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Leonard Read Explains What it Means To Be a Liberal

December 20, 2017 in Economics

By Gary Galles


By: Gary Galles

Most people who have been trying to advance liberty for some time know of Leonard Read. Creator of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in 1946, and bedrock of the first libertarian think-tank, he thought, talked and wrote about it for decades. Yet because he was so closely associated with FEE, and published his many books through it, his first book, The Romance of Reality (1937) published before FEE, has gone largely unnoticed.

That is a shame, as there is much to be gleaned from Read’s first book. In particular, given the ubiquitous labeling, name-calling, guilt-by-ism, innuendo, and association and invective-laced public discourse Americans must endure, The Romance of Reality’s opening chapter, “Debunking the Labels,” offers some very useful wisdom for us today.

For its 80th anniversary, it is well worth considering some of the many insights he explores in the book:

No sober discussion of public questions is possible at this time without first clearing the thinking atmosphere of…politically managed labels.

Few thoughts of others are accepted without first comparing colors, labels or isms. If these do not match, then the projector of a thought is obviously steeped in prejudice…a tool of the “interests.” By their opponents, New Dealers are called socialistic…radical…They call themselves liberal, progressive…To a New Dealer, an anti-New Deal Republican is at best a reactionary, shrinking from there…so low as to be termed a “tool of entrenched greed.”

What chance has logic against these head-winds of hate? To criticize…is to invite oneself before the firing squads of the literary mercenaries. To sponsor or defend an economic principle to which current passions may be opposed is to ask for…an odious label.

Conclusion: we are the dupes of a politically managed glossary.

Who likes to be called a REACTIONARY? And to be dubbed a CONSERVATIVE has sadly become just a shade less nocuous. But to be called a LIBERAL is glorious!

The core problem with such labels is that “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive,” etc., are adjectives that have been converted into nouns—isms–for political purposes. But adjectives are not self-defined; they modify something else. The consequence is that crucial questions such as “What is being conserved?”, “In what ways are we liberal?” and “What do we consider progress?” are cloaked from consideration. But Leonard Read was already thinking carefully about them.

Liberalism…was born of an era when governments were characterized by their despotism and economic practices lived under feudalism. This liberal movement [was] …read more


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