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Founder of the Foundation for Economic Education
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  • Leonard Read

    Leonard Edward Read (26 September 1898 – 14 May 1983) was the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), which was one of the first modern libertarian institutions of its kind in the United States. He wrote 29 books and numerous essays, including the well-known "I, Pencil" (1958).


    Read, Leonard E. (1898-1983), by Donald J. Boudreaux, Nick Slepko, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
    Biographical essay, including bibliography of multiple other biographical articles
    Leonard E. Read, an activist, a fundraiser, and an administrator, is best known for originating the oldest existing free-market nonprofit in the world, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) ... Read also was known for his writings in moral philosophy and as a gourmet chef and curling enthusiast ... Not surprisingly, statists disparaged him. Eleanor Roosevelt even commented that she was "struck" by FEE's insinuation that there was some similarity between the welfare state and communism. But even with those who ordinarily allied with him against the welfare state, Read was uncompromising ...


    26 Sep 1898, Leonard Edward Read, in Hubbardston, Michigan


    14 May 1983, in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York


    Foundation for Economic Education, Founder and President, 1948-1983

    Web Pages

    Leonard E. Read (1898 - 1983): Founder and First President (1948 - 1983)
    Short profile on an early version of the Foundation for Economic Education website, lists 17 of Read's books
    ... as a result of New Deal programs and war-time collectivism, socialist ideas were taking root in the United States. It was Leonard Read's mission to confront this ideological invasion. Together with a few friends and kindred souls he launched the Foundation for Economic Education, on March 7, 1946, just a few months after the Japanese surrender. ... For 37 years Leonard Read labored to promote freedom, individual liberty and responsibility, the rule of law, and self-improvement. He was a natural leader who, at a crucial moment in American history, roused the tired forces defending individual freedom and private property.


    A Call to Activism, by Margit von Mises, The Free Market, Jun 1984
    Speech delivered on 27 Feb 1984 at a Mises Institute dinner in her honor; relates how she wrote My Years With Ludwig von Mises, then calling her late husband an "activist of the mind" and encouraging others to become likewise
    [Mises] stimulated the interest, and then the understanding of all the people he met. And he did even more. He stimulated them to action ... Think of Leonard Read, the late founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, who—after meeting my husband and reading all of his books—gave students as well as teachers the opportunity to learn about individual freedom and the free market. Out of his foundation came great men like Baldy Harper ... and George Roche ...
    Classical Liberalism in Argentina: A Lesson for the World, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, Jul 1994
    Highlights Argentine history from the 1810 revolution to the late 20th century, arguing that the period from 1852 to 1930 demonstrated the validity of Adam Smith's writings, also discussing 1958 visits by Leonard Read and Ludwig von Mises
    [In 1958], a small group of Argentineans, led by ... Alberto Benegas Lynch ... invited two Americans to deliver a series of lectures ... Leonard Read and Ludwig von Mises. Read was the founder of The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) ... established in 1946 ... Read's lectures were published in a book entitled Why Not Try Freedom? In his introduction to the book, Read writes: "To everyone's amazement, the 160 seats in the lecture room were filled the very first evening and 25 people were standing. The same was true for the entire series—testifying to an intense interest in liberty."
    The Early History of FEE, by Henry Hazlitt, The Freeman, Mar 1984
    Excerpted from Hazlitt's remarks at the Leonard E. Read Memorial Conference on Freedom, November 1983; reprinted in the May 2006 issue, including photos of early FEE senior staff
    It must have been sometime in 1944 or 1945 that a handsome man dropped in to see me at the New York Times, ... and introduced himself as Leonard Read, general manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. The free-enterprise philosophy had already become almost a religion with him. He told me he was looking for a wider audience to which to explain that philosophy, and was thinking of setting up a libertarian foundation of his own. In 1946 Leonard had raised the money, set up the Foundation for Economic Education here ..., and invited me to become one of his original trustees and officers.
    A Foreign Policy by and for Knaves, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 10 Oct 2014
    Further thoughts on Richman's "Does Freedom Require Empire" (5 Sep 2014) prompted by Daniel McCarthy's counterpoint article as well as David Hume's and Leonard Read's writings
    Leonard E. Read, a founder of the modern libertarian movement, understood this too. In his essay "On that Day Lies Began," he quoted Leo Tolstoy ... Read continued: "Persons advocate proposals in association that they would in no circumstance practice in individual action. Honest men, by any of the common standards of honesty, will, in a board or a committee, sponsor, for instance, legal thievery — that is, they will urge the use of the political means to exact the fruits of the labor of others for the purpose of benefiting themselves, their group, or their community ..."
    The Foundation for Economic Education: Success or Failure?, by Benjamin A. Rogge, Can Capitalism Survive?, 1979
    Adapted from remarks at FEE's 25th anniversary celebration in 1971; chapter 3 of part IX of Can Capitalism Survive?; also reprinted in The Freeman, May 1996
    [A]s I have understood him, his thinking, and the organization he brought into being, I have always believed that Leonard Read saw his mission as something quite different from (and quite superior to) that of winning ... next week's idea popularity poll ... [H]e tells us, "it is the effort, not the outcome, that counts in the life of the human being." ... [His] own definition of how the success of a FEE (of a Leonard Read) should be measured: "To measure a teacher's success, to evaluate his work, one must ask: Does the teaching induce in others what Aristotle termed 'activity of soul'?"
    How to Become a Teacher [PDF], by Robert LeFevre, The Voluntaryist, Feb 1983
    Autobiographical summary of the events in LeFevre's life that led to the founding of the Freedom School, including LeFevre's relationship with Baldy Harper and the offer for him to lead the School
    I obtained audience with Leonard Read once more: "It seems to me," I told the president of FEE, "that the single most important project for FEE would be the creation of a school ..." Read smiled graciously. "Of course, Bob. We all see that. We've talked about it frequently here in our various meetings. I'm sorry to say, it's not possible. Not at this juncture. Schools cost enormous sums. I've been pretty successful in raising the necessary funds to keep the Foundation going, but you're asking for something which can't be supported with enough dollars to make it feasible. At least right now."
    Iraqi Death by Political Abstraction, by Sheldon Richman, 5 Jun 2006
    Examines the causes of the 2005 Haditha killings, reflecting on Leonard Read's notable essay "Conscience in the Battlefield"
    In 1951, during the Korean War, the libertarian Leonard E. Read, a veteran of World War I and founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, looked at this issue in a particularly moving way. In his essay "Conscience on the Battlefield," Read imagined a dialogue between himself as an American soldier dying on the battlefield and his own conscience. His conscience asks, "Did you kill these people as an act of self-defense? Were they threatening your life or your family? Were they on your shores, about to enslave you?" ... "But, my Conscience, I had no choice ... I acted in response to my government."
    The Legacy of Leonard E. Read, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, Sep 1991
    Reflects on the influence of Read on the author and other "freedom devotees", recounting two illuminating examples of Read's "deep dedication to integrity and principle"
    Leonard Read took an absolutely uncompromising approach to the principles of freedom. He argued that man's purpose on earth, whatever it is, requires the widest possible ambit for human growth and maturation. Therefore, he believed, a person should be free to do whatever he wants in life as long as it is peaceful ... Central to Read's philosophy was an unbending devotion to truth and integrity. A person must always be true to himself, he often said, and to the principles in which he believes. Duplicity, double-dealing, deceit, and lying could never be countenanced—no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the justification.
    Leonard E. Read (1898-1983), Religion & Liberty, Jul 1996
    Biographical sketch, part of the series "In The Liberal Tradition"
    Leonard E. Read was the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, one of the original pro-freedom think tanks. Through his tireless efforts in that organization, as well as through his twenty-seven books, countless essays, and extensive speaking schedule, he was largely responsible for the revival of the liberal tradition in post-World War II America. ... Another cornerstone of Read's thought was that the free market is a moral institution, not just an efficient means of production. ... Thus, Read thought, defenders of the free society can take the moral high ground over the proponents of the coercive state power.
    Leonard E. Read: A Portrait, by Edmund A. Opitz, The Freeman, Sep 1998
    Memorial and biographical essay, focusing mostly on Read's life before founding FEE; written for the centennial of his birth
    Leonard started out as a farm boy in the small town of Hubbardston, Michigan ... Leonard learned early on that time was not to be wasted ... when Leonard evolved a strong belief in something, a mysterious alchemy would somehow transform his vision into reality ... After the talk Carver approached Leonard and said, "Mr. Read, you sound like Frederic Bastiat." ... Leonard has said that the unique stance of FEE was inspired by reading ["Isaiah’s Job"] essay by Nock ... He firmly grasped the profound truth that the advancement of human liberty is a learning process and not a selling problem.
    Leonard Read - Hero of the Day, The Daily Objectivist, 2000
    Biographical profile published by The Daily Objectivist; excerpted from Mary Sennholz's "Leonard Read, the Founder and Builder", The Freeman, May 1996
    Leonard's passion had not always been for ideas and ideologies. For much of his adult life (1928-1945) he had been ... a vocal Chamber of Commerce spokesman who faithfully defended the official Chamber position, which at that time was sympathetic to Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal ... His moment of reformation and conversion came in the fall of 1933 when ... he arranged a visit [with] W.C. Mullendore, an official of Southern California Edison Company ... Until his dying days Leonard swore this explanation had been his best lesson ever—it had removed the blinders from his eyes.
    Leonard Read, the Founder and Builder, by Mary Sennholz, The Freeman, May 1996
    Biographical essay written by Read's secretary in the early days of FEE, as well as author of Leonard E. Read: Philosopher of Freedom
    Leonard was a self-educated man who learned much ... from a great deal of experience. [His] practical education began when most children are still preoccupied with mastering the Three R's. Already by the age of twenty he had faced an unusual share of challenges which shaped his lofty spirit, empowered him with knowledge, and became the kernels of an industrious adult life ... When [he] was barely eleven and his sister Rubye nine ... [t]heir father died ... His death changed the life of the family dramatically, leaving Leonard the man of the family who now faced adult responsibilities.
    My Life as a Libertarian, by D. T. Armentano, 21 Jul 2003
    Lengthy autobiographical essay, describing among other things, how he took an interest in antitrust policy and wrote several books and articles on the subject, and his disappointment when attempting to stop Connecticut from imposing a state income tax
    While still in high school I attended one of the Foundation for Economic Education seminars in Irvington, New York, and still remember Leonard Read lighting his candle in a dark room ... Interestingly, [my son] Paul's libertarianism was never consciously instructed by either me or my wife. We never "lectured" him on the subject nor instructed him to read certain material ... Instead, we just set good life examples and let him discover the importance of political liberty on his own. (Leonard Read was certainly right on that one).
    Paul Poirot, RIP, by Gary North, 21 Feb 2006
    Memorial essay, focusing mostly on Poirot's role as editor of The Freeman
    National Review was launched later [in 1955], and it would have been called The Freeman if William F. Buckley had been able to persuade Leonard E. Read to let him have the right to revive the name of Albert Jay Nock's defunct, though once resurrected, little journal. Read had other plans. Read put Poirot on the job as editor ... [Poirot] understood that The Freeman was an introductory journal. This matched FEE's positioning. Read was never going to make FEE into an advanced think tank. FEE was a "Read tank," and he was not a certified intellectual.
    Rose Wilder Lane, Isabel Paterson, and Ayn Rand: Three Women Who Inspired the Modern Libertarian Movement, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, May 1996
    Triple biographical essay on the women who in 1943 published The Discovery of Freedom, The God of the Machine and The Fountainhead
    In 1936, Lane wrote "Credo" ... Three years later Leonard Read, General Manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, helped establish a little publishing firm called Pamphleteers, which reprinted Lane's article as Give Me Liberty ... In 1937 ... Rand wrote ... Anthem ... About seven years later, ... Leonard Read visited Rand and O'Connor—then living in New York—and remarked that somebody ought to write a book defending individualism. Rand told him about Anthem. Read borrowed her copy, read it, and his small publishing firm Pamphleteers made it available in the United States.
    Sgt. Bergdahl and the Fog of War, by Sheldon Richman, 4 Jun 2014
    Reviews the history of U.S.-Afghanistan relationship since Reagan to the release of Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. Army sergeant held captive by a Taliban group from 2009 to 2014
    [Y]oung Americans are propagandized ... that time in the military is service to their country ... This ... doesn't relieve military personnel of responsibility for their own conduct. In 1951—while Americans were fighting in Korea—Leonard E. Read, one of the founders of the modern libertarian movement, published "Conscience on the Battlefield," in which a dying American soldier hears his conscience say that he—not the army or government—bears responsibility for his deadly conduct: "Does not the fault inhere in your not recognizing that the consequences of your actions are irrevocably yours ...?"
    Related Topics: Afghanistan, George Orwell, War
    Spotlight: Founding Father, by Patrick Cox, Reason, Aug 1980
    Brief profile of Leonard Read, his accomplishments, his influence and his outlook for the future of liberty
    Read will be 82 this September, and he has just published his 26th book ... It is difficult to get Read to talk about his accomplishments. He would rather discuss his shelty collie, whose ragged picture he is quick to produce from his shirt pocket, or his favorite golf course in Scotland. His goals in life include a fifth hole-in-one and seeing Halley's Comet a second time. The word integrity seems to come up whenever his friends talk about him. F.A. Hayek, Henry Hazlitt ..., Benjamin Rogge, Hans Sennholz, and Antony Fisher are better sources of information about Read than Read is.
    V. Orval Watts: 1898-1993, by Murray N. Rothbard, The Free Market, Jul 1993
    Biographical and memorial essay; also published as chapter 109 in Making Economic Sense (1995) and as preface to the 2008 edition of Watts' Away From Freedom
    ... Orval was hired by Leonard Read in 1939 to be the economist for the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, of which Leonard was executive director. ... Leonard Read had built up the Los Angeles Chamber into the largest municipal business organization in the world, and Read himself had been converted to the libertarian, free-market creed by ... William C. Mullendore, head of the Southern California Edison Corporation. During World War II, Read, assisted by Watts, lent his remarkable organizing talents to making the Los Angeles Chamber a beacon of freedom in an increasingly collectivist world.
    Related Topic: V. Orval Watts


    Conscience on the Battlefield, by Leonard E. Read, 1981
    Pamphlet written in 1951, during the Korean War, revised edition in 1981; Read recalls the 1918 incident when the troopship he was on was sunk by a German submarine and wonders about his thoughts if he were dying (in 1951) on a Korean battlefield
    Well young man, you may think this is it. Perhaps you are wondering what comes next.
    Who are you?
    I am you, a part of yourself with which you hardly got acquainted. I am your Integrity, your Intelligence, your Humility, your Reason, your Conscience ...
    ... But what is there for me now?
    Your life is now about to end ... It seems to me that you have made the pattern for your life in the Everlasting World, a part of which you have made in this last moment of consciousness as a mortal being. Let us, ... be eternally grateful that so much of it appears to have been good.
    How To Get Action, Ideas on Liberty, May 1955
    First published in the quarterly Ideas on Liberty; reprinted in the 1958 collection Essays on Liberty, Vol. III and in The Freeman Aug 1998; argues the best form of action is working on self-improvement
    "I want less talk and more action." Thus speak Americans when they suddenly awaken to the fact that their liberties are endangered. Talk, they say, is useless; only action counts. But perhaps talk and action aren't necessarily opposites. What if studying, talking, writing, and explaining should turn out to be the only worth-while action there is? What then? ... The only way to truth—that is, to understanding—is through one's own person ... Action? For authoritarians it is physical force. For libertarians it is first understanding and then explanation—the latter being "talk," either verbal or written.
    I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to LEONARD E. READ, The Freeman, Dec 1958
    Read's most famous essay; resource page at FEE website includes PDF, MOBI and ePub versions, and MP3 recording; 2019 version with introduction (2015) by Lawrence W. Reed and afterword by Milton Friedman (previously the introduction, 1999 version)
    I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write. Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that’s all I do. You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery—more so than a tree or a sunset ... Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.


    Mises's Bibliographer: An Interview with Bettina Bien Greaves, by Bettina Bien Greaves, Austrian Economics Newsletter, 1998
    Topics discussed include: Ludwig von Mises, the Mises bibliography project, language knowledge, Leonard Read, Henry Hazlitt, Human Action, the business cycle and her husband's Pearl Harbor book
    AEN: It's been said that relations between Leonard Read and Mises were sometimes tense.
    GREAVES: FEE was Read's foundation, and he wanted to be the big I Am. And he was. Mises had his bailiwick, in which he felt he deserved recognition as the authority. Read realized that and respected it. Read invited Mises to lecture at FEE regularly, but they kept their jurisdictions separate, as they should have. Read didn't understand Mises, but he knew he was an important person. Read was also jealous of Percy for the same reason. Percy sometimes went on the road for seminars with Read.

    Books Authored

    I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read, by Donald J. Boudreaux (afterword), Milton Friedman (introduction), Leonard Read, Foundation for Economic Education (publisher), 1999
    Read's most famous essay, in pamphlet form; electronic version at the Library of Economics and Liberty


    Leonard Liggio on the Rise of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Leonard Liggio, 9 Mar 1995
    Talk given at Vienna Coffee Club (Future of Freedom Foundation). Liggio starts off with the New Deal and covers many events and individuals both at the core and the periphery of the modern libertarian movement

    The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Leonard Read" as of 29 Jun 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.