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.
Read was born on September 26, 1898, on an eighty-acre farm just outside Hubbardston, Michigan. His early life was marked by hard work and diligent study. As a young man, Read served in the armed forces in World War I, enlisting shortly after the United States entered. After he was discharged, he was eager to go to college and pursue a medical degree, but his finances required him to become an entrepreneur so he could save for his education. He thus started a business in what he knew best, farm produce. After that he went to work for the California Chamber of Commerce where he became a vocal critic of policies limiting freedom and expanding government. His struggles in these fights prompted the idea of the Foundation for Economic Education, which promoted the freedom philosophy through lectures, seminars, research, and its publication The Freeman.
Read was keenly aware of the religious and ethical dimensions of human liberty, and that freedom ultimately rests on Judeo-Christian religious values. It is from this source, he believed, that we derive our convictions about the meaning of life, the nature of man, the moral order, and the rights and responsibilities of individuals. The classical liberal tradition is a projection of this religious heritage. Another cornerstone of Read's thought was that the free market is a moral institution, not just an efficient means of production. Coercion for noble purposes must produce ignoble results. Thus, Read thought, defenders of the free society can take the moral high ground over the proponents of the coercive state power.