Leonard Read, founder, leader and long-time heart and soul of the Foundation for Economic Education, and one of liberty’s most insightful adherents, took seriously his belief that the purpose of one’s life was to grow. He sought out sources of light, wherever he could find them, and incorporated them into his thoughts.
Those familiar with Read, whose works are now easily available online, know that he peppered quotations throughout his work. Those quotations provide us an added window into his thoughts. The person Read quoted most frequently in his books was Edmund Burke, which reveals a great deal about Read. In How Do We Know?, Read said “I am often criticized — in a friendly way — for so copiously quoting those whose wisdom is far superior to mine, Edmund Burke, for instance…why not share the wisdom of seers—those who have seen what most of us have not—with freedom aspirants!”
So as we mark Burke’s January 12 birthday, consider some of the words that inspired Leonard Read to cite Burke so copiously:
He who profits of a superior understanding, raises his power to a level with the height of the superior understanding he unites with.
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 function of any kind, 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.
No government ought to exist for the purpose of checking the prosperity of its people or to allow such a principle in its policy.
It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.
It is not only our duty to make the right known, but to make it prevalent.
I hope to see the surest of all reforms, perhaps the only sure reform—the ceasing to do ill.
Example is the school of mankind. They will learn at no other.
But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, [your representative] ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living…They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither…is safe.
Power gradually extirpates from the mind every human and gentle virtue.
Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing on the rights of others, he has a right to do for himself.
All men have equal rights, but not to equal things.
The great difference between the real statesman and the pretender is, that one sees into the future, while the other regards only the present; the one lives by the day and acts on expediency; the other acts on enduring principles and for immortality.
Depend upon it, the lovers of freedom will be free.
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.
Tell me what are the prevailing sentiments that occupy the minds of your young men and I will tell you what is to be the character of the next generation.
Having looked to government for bread, on the very first scarcity they will turn and bite the hand that fed them.
The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.
All who have ever written on government are unanimous that among a people generally corrupt liberty cannot long exist.
If circumspection and caution are a part of wisdom, when we work only upon inanimate matter, surely they become a part of duty too, when the subject of our demolition and construction is not brick and timber, but sentient beings, by the sudden alteration of whose state, condition and habits, multitudes may be rendered miserable…the true law-giver ought to have an heart full of sensibility. He ought to love and respect his kind, and to fear himself.
Leonard Read quoted Edmund Burke in roughly two-thirds of his books. And when you consider those quotes in connection to Read’s work, you can see why Read held Burke in such high esteem and echoed so many of his views.
In The Path of Duty, Read commented on Burke’s views of the American experiment in liberty — “He was sympathetic to and promotive of the American colonies and had no hesitancy in proclaiming his position. Stalwart! He was blest with foresight, seeing into the future: America, home of the free and land of the brave! Here was found the purest practice of freedom in world history, and Burke’s support was based on ‘enduring principles and for immortality.’ In my reading of history, never before or since his time has there been a greater statesman.” In The Freedom Freeway, Read wrote “Edmund Burke has put the solution for disunion better than anyone known to me.”