Leonard Read is not a household name today. That is unfortunate, because, according to biographer Mary Sennholz, he was “one of the most notable social philosophers of our time. His name will forever be associated with the rebirth of the freedom philosophy.”
Read’s most formative moment came in a 1933 meeting with W.C. Mullendore, who taught Read his “best lesson ever” in liberty. In response, Read wrote his first book—The Romance of Reality (1937)—to develop and clarify the belief in self-ownership and the solely voluntary arrangements it enabled, which he would hone for over four decades.
Read developed into a pro-freedom crusader, which led him to leave a lucrative career to create an organization promoting freedom in 1946, when freedom's prospects in the world were bleak. The Foundation for Economic Education became “the granddaddy of all libertarian organizations,” according to Gary North, inspiring many others throughout the world.
As FEE’s founder and leader, Read wrote prolifically and traveled widely to advance individual liberty. Bettina Bien Greaves described his core message:
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…should take property by force or coercion from one person for the benefit of another.
As Jacob Hornberger put it,
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.
On his September 26 birthday, an excellent place to begin understanding Read’s wisdom is with the book that lent its name to this space: Anything That's Peaceful.
This post was adapted from Gary Galles, The Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read, Laissez Faire Books, 2013.