Leonard Read Changed My Life


From the time I was a small child, I had planned to become an attorney. I never had any doubt that I would spend my entire life practicing law. Upon graduation from law school in 1975, I returned to my hometown to begin my long-awaited legal career.

Two years later I discovered Essays on Liberty, a series of books which The Foundation for Economic Education had published in the 1950s. It was there that I discovered the thoughts and ideas of Leonard E. Read, who had founded The Foundation in 1946. While I immediately recognized the tremendous significance of his message, it was not until years later that I realized that Leonard Read had changed my life forever.

When I was growing up, I learned certain important principles about the lives and property of other people. It was morally right to care for others, especially those in need. It was morally wrong to steal, no matter how well- intentioned. If I desired to assist others, I had to do so with my own efforts and resources, rather than with what I could take from others.

Soon after I began my legal career, I accepted a position on the Board of Directors of our local Legal Aid Society, a government agency whose purpose was to provide legal services to the poor. It seemed an excellent opportunity to use my legal background to assist people in need. Until I discovered the philosophy of Leonard Read, it never occurred to me that my attempt to help others in this way was fundamentally flawed.

Stealing cannot be made morally legitimate by legalizing it into a political system. If it is wrong for individuals to take the property of others, even to satisfy the urgent needs of the poor and disadvantaged, it is equally wrong to accomplish this through political representatives. Law is perverted when, instead of protecting property and choice, it is used to plunder property and manipulate choice. No matter how urgent the needs of others, the coercive redistribution of wealth is still morally wrong. The Legal Aid Society was providing legal assistance to the needy with resources that had been forcibly taken from others through the political process. Realizing that I was participating in this wrongful conduct, I resigned my position with Legal Aid.

After discovering Read’s freedom philosophy, I could not understand why other people did not recognize the immorality of using the political system to take from some to give to others. As Read so aptly observed, no matter how honest and honorable people may be in their personal and business affairs, for some reason they are incapable of recognizing the immorality of a political system founded on plunder and control. The resulting tragedy is that while most persons live principled lives in their everyday activities, they live lives without principle with respect to their ideological beliefs.

What then can a person do most effectively to advance the cause of liberty? Since an individual is given only one life to reform and refine, each person should expend his efforts striving to improve himself rather than trying to change everyone else. To freedom devotees, this method of self-improvement means becoming so proficient at explaining the freedom philosophy that others who seek truth will become attracted to the devotee’s ever-growing light of wisdom and understanding.

This process of self-improvement includes the personal maintenance of philosophical and practical purity with respect to the proper role of government. Leonard Read continually emphasized that principles can never be compromised; they can only be abandoned. Therefore, to maintain an ideal concept of government to which others will be attracted, it is imperative that each of us never advocate, or participate in, any political violation of liberty. This strict adherence to principle was summed up in Read’s maxim, “No leaks!”

I did find one aspect of Read’s writings very disconcerting. Underlying his entire philosophy was a belief in God. I simply could not understand how such an intelligent person, who had such brilliant insights into political theory, could actually believe such nonsense. Becoming quite exasperated with Read’s conviction on this matter, I finally decided to investigate. It was not long after I began reading the Gospels that I discovered that Read was right about this aspect of life as well.

Leonard Read was a pioneer. While others were expressing the economic benefits of an unhampered market economy, Read was quietly presenting the moral case for freedom. It was this uncompromising, moral defense of liberty which ultimately changed the course of my life. 

Books by Leonard E. Read

You can read the collected works of Leonard E. Read for free here.

Read wrote books on a wide range of social, economic, political, and moral issues—but always deeply concerned with the methods of freedom. Still in print—and available from FEE—are 18 of his books. Write to us for prices.

Accent on the Right

Anything That’s Peaceful

Castles in the Air

The Coming Aristocracy

Deeper Than You Think

The Freedom Freeway

Having My Way

How Do We Know?

Let Freedom Reign

Liberty: Legacy of Truth

The Love of Liberty

The Path of Duty

Seeds of Progress

Talking to Myself

Then Truth Will Out

To Free or Freeze


Who’s Listening?


September 1988

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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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Essential Works from FEE

Economics in One Lesson (full text)


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.


Leonard Read took the lessons of entrepreneurship with him when he started his ideological venture.


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