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Friday, March 1, 1996

Thoughts on FEE’s 50th Anniversary

FEE Seeks to Reshape Public Opinion

It is force, not opinion, that queens its way over the world, but it is opinion that looses the force.
      —Blaise Pascal, 1670

How to get from here to there—from (to supply a current benchmark on massive government) the U.S. $1.7 trillion budget, over to a widespread reaffirmation of the rule of law, of freedom and free enterprise, in America and throughout the West? That reaffirmation is the challenge that the Foundation for Economic Education has tackled since it was chartered in March 1946.

How has it done so? By seeking to reshape public opinion through such things as seminars and discussion clubs, but in the main through the printed word, through its Essays on Liberty early in its career, a variety of books and, for the last 40 years or so, its monthly, The Freeman.

In this issue, some early FEE essays—some early roots—are reprinted. The spirit of FEE’s founder and first president, Leonard E. Read, who hammered out what he called the Freedom Philosophy, underlies these works.

Why are words and thoughts so pivotal? With words we rule men, said Disraeli. Thought precedes human action, said Mises. Ideas have consequences, said Weaver. The power of ideas through words, spoken or written, on the human mind and hence on the course of human events is incontestable.

That power was seen by St. Paul in his Epistles such as those to the Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians. Through these letters to clusters of early Christians, St. Paul mightily helped convert people to Christianity, extended the New Testament, and became a fountainhead of Christian faith and doctrine.

The power of words is seen further from 1776 through 1783 in Thomas Paine’s The Crisis. Paine’s words still hold true for 1996: These are the times that try men’s souls. George Washington hailed Paine the pamphleteer for helping to forge the American Revolution.

Later on, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, under the nom de plume of Publius, wrote 85 papers seriatim of The Federalist, 1787-1788, mostly aimed at the people of New York State so as to win ratification of the U.S. Constitution as laid down in Philadelphia in 1787.

More periodicals, The Liberator, 1831-1866, flowed from the pen of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. He favored moral suasion over violence or political involvement. He helped organize the Anti-Slavery Society and was long its president. He opposed the Civil War until the Emancipation Proclamation. He ceased publication of The Liberator with the passage of the 13th Amendment barring involuntary servitude.

But a sort of involuntary servitude still persists in America and accounts for the rise of FEE. For example, Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform, led by Grover Norquist, says that the typical American enjoys personal freedom beginning on July 9th when he or she will have paid for the cost of taxes and regulation imposed by government. The Norquist calculation may suggest that today’s American is more than half-slave.

In the second half of its century, with public opinion continuing to rule the roost as it has for millennia, FEE carries on its fight to shape that opinion for better ends and means by continuing to promote Leonard Read’s boundless optimism and Freedom Philosophy.

—William H. Peterson

Guest Editor

The May 1996 issue of The Freeman will be a celebration of 50 years of FEE—and 40 years of The Freeman.

In An Ideal America

Every person should be free

. . . to pursue his ambition to the full extent of his abilities, regardless of race or creed or family background.

. . . to associate with whom he pleases for any reason he pleases, even if someone else thinks it’s a stupid reason.

. . . to worship God in his own way, even if it isn’t “orthodox.”

. . . to choose his own trade and to apply for any job he wants—and to quit his job if he doesn’t like it or if he gets a better offer.

. . . to go into business for himself, be his own boss, and set his own hours of work—even if it’s only three hours a week.

. . . to use his honestly acquired property or savings in his own way— spend it foolishly, invest it wisely, or even give it away.

. . . to offer his services or products for sale on his own terms, even if he loses money on the deal.

. . . to buy or not to buy any service or product offered for sale, even if the refusal displeases the seller.

. . . to disagree with any other person, even when the majority is on the side of the other person.

. . . to study and learn whatever strikes his fancy, as long as it seems to him worth the cost and effort of studying and learning it.

. . . to do as he pleases in general, as long as he doesn’t infringe the equal right and opportunity of every other person to do as he pleases.

—Leonard E. Read, 1898-1983

Founding President of FEE

  • William H. Peterson (1921-2012) was an economist, businessman and author who wrote extensively on Austrian Economics. He completed his PhD at New York University in 1952 under the supervision of Ludwig von Mises.