- 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
You read of but one wise man, and all that he knew was – that he knew nothing. — William Congreve
Here is my explanation of why men, when free to try and to act creatively as they please, produce miracles by the millions. Is mine the right and final answer? No such claim is warranted by me on this subject or by anyone on any subject. Nevertheless, I am bound to seek for and to share with others that which seems to be right.
The wise man referred to by the English dramatist, Congreve (1670 – 1729) was Socrates. It wasn’t that this great Greek knew nothing. Everyone above the moronic level knows a wee bit of something. The wisdom of Socrates might be thus paraphrased:
The more I know the more I know there is to know. The more I see the more I know there is to be seen.
Not many of us see ourselves in this light. Only rarely do we encounter anyone who is keenly aware that the more he knows, the more he knows he doesn’t know. Yet, is this Socratic wisdom lies the explanation as to why freedom works its wonders.
Interestingly, freedom serves us well despite our unawareness. Why, then, dwell on the matter? The danger is that those who haven’t the slightest idea of how little they know will become our masters. Indeed, we have, for some time, been on that deplorable road. The know-it-alls have been gaining and exercising political power. So, it’s high time that power be withdrawn. How? Socratic wisdom is the key.
How explain that the more I know the more I know there is to know or the more I see the more there is to be seen? The answer relates to the distinction between Infinite Consciousness – the limitless unknown – and finite consciousness – our infinitesimal bits of know-how.
To assist in making the point here a issue, visualize a blackboard having no boundaries – none whatsoever – the unknown. Next, with white chalk draw a circle the size of a silver dollar to symbolize consciousness achieved, say, ten years ago. Now, draw a circle five feet in diameter to symbolize today’s consciousness – an admirable growth. But take note of this fact; the circumference, the exposure to darkness – the unknown – is nearly 100 times that of a decade ago. The more a growth in consciousness is experienced, the nearer one comes to a realization that he knows nothing. Socrates was wise, indeed!
Unfortunately, those who experience no growth in awareness, perception, consciousness won’t understand my illustration either. Unless one is daily becoming more and more aware of how little he knows or sees, he is not growing! Rather, he is dying on the vine, as the saying goes – stalemated! Thank heaven there are individuals who experience growth and who can see why freedom works its wonders – admittedly, and elusive truth.
We need only keep these points in mind:
1. A realization that every individual, regardless of pompous claims to the contrary, knows next to nothing.
2. Among the more than 200 million persons who inhabit the U.S.A., no two are remotely alike. Each possesses, at best, a wee bit of expertise unlike that of any other individual.
3. The only wisdom that graces us with an abundance of goods and services stems exclusively from these millions of infinitesimal know-hows freely flowing and configurating. Every one of these blessings is an aggregation of tiny think-of-that’s – no exceptions!
To me, it is self-evident that we should leave all creative activities – education of whatever – to the free and unfettered market where the wisdom is. What can be more absurd than leaving our welfare to those who have no awareness that they know not, that is, to such low-grade ignorance.
No one knows how to make such a simple thing as an ordinary wooden lead pencil. So, what about complex things as a 747 jet airplane? That transportation marvel has about 4,500,000 parts, and not a man on earth knows how to make any one of these parts. When aloft I one of the miracles of the market, I often reflect on a remarkable blessing; the Socratic wisdom.
As I have written before, “What gives socialism appearance of working is the freedom socialism has not yet destroyed.” Or phrase it this way: What gives those who are unaware of their know-nothingness the appearance of being responsible for our prosperity is the wisdom of the market they have not yet eliminated.
Appearances! How false and misleading most of them are, particularly in the politico-economic realm. Here are several thoughts on appearances by a few graced with Socratic wisdom, including Socrates himself:
- Judge not according to the appearance. – John 7: 24
- Always scorn appearance, and you always may. – Emerson
- We should look to the mind, and not to the outward appearance. – Aesop
- We are deceived by the appearance of right. – Horace
- There is no trusting in appearance. – Sheridan
- Don’t rely too much on labels for often they are fables. – Spurgeon
- You look wise. Pray correct that error. – Lamb
- The final good and the supreme duty of the wise man is to resist appearance. – Cicero
- Beware, so long as you live, of judging men by their outward appearance. – La Fontaine
- The shortest and surest way to live with honor in the world, is to be in reality what we would appear to be. – Socrates
As to how we should proceed not only to preserve but to increase the wonders wrought by freedom, the answer is as easy to state as it is difficult to accomplish.
Pay no heed to appearances! Look clearly through the political fog.
In appraising a person, whether he be in or out of office, examine his avowed principles. Should the individual claim a devotion, then determine if his practices are consistent therewith – no “buts,” no “leaks”! If his practices belie his preaching, place no faith in him. But if he consistently practices the freedom he espouses, he will be a worthy partner in explaining where the wisdom is and why its miraculous accomplishments.
For encouragement, reflect on the growing number who are coming to light as partners in this intellectual enterprise. We discover more and more of them from the near and ancient past. And I am personally acquainted with several thousand who have achieved this goal in recent years. But even more encouraging are the countless thousands seeking and discovering this truth, not a fraction of one per cent of whom ever heard of you or me or we of them. The point is that any friend of freedom is a friend of yours and mine. None of us stands alone.
To claim that the wisdom in the free and unfettered market is a trillion times greater than possessed by any single person would be gross understatement. Of one point we can be certain; there are enough individuals sufficiently wise to see through all the sham and to capture and exemplify this truth.
THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE!