Those involved with the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) are aware of Leonard Read’s work as its founder and long-time leader, as well as his prolific efforts on behalf of liberty. However, substantially fewer have actually read much of his work.
A Book About Liberty
Since 2020 is the 50th anniversary of his Talking to Myself, which highlights many useful insights into liberty, it is a good place to begin to help reinvigorate our understanding of and commitment to liberty. It is even worth considering why he would give such a title to a book he wanted others to read.
Here is a sampling of Read's insights:
- "I am the only part of society I have been commissioned to save."
- "Each must look inside himself...Thus do individuals 'reform' society."
- "Government affords no cure; that comes from individual awakening."
- "When the objective is…freedom, the real action is within the individual."
- "All actions and all ideas inimical to a free society are destructive."
- "When the trend is away from, not toward, a free society…the drift is marked by a decline in human virtue."
- "We’re off course any time any peaceful individual is denied the full use of his own faculties and resources."
- "Politicians who promise [majorities] what they want are easily elected to positions of power over the resources of everyone. When this situation governs, justice is out of the question, an essentially free society impossible."
- "Freedom affords justice, whereas socialism does not and cannot."
- "Every socialistic 'thing' is someone’s pet. For me to stand for one socialistic item, regardless of how emotionally committed, is for me to give away the case for freedom."
- "Can I forcibly take the fruits of your labor to rescue [someone] without committing a crime? I cannot…Urgency or personal need no more warrants coercive force on the part of government than on my part."
- "What actions of men should be inhibited and so on? Only fraud, misrepresentation, predation; that is, all destructive actions of some against others."
- "Nothing but ill can flow from plundering others and redistributing the loot."
- "The only reason for the feeble present condition of our faith in…voluntary behavior is that voluntarism has been largely deadened by governmental takeover."
- "Let government codify and enforce the taboos against destructive actions; leave everything creative to men acting freely, competitively, cooperatively, privately."
- "Free and self-responsible men are as good as imperfect men can be; we should trust free men; those who are coerced…behave irresponsibly."
- "Creation does not require of me that I be its architect. I need only attend to my own growth and to play my part in the preservation of freedom, the sole state in which your and my growth is possible."
- "Trust freedom? In the society of men there is nothing else to trust!"
- "Only when it becomes second nature for man to behave in a manner consonant with freedom will freedom be secure."
- "While I deplore the way many affluent people behave, I trust their wealth to them far more than to politicians or others who had nothing whatsoever to do with its acquisition."
- "I may do whatever suits my personal fancy so long as no offense is done to what I owe others. I cannot do as I please by using either private or governmental coercion."
- "Whenever I assume that the welfare of others is my problem I am, perforce, saying that their welfare is not their problem. I am denying to them self-responsibility, the most precious of human possessions."
- "The right to do as I please is restricted enough by observing ethical and moral principles...But, beyond these limitations...leave me free to do as I please lest my individuality be shorn away and destroyed rather than improved and expanded."
- "I...have a deep and abiding faith…in the self-responsible man. The self-responsible man is, by definition, a free man. He could not be free were others responsible for him."
- "In a society of self-responsible and free men, self-interest draws the virtues into practice."
- "Some problems in life cannot be delegated. One's religion cannot. One's integrity cannot. One's conscience cannot. And, one's freedom cannot."
- "The advancement of freedom is not a matter of who wields political power over creative actions; rather, it depends upon the disassembling of such power."
- "Any person aware of his limitations has nothing he wishes to impose on others...When people do not know how little they know, they'll effectuate their nonsense by force."
I was puzzled about why Leonard Read called his book Talking to Myself. But the subtitle, which I initially overlooked, made it clear. He was talking to himself because “I am the only part of society I have been commissioned to save.” He recognized that “reforms” that do not originate in individuals’ commitments to liberty founder on the shoals of coercion and that only by living lives that abstain from coercion is liberty possible.
For this insight and many others, freedom lovers owe him a debt of gratitude. Our world is far from the ideal he lived and defended, but it would be even further from it without his efforts and those they inspired. To defend liberty today, we should let him talk to us, as well as to himself.