All Commentary
Wednesday, December 1, 1982

Book Review: The Path of Duty by Leonard E. Read

(The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y. 10533), 1982 • 128 pages • $7.50

Leonard Read has done it again. His new book is called The Path of Duty. Most tables of contents are dull descriptive material, but this one is as exciting as the fetching illustrations that appear in a seed catalog. Each one suggests a bright and winning idea which is well-nigh irresistible. Here they are—all 26 of them—followed with a very useful index.

1.       The Path of Duty

2.       The Purpose of Wealth

3.       How To Become a Millionaire

4.       Vanity and Virtue

5.       The Limits of Knowledge

6.       Poverty Has Its Advantages

7.       The Enjoyment of Truth

8.       Several Facets of Freedom

9.       Education For Virtue

10.       My Rights Are Your Rights

11.       Fearless and Free

12.       Self-Improvement

13.       Exalting The Common Good

14.       Choose Statesmen, Not Politicians

15.       The Source of Progress

16.       Say “Yes” To Life

17.       Kindness and Intelligence

18.       Sublime Example

19.       Earnest Resolution

20.       Attraction

21.       A Benefactor To Mankind

22.       Govern Thyself

23.       There Is Time Enough

24.       Sweet Land of Liberty

25.       To Aspire After Virtue

26.       Greatness

Walter Scott inspired the title essay with his shrewd remark,

If you have no friends to share or rejoice in your success in life—if you cannot look back to those to whom you owe gratitude, or forward to those to whom you ought to afford protection, still it is no less incumbent on you to move steadily in the path of duty; for your active exertions are due not only to society; but in humble gratitude to the Being who made you a member of it, with powers to serve yourself and others.

His chapter “The Purpose of Wealth” contains an autobiographical insert which suggests the reason for Leonard Read’s success in founding and maintaining the Foundation for Economic Education. Said Read,

My annual salary when General Manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in the early forties was $18,000. One day the head of the country’s largest insurance company offered me the job of heading their affairs in the seven western states. Said he, “Leonard, I do not know how much you will earn but I guarantee it will not be less than $100,000.” I replied, “No, thank you.”

Read turned down this offer because his life was devoted to the understanding and the promulgation of freedom as a way of life.

Leonard Read’s contention is that a person can become a millionaire by thinking a million great thoughts. This is not only a sublimated millionaire but an actual one, for these million great thoughts pay off in the marketplace.

This little volume continues to range over such interesting thoughts as the advantages of poverty. One of our very great Americans was called to Harvard University where his son was in school. The son was in trouble. The father, whose name is a household word in America, was outraged by his son’s behavior and said to the student, “Why on earth would you do this? Such action would have been unthinkable in my student days.” The student answered, “Dad, I did not have the advantage of being poor.”

For Read one of the great values of the philosophy of liberty is the enjoyment it brings to the people who attempt to practice it. There is nothing grim and dour about Read’s economic philosophy. No one would have ever called economics “the dismal science” had Read been the principal writer at that time. Liberty and truth are to be enjoyed—not endured.

In chapter 8 Read reaches back to John Stuart Mill who says, “The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not at tempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” That genius who wrote so clearly about liberty was so schooled that he studied himself into a contradictory socialist viewpoint. Fortunately, his great book on liberty makes amends for his other mistakes.

One particularly helpful passage in The Path of Duty has to do with the penchant of Americans to choose second-rate people for high public office. Leonard Read uses Burke for his opening statement in chapter 10 and proceeds to show how we can stay free in spite of the politicians. There is a destiny above and beyond us which brings us back to liberty time and time again.

One of my best friends in his later years said, “When I was young, I judged people on the basis of what they could do. Now that I am old, I judge them on the basis of how kind they are.” Leonard Read’s little book is a shining example of his kindly personality. He has no time to put people down, but only to identify the best in those around him in order that they might be inspired to nobler things.

The book concludes with a series of 15 quotations pertinent to the qualities that mark a pilgrim through this life with greatness. In this Read has performed the function that Plato mentioned for every great teacher, which is to “hold before the young a vision of greatness.” This little book, The Path of Duty, does just that and each reader will be inspired.

  • Dr. Perry E. Gresham (1907-1994) was President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor, Bethany College. Bethany, West Virginia.