make a pencil: Leonard Read's classic (Audio, HTML, and PDF)