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
An individual is as superb as a nation when he has the qualities that make for a superb nation.
Our earth is but a tiny fraction of the solar system, that is, the sun and all the heavenly bodies that revolve around it. The sun is our star, the sole source of all the light and energy that make earthly life possible. One star, a remarkable one! Our galaxy, however, is composed of some 30 billion ones, stars that account for the light we occasionally observe in the Milky Way.
Descend now to the earthly level and our own nation. Each individual is but one among more than 200 million. The state of the union—how superb our nation-is determined by the individuals who compose the population. It always has been, is now, and always will be a matter of individuality. If no stars in the citizenry, then nothing splendid is to be expected. But note this: If there be but one who is sufficiently brilliant—a truly remarkable one—count on it, ours will be superb nation. Why? It is light that brings forth the eye! Thus, how bright the light of a star is the question before us.
During the past 45 years I have become acquainted with thousands of freedom devotees, not only in the U.S.A. but in 22 foreign nations. However, I am unaware of anyone whose quality is superb enough to bring about a superb nation. I know many praiseworthy ones but not the hoped for remarkable one.
My limited vision, however, is not to be taken as proof that there is no one amongst us. Who sees all the stars! Reflect on the remarkable one of nearly 2,000 years ago. Only a few among the millions on this earth were aware of His existence. Even today, many in the world remain unaware.
To highlight my point, I turn again to an observation by Edmund Burke:
How often has public calamity been arrested on the very brink of ruin, by the seasonable energy of a single man? Have we no such man amongst us? I am as sure as I am of my being, that one vigorous mind without office, without situation, without public functions of any kind, (at a time when the want of such a thing is felt, as I am sure it is) I say, one such man, confiding in the aid of God, and full of just reliance in his own fortitude, vigor, enterprise, and perseverance, would first draw to him some few like himself, and then that multitudes, hardly thought to be in existence, would appear and troop about him.
Using Burke’s observations as guidelines, let’s examine today’s situation.
What is a public calamity? For geographical pictures have a look at Russia and Red China. Put into words, a public calamity has a double-barreled definition:
Government ownership and control of the means of production: The Planned Economy.
Government ownership and control of the results of production: The Welfare State.
Whether or not this is labeled calamity depends on one’s perception. Most Russians and Chinese, born into an authoritarian society, regard their situation not as calamity but as the what-ought-to-be; they do not see beyond their own experiences. And most Americans, born without the gift of seeing through the sham of political babble, are in the same unfortunate fix.
Is the U.S.A. on the brink of ruin? The few who see the glory of the free market, private ownership, limited government way of life—individual liberty—believe we are heading rapidly toward “the very brink of ruin.” The socialistic trend has been gaining momentum each year for the past six or seven decades.
Is there a “seasonable man” almongst us? I am certain, as Burke, that there are numerous persons with this potential, and among us right now. But neither you nor I know who the “seasonable man” is; indeed, that individual himself is unaware. If he so regarded himself, he wouldn’t be one. So what is your and my responsibility? It is nothing less than trying to surpass each other—competing for excellence—not necessarily that we’ll be the one but that we may be among the few drawn to the “seasonable man.”
Is it possible that the “seasonable man” might be an individual who is without office, without situation, without public functions ofany kind? Yes, if his mind be adequately vigorous; if righteousness be his first aim in life (confiding in the aid of God), and if he be “full of just reliance in his own fortitude, vigor, enterprise, and perseverance.”
All history attests to this truth. Jesus of Nazareth was without office or public functions of any kind, yet he shaped the history of the western world. And in one degree or another the same might be said of mortals such as Socrates, Maimonides, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Issac Newton, Emerson, and Thoreau. In recent times, I need only mention a Ludwig von Mises or an Ezra Taft Benson. And there are many others whose work may have been so much behind the scenes that we know not of them.
Will multitudes, hardly thought to be in existence, appear and troop about him? The millions who today unconsciously follow and troop about present-day socialists will just as unconsciously troop about the one. Further, he will be unconscious that he is the one, unaware that the exalted ideas and ideals which he exemplifies constitute the driving force.
Finally, what method shall we use in trying to surpass each other in exemplifying freedom ideas and ideals? It is the very opposite of the wrong tactic so often employed: Reaching for others! The right? Striving to achieve that excellence which will cause a few to reach for us! Briefly, it is the improvement of self and not the reforming of others—the power to attract rather than repulse.
Having expressed my views as to what’s right and wrong, here are my concluding thoughts as to your role and mine. Merely remember that there is no level to falling or rising stars, to descending or ascending. What then? Strive everlastingly for excellence not only in understanding but for clarity in exposition—clearly as possible without losing the train of thought. Avoid obscurity, labor for simplicity!
Do this and some truly perceptive historian of the future will write of the turnabout now in the offing:
“They Won by One!”