A few days ago, while searching online, I came across a mention that September 26 was Leonard Read’s birthday. I was aware of Read’s work as the founder and long-time leader of the Foundation for Economic Education and a prolific teacher of the love of liberty. I had also read many of his short articles, which are impressive for the clarity with which he presents his wholehearted commitment to liberty and recognizes the consequences of its absence. But I had never sat down to read one of his books in its entirety. So I decided I would read one for his birthday, with high hopes.
Given my short time constraint, I began by checking my university’s library holdings, and found that they had three of Read’s books. I checked them all out. I chose to read one titled Talking to Myself first, as much for my “why would he pick that name for a book he wants others to read?â€ curiosity. I ended up reading it in one sitting. It was well worth reading, even though it was picked essentially at random from his over two dozen books. It drew me in with his well-turned phrases, so I began noting some of them as I read. Even though it is a short book, I accumulated pages of them.
Since Leonard Read was always educating for liberty, it occurred to me that perhaps the best way for me to honor his birthday would be to share some of his many insights about liberty, to encourage people to read him more extensively. So to that end, consider the following brief compilation from Talking to Myself, to help reinvigorate your own understanding of and commitment to liberty.
“I am the only part of society I have been commissioned to save.â€
“â€¦each must look inside himselfâ€¦Thus do individuals â€˜reform’ society.â€
“Government affords no cure; that comes from individual awakening.â€
“When the objective is at the high level of individual freedom, the real action is within the individual.â€
“All actions and all ideas inimical to a free society are destructive.â€
“When the trend is away from, not toward, a free society, it is axiomatic that the drift is marked by a decline in human virtue.â€
“We’re off course any time any peaceful individual is denied the full use of his own faculties and resources.â€
“[When] Politicians who promise [majorities] what they want are easily elected to positions of power over the resources of everyoneâ€¦justice is out of the question, and an essentially free society impossible.â€
“â€¦freedom affords justice, whereas socialism does not and cannot.â€
“I cannot allow my own pet exception to freedom without allowing others their pet buts. Every socialistic â€˜thing’ is someone’s petâ€¦For me to stand for one socialistic item, regardless of how emotionally committed, is for me to give away the case for freedom.â€
“I wouldn’t allow government to get its nose under the tent, however urgent the clamor!â€
“Can I forcibly take the fruits of your labor to rescue [someone] without committing a crime? I cannot. The degree of urgency has nothing to do with the matter and would not absolve me of my crimeâ€¦Urgency or personal need no more warrants coercive force on the part of government than on my part.â€
“What can police force do? Clearly it can inhibit, prohibit, restrain, penalize. What actions of men should be inhibitedâ€¦Only fraud, misrepresentation, predation; that is, all destructive actions of some against others.â€
“â€¦nothing but ill can flow from plundering others and redistributing the lootâ€¦â€
“The only reason for the feeble present condition of our faith in this voluntary behavior is that voluntarism has been largely deadened by governmental takeover.â€
“Let government codify and enforce the taboos against destructive actions; leave everything creative to men acting freely, competitively, cooperatively, privately. And the more urgent the matter, the more rigidly should this rule be observed.â€
“Free and self-responsible men are as good as imperfect men can beâ€¦we should trust free menâ€¦those who are coercedâ€”they’ll behave irresponsibly.â€
“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.â€
“Trust freedom? In the society of men there is nothing else to trust!â€
“Only when it becomes second nature for man to behave in a manner consonant with freedom will freedom be secure.â€
“When many of us can expose the fallacies of socialism and explain the principles of freedom with the ease and facility of adding two plus two, that’s when freedom will be an assured way of life!”
“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.â€
“I may do whatever suits my personal fancy so long as no offense is done to what I owe othersâ€¦I cannot do as I please by using either private or governmental coercionâ€¦â€
“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.â€
“The right to do as I please is restricted enough by observing ethical and moral principlesâ€¦But, beyond these limitationsâ€¦leave me free to do as I please lest my individuality be shorn away and destroyed rather than improved and expanded.â€
“Iâ€¦have a deep and abiding faith not in the common man but 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.â€
“In a society of self-responsible and free men, self-interest draws the virtues into practice.â€
“Some problems in life cannot be delegatedâ€¦One’s conscience cannot. One’s integrity cannot. And, one’s freedom cannot.â€
“â€¦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.â€
“Any person aware of his limitations has nothing he wishes to impose on othersâ€¦When people do not know how little they know, they’ll effectuate their nonsense by force.â€
I puzzled at first as to why Leonard Read called his book Talking to Myself. But the subtitle, which I overlooked at first, made it clear. He was talking to himself because “I am the only part of society I have been commissioned to save.â€ He recognized that “reformsâ€ that do not originate in people’s individual commitments to liberty founder on the shoals of coercion, and that only by living lives that entirely avoid coercion is liberty completely understandable or possible.
Freedom lovers owe a debt of gratitude to Leonard Read, who was a prolific defender of liberty. While we live in a world that is far from the ideal he espoused and lived, it would be even further from it if not for his efforts. If we care for liberty as much, we need to let him talk to us as well as to himself.