By Leonard E. Read
Note – Frequent readers of BANKNOTES are aware of my relationship with Leonard E. Read and my admiration for his works during his lifetime. In the following issues I will be sharing his book, VISION, one chapter per month. It was written in 1978. What a privilege it was for me to know this great man! – R. Nelson Nash
There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; and hid that shall not be known. -Matthew 10:26
In a spirit of eternal vigilance, let’s consider the important matter of advancing an understanding and practice of freedom.
As Aristotle observed, “One may go wrong in many different ways, but right only in one.” This applies as pertinently to the subject here at issue as to any other attainment.
First, what are the wrong ways? They are too numerous to list; so to avoid misunderstanding, or pages of explanation, or offense to many of those devoted tofreedom, here is the one right way—as I see it: self-improvement! This means not only advancing one’s own understanding of the freedom philosophy, but achieving an ever improving clarity in explanation. This is the right way. All the others are wrong and, in my judgment, do more harm than good.
Why is self-improvement the right way? Truth, as related to freedom or to any other subject, cannot be cannonballed into the masses or into any single person. All good and elevating ideas, be they yours or mine or anyone else’s, must be sought to be received. Real intellectual gains are made only in response to the law of attraction. In no instance can they be thrust into the mentality of another. All thrusting attempts are distractive rather than attractive and only magnify our problem. They cause the socialistic non sense to gain by leaps and bounds!
During FEE’s 31 years we have heard over and over again words to this effect:
I agree that self-improvement is highly desirable, but we are facing disaster and your remedy is far too slow. Time is running out. We must get our ideas into the heads of these ignoramuses-and quick!
Most, if not all, of the wrong ways for replacing a growing socialism with a longed-for freedom stem from the notion that there is not time enough for the right way.
Really, the appropriate question is not, “Is there time enough?” but, rather, “Am I enough of an exemplar?” Time is infinite, but I am finite. Thus, when it comes to improving the practice of freedom, my part is to improve myself in my time. Beyond that, there is nothing I can do about it.
If we review the history and timing of good movements, we find that Christianity did not exert its elevating influence on Western Civilization prior to Christ’s crucifixion—and not, indeed, for many years thereafter. His exemplarity bore its wonderful fruit long after that shameful event.
Suppose He had held the idea that there wasn’t time enough for purity of thought and simple righteousness to result in the conversion of great numbers and had resorted to the wholesale reformation of others during His earthly moments. There would have been no Perfect Exemplar and no Christianity today or ever!
In the realm of mortals also may be found exemplars of the kind that you and I should try our best to emulate—Frederic Bastiat, for instance. Did his wisdom cause a turnabout in his native France during his lifetime (1801- 1850)? If anything, the practice of freedom slumped during that period.
Bastiat, however, counselled two Englishmen—Richard Cobden and John Bright—who, in turn, were largely reponsible for the advance of the Industrial Revolution as governmental protectionism gave way to free trade-an unprecedented increase of goods and services to the masses. And this, also: at least a million Americans have read one or more of his works during the past 25 years—a contribution to our restoration of freedom more than a century after his death. Bastiat did not live to witness the fruits of his politico-economic enlightenment. Instead, he labored on his own improvement in his own time and, in the process, left intellectual guidelines for others to follow.
Assess the works of our Founding Fathers, writers of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These few were inner-directed, seeking an im provement in their own thinking and in their time. Few if any of them lived to witness the remarkable fruits of their joint intellectual, moral and spiritual labors. Had that been their consuming zeal—had they paused to lament that “there’s not time enough”—there would have been no American miracle. Those early exemplars did not stop all else to reform the vast majority who do no politico economic thinking for themselves. Instead, they sought and discovered a social formula that encouraged and made it possible for the nonthinkers to cooperate to the best interests of themselves and all concerned.
There are numerous examples comparable to the above. And, assuredly, there have been ever so many instances of self-improvement resulting in monumental advances that have never been fully recognized and recorded. Indeed, it is certain that countless valuable social and political gains have been fathered by individuals who were unaware of their contributions. How come? The fruition of their exemplary behavior and thinking blessed mankind long after their mortal moment—often decades or even centuries later! My admonition (to myself first of all) is that we set not our eyes upon saving or bettering humanity in our time. If such a result crowns our efforts, well and good; but our aim should be to strive for truth and righteousness all the time. To the extent that we succeed in self-improvement, to that extent will the general human situation be improved—though no one now knows the precise timing of the results.
No one knows what will happen in the next minute any more than he knows what will happen a century from now. It may very well be that an enlightenment of the past-no one knows how long ago—is to have its fulfillment right now, that is, in our time. And, by the same token, anyone’s self-improvement of today may achieve fruition in the far-off future.
Let’s have faith that such fulfillment—namely, a restoration of freedom—is in the immediate offing. This faith, however, can be absolutely justified only to the extent that there are individuals who pursue the path of self improvement. Adherence to what is right—exemplarity—will result in a significant abandonment of the wrong ways, particularly the deadening notion that “There isn’t time enough for the right way.”
Saint Matthew shares a faith and a promise that should sustain all devotees of freedom: “There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; and hid that shall not be known.”
Again, the truth of freedom is about to be revealed and known. For there is not enough darkness in the whole world to put out the light of one small candle. Freedom is light—enlightenment—and cannot be extinguished!