Leonard E. Read

American academic

Leonard Edward Read (September 26, 1898 – May 14, 1983) was the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), which was one of the first modern libertarian institutions of its kind in the United States. He wrote 29 books and numerous essays, including the well-known "I, Pencil" (1958).

Quotes edit

The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson.
  • There is really nothing that can be done except by an individual. Only individuals can learn. Only individuals can think creatively. Only individuals can cooperate. Only individuals can combat statism.
  • Such terms as communism, socialism, Fabianism, the welfare state, Nazism, fascism, state interventionism, egalitarianism, the planned economy, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Republicanism, the New Frontier are simply different labels for much the same thing.
  • Whenever government assumes responsibility for the security, welfare, and prosperity of citizens, the costs of government rise beyond the point where it is politically expedient to cover them by direct tax levies.
    • I Prefer Security to Freedom (1962)
  • Assuming the market is free from fraud, violence, misrepresen­tation, and predation, the economic failure or success of any individ­ual is measured by what he can obtain in willing exchange—fair­ness being a state of affairs that is presupposed in the assumption. Everyone, according to any moral code I would respect, is entitled to fairness in the sense of no special privilege to anyone and open op­portunity for all; no one is entit­led to what is implied by a fair price, a fair wage, a fair salary, a fair rent, or a fair profit. In mar­ket terms, one is entitled to what others will offer in willing ex­change. That is all!
  • The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society's legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed.
  • Were it necessary to bring a majority into a comprehension of the libertarian philosophy, the cause of liberty would be utterly hopeless. Every significant movement in history has been led by one or just a few individuals with a small minority of energetic supporters.

Leonard E. Read Journal (1949-1978) edit

  • I have never met a single European who had a clean, clear-cut understanding of the principles of strictly limited government.
  • Why do tourists gape so eagerly at this sort of thing [Château de Fontainebleau]? Most people, I believe, aspire to what these agents and sycophants of the state achieved: ease without work, services for themselves by edict, power and position by wishing plus, of course, a little intrigue.
  • A society such as this [Mont Pelerin Society], beyond entertainment or evil has one other possibility -- an intellectual levelling-up of its members. After attendance at three meetings I have experienced nowhere near the edification I can obtain elsewhere and at lower cost. Maybe these folks are too far advanced for me to grasp their wisdom. In any event I am not benefited...These pedants have a gadgetry of scholarship -- degrees, licenses, titles, readings of all old-world philosophy -- to which those outside are not admitted except in condescending tolerance, a form of gentle and mannerly contempt.
  • Clever phrases or cliches such as "Human rights are above property rights" or "What would you do, let them starve?" have influenced untold numbers of Americans to vote for charlatans and to advocate legal thievery.
  • 'What would you cut out of government expenditures?' I cannot answer that question. Ask me what I would leave in.
  • An action is morally good which aids or promotes this unfolding of self and it is morally bad if it inhibits or destroys the process. It, of course, goes without saying that this does not include one's own rise at the expense of another.
  • The distinction between individuals is not to be found in self-interest. It is to be found in the degree of intelligence they apply in interpreting their self-interest. The "selfless" one, in the name of doing good, charity, and sacrifice, is not intelligent enough to see that his greatest contribution to others would be his own evolution, presenting society with a more perfect person. The intelligent one knows that his value to others is identical with value to self, and that this value rests on the extent of his perfection, the extent that he excels, the extent that he has something over and above which can be drawn on by others.
  • The proper function of government does not include government's intrusion into economic activities;..it should

be limited to the use only of repellent or defensive force, protecting equally the rights to life and property of all;...government is properly a juridical, not an economic problem.

  • If we are free to be our varietal selves; if there be no obstructions to the exchange of ideas and goods; if we have the liberty to move; society and

the persons who compose it will be in as perfect a state as it is possible for it or them to be at any given time.

  • All creative thought and creative action is strictly personal. A committee, any collective, cannot think. It cannot act creatively. It can only act destructively. It can exercise brute force.
  • Government cannot, in logic and justice, possess any powers or rights that are not properly the powers and rights of any or all of the individuals who establish it.
  • Coercion doesn't change from evil to good if employed by two against one or by 200 million against one. Arithmetic has no bearing on moral principles.
  • Government can no more use coercion against the life or property of a person and, at the same time, perform its proper function of defending the life or property of that person than I can practice Christian charity on another while robbing him.
  • Communism, socialism, the welfare state, et cetera, are essentially one and the same thing.
  • There are two ways of getting on top. One way is to outrun all the others. The second way is to hold others back to a pace slower than one's own. The first way requires ability; the second way is possible only by the use of coercion. The first way is the ingredient of all progress; the second is an ingredient of regress. The function of government is to defend the former against the latter. The function of revolution is to destroy any government when it joins forces with the latter.
  • I have yet to find a person who does not agree with this: "It is wrong for me to control you or for you to control me." Then I say, "It is wrong for two of us to control you." Agreed. Then I say, It is wrong for 150 million of us to control you." Agreed. But the BUT arises as soon as most persons begin to reason from the general to the particular. The penetration of the social cancer is so deep that they can no longer see how persons could be educated, or roads could be built, or the mails delivered, or prosperity made possible, short of coercion, the thing they admit to be evil.
  • Civilization, I sometimes think, is little more than a thin veneer of culture covering a host of red-assed baboons!
  • When all the verbiage is cut through and all the shouting dies down, what really is it FEE argues for? Just this: You preposterous egotists! Get the hell off the backs of folks who know as much as you but who know they don’t know much. Leave us with ourselves and our Creator. The Creator, not you, is our source of creative action. Sure, all of us will organize to protect this creative relationship but, other than this, get gone! Leave the creative relationship be, you would-be gods! We are no less fallible than you but you are dizzy.
  • At one end of the intellectual spectrum are the wise, those who know they don't know much; and on the other end are the egotists, those who have little, if any, awareness of how little they know.
  • Socialism is founded on a lie -- the premise that man knows more than he in fact does know.
  • Self-promotion is self-defeating. No matter how brilliant an individual, one becomes instinctively "leery" when he toots his own horn.

Excuse Me, Professor: Challenging the Myths of Progressivism edit

  • Once an activity has been socialized, it is impossible to point out, by concrete example, how men in a free market could better conduct it. How, for instance, can one compare a socialized post office with private postal delivery when the latter has been outlawed?
  • The more complex our economy, the more we should rely on the miraculous, self-adapting processes of men acting freely. No mind of man nor any combination of minds can even envision, let alone intelligently control, the countless human energy exchanges in a simple society, to say nothing of a complex one.

Anything That's Peaceful (1964) edit

  • Statism is but socialized dishonesty; it is feathering the nests of some with feathers coercively plucked from others - on the grand scale. There is no moral — only a legal — distinction between petty thievery and political Robin Hoodism, which is to say, there is no moral difference between the act of a pickpocket and the progressive income tax or any other piece of socialization.
  • Socialism depends upon and presupposes material achievements which socialism itself can never create. Socialism is operative only in wealth situations brought about by motes of production other than its own. Socialism takes and redistributes wealth, but it is utterly incapable of creating wealth.

The Complete Works of Leonard E. Read (1976) edit

  • It should be noted that people in the free market rarely bear false witness; integrity is the rule. The morning mile, phone calls, planes the airlines buy, autos by the millions - no one could list the instances - are as represented. We have daily, eloquent, enormous testimony that the Ten Commandments can be and are observed by fallible human beings. Contemporary politics is the most glaring of all exceptions.
  • A fact rarely suspected, let alone understood, is that businessmen are by no means the chief beneficiaries of the free market, private ownership, limited government way of life. Many business ventures fail entirely. Who then are the beneficiaries? The masses!

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