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
Where there is no vision, the people perish — Proverbs 29:18
Vision is the blessing of foresight, but it has no chance of realization without its companion blessing, insight. In the absence of these twin attainments – each within our reach – the people perish, that is, they vegetate rather than germinate, stagnate instead of growing in awareness, perception , consciousness. Vision, therefore – the power of penetrating to reality by mental acuteness – must be developed if our role in human destiny is to be fulfilled.
This commentary is founded, first, on the most remarkable instance of foresight known to me and, second, on an equally remarkable instance of insight. Here is the foresight – by Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892), that prescient English poet, and poet laureate during the last 42 years of his life:
For I dipt into the future, far as
human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world and all
the wonders that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce,
argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping
down with costly bales.
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails –Tennyson’s imagination caught a glimpse of our modern aircraft, the magic sails being metal wings. Locksley Hall – from which the above lines are quoted – appeared in 1842 when flying machines were but a dream. Leonardo da Vinci was another of the rare dreamers; he drew sketches of an airplane four centuries before Tennyson’s time.
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales – Air flight, even at night, dropping down with bales – ranging all the way from bags of fresh spinach, air mail, billions of tons of heavy freight to millions of individuals – day-in-and-day-out!
Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonders that would be – Assuredly, Tennyson did not see all the wonders that would be but what he foresaw startles the imagination. Can his remarkable foresight be explained? It seems unlikely, unless by another blest with a comparable vision. Who among us in today’s world can see that far into the future with such accuracy and clarity? Who can see the miracles that will grace Americans in the year 2042? A confession: I cannot see what’s in store for us next year!
There is at least one reason why Tennyson’s foresight was keener than yours, mine or anyone else’s. There have been so many millions of miracles since his day – each the genesis of countless others – that scarcely anyone, however gifted, can see today the wonders in the offing.
To foresee a carriage developing from the wheelbarrow with which one if familiar is one thing. It is more difficult to foresee in the wheelbarrow the miracle of that first plane designed and flown by the Wright brothers. More difficult still – even having seen that first plane – is to envision in it the miracle of the 747 jet. Every bit of knowledge gained opens countless new paths into the infinite unknown – each step forward and upward introducing numerous variables and complexities as well as opportunities.
Analogous to the above, consider the politico-economic situation prior to Tennyson’s time. Mercantilism – no less authoritarian than serfdom or feudalism – had hobbled the people. Under that baneful restraint there were relatively few miracles, and minor ones compared with those that followed. The potential creativity of countless Englishmen was inhibited.. Creativity lay more or less dormant – deadened!
However, about 150 years ago the thoughts and ideas of that great thinker, Adam Smith, were beginning to bear fruit through such spokesmen as John Bright and Richard Cobden. These men understood and clearly explained not only the fallacies of mercantilism but the truth of that absolute principle: freedom in transactions. Tennyson was observing the birth of an enlightenment and foresaw some of its fantastic results.
Doubtless, he reflected on the territory that is now the U.S.A. when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. To describe it as underdeveloped would be an understatement. There was no development! Yet, seven generations later, numerous governments sent commissions here to find the secret of our unprecedented prosperity. Their soils were as fertile, climates as friendly and resources as plentiful. Why were most of their citizens in poverty, many starving? What could the answer be?
Tennyson, being deeply observant and having witnessed the wonderful results when the Industrial Revolution replaced mercantilism, must have seen the answer.
- Government limited to keeping the peace and to invoking a common justice;
- The Creator rather than government as the endower of the rights to life and livelihood;
- Fewer man-concocted restraints against the release of creative energy than ever before in all history;
- Inventions, discoveries, insights, intuitive flashes – think-of-that’s – by the trillions, and multiplying.
Tennyson’s foresight was grounded in politico-economic knowledge.
While making no claim to any such keen foresight, I can foresee not the wonders but the disaster that lies ahead of our present decline into the planned economy and welfare state – socialism – continues. Also, I can foresee a return to the ideal society if that indispensible companion blessing of foresight – insight—becomes more generally known and obeyed.
Edmund Burke gave to posterity an appropriate introduction to the remarkable insight I wish to present. “I hope to see the surest of all reforms, perhaps the only sure reform – the ceasing to do ill.” How do we cease to do ill, to be rid of the current socialism? By coming to know – and strictly adhering to – that which is righteous. The Father of our Country, George Washington, bestowed on Americans the insight – the very root of righteousness:
If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. The event is in the hands of God.1
There is a correct way to evaluate this wisdom: not using the common tactic of looking upon the errors of others, but rather searching ourselves, the face in the mirror: ME!
Do I speak or write to gain favors, wealth, popularity or, if running for office, votes? Or to avoid disagreement or criticism? Is my thinking loaded with “yes, buts” – leaks – ways that I know not to be righteous. If so, could I afterwards defend my work? I could not!
How, then do I cease to do ill? By following as nearly as possible Washington’s advice: Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair, in a word, Exemplarity! As Burke wrote: “Example is the school of mankind. They will learn at no other.”
In this, my task, my indebtedness is acknowledged – not only to Lord Tennyson and his foresight and to Washington and his insight, but also to Burke who was graced with both foresight and insight. Theirs was an attainment to which I aspire.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Where there is vision, the people prosper materially, intellectually, morally and spiritually. My aim: to acquire Vision!
In this, my 23rd book, there is nothing original except the phrasing, which differs with each of us day by day. As Goethe wrote, “All truly wise ideas have been thought already thousands of times.”
The chapters that follow represent one man’s striving for vision – foresight and insight; they set forth such findings as I have been able to garner from the wise – past and present. Another source – explained later – is the omnipresent radiation; an “immense intelligence,” as Emerson put it. The ability to intercept the beams of this Infinite Wisdom by finite man appears to gain bit by bit as the result of concentration and a prayerful desire for enlightenment. But no one among us, past or present, can claim originality; the origin of wise ideas is far over and beyond the mind of man.
Finally, why do I share these phrasings with others? There are two reasons. First I wish others to share their thoughts with me. And, second, the more one shares his ideas with others, the more and higher grade are the ideas he receives. Giving or sharing is the precedent to reception. This is an ancient truth to be found in Acts XX:35. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
In the following chapters, I share with you. Now, it is your turn! — LER
1 Attributed to George Washington during the Constitutional Convention.