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