MIses.org is pleased to host an online edition of a book that made something of a splash about 50 years ago, and one can easily see why. It is called The Mainspring of Human Progress, and in 278 pages, it provides an overview–and a very compelling one!–of the central importance of human freedom in liberating people from poverty, famine, and death. It is striking how the author continues to remind the reader that the “state of nature” is not a blissful oneness with the creator and creation but rather a grim poverty and struggle for survival.
The author is Henry Grady Weaver, who was a General Motors executive with a real talent for writing and research. The book, written as a private research project, appeared first in 1947. He died two years later, before he could complete his true ambition of writing a book on Bastiat. The book has its own Wikipedia entry.
Leonard Read of the Foundation for Economic Education liked the book and printed under FEE’s auspices in 1953, promoting it heavily for the next 20 years. One has to admire Read’s sense of intellectual entrepreneurship here, to publish a book by an author no one had really heard of and hold it up as a great teaching tool this way. We might also note how Read might be considered a pioneer in the area of intellectual property. Check the copyright notice on this book: “Permission to reprint Mainspring, in whole or in part, is hereby granted by the publisher and copyright holder.” Wow!
The author guides the reader through a history from the ancient world and forward, and offers some challenging ideas concerning the relationship between Islam and Christianity. This is one of the few books I’ve seen that offers a strongly revisionist account of the role of Islam in the middle ages. He regards Mohammad as an advocate of individualism and peace, and the contribution of the “Saracens” as a positive one for the advance of human liberty. If you have only heard the Christian side of the Crusades, this book will come as a shock. His claim that Islam is wholly peaceful unless prodded with invasions and violence has strong relevance today, obviously.
You will find it a wonderful read, highly provocative in so many ways. I’m a bit disappointed by the final chapter on war, however, and the author’s uncharacteristically naive claim that the US in its wars has served as an “arsenal of democracy or rather, as the arsenal of freedom.” But I suppose we have to consider the time: just at the end of World War II, which public opinion admitted no other perspective. Might he have changed his mind with the Cold War? Who knows? Certainly he would have been a major skeptic of the War on Terror.
In any case, I can see now why this book was so popular and had such a big impact. Read was right to make this work part of the core of FEE’s educational project.
By the way, the book is available for 1 cent from Amazon.