Endowed by Their Creator, by Leonard E. Read


1979, Foundation For Economic Education

ALMOST EVERYONE says he favors freedom; just try to find a single individual who says he does not. The search would almost certainly prove fruitless. Indeed, so many declare themselves for freedom and against communism that hundreds of organizations now exist to satisfy the common devotion to this attractive term. But, in spite of this lip service to freedom, our actual liberties continue to dwindle. The centralized State makes more and more of our decisions for us.

Why is it that the millions of us who vocally proclaim for freedom do not constitute a solid front against the omnipotent State? Perhaps it is because some who proclaim their devotion to freedom do not understand the requirements of freedom, its “operational imperatives.” Thomas a Kempis, the fourteenth century author of The Imitation of Christ, saw the problem of peace in similar terms. “Many favor peace,” he wrote, “but not many favor the things that make for peace.” When it comes to an understanding of the proper means and methods for achieving the goal of freedom, there are some real divisions among those who say they believe in freedom. Why is this so?

When speaking of believers in freedom, I do not refer—for the purpose of this inquiry—to those Americans who have a distaste for the godless apparatus headquartering in Moscow. That would be nearly all of us. Nor do I have in mind all who avow a dislike for state socialism. Or, the millions who give lip service to “the American way of life.”

When I speak of the differences of opinion in the freedom camp, I am referring to the relatively few of us—tens of thousands, not millions—who claim an affinity for libertarian ideals. When the inquiry is thus brought into focus, the question reads, “Why do we—the hard core of the free market, private property, limited government philosophy—disagree with each other? Why do we not present a solid front? For it must be acknowledged that even we have pronounced differences of opinions and that we are in constant argument with each other. Why? That’s the question.

A Dying Movement?

Several years ago I put this puzzle to a distinguished American conservative who, at the time, was being taken to task by scholarly individuals who shared, in a general way, his own ideological persuasions. His answer—no doubt somewhat influenced by pique—was, “This fighting among ourselves is the sign of a dying movement.” Let us hope that he was wrong for, if not, the cause of freedom would be hopeless, so vigorous are the arguments among the few of us we call, “We.”

I shall try to make the case for a contrary interpretation: These sharp differences of opinion among those of us who in a general way share libertarian ideals are the sign of a movement not yet come fully alive, of a movement suffering birth pains.

However, before going further, it is necessary that we understand what these arguments among ourselves are really about. Can they be reduced to a single issue? In the first place, they are not about the desirability of freedom, for we are all agreed on that. Nor, except in a few isolated instances, do they revolve around the question of anarchy, or no government at all, versus limited government. All but a few freedom devotees believe in limited government, that is, a formal, legal agency of society which invokes a common justice, and secures the rights of all men by restricting such destructive actions as fraud, violence, and predation.

What Price Freedom?

What, then, is the nature of the contentions so rife among us? The arguments, stripped of all their semantic inaccuracies, boil down to: How cheaply can freedom be bought?—although it is rarely so stated. Is freedom something that can be had for the wishing? For casual effort? Is it a prize to be won by delegating the chore to some hired hands? Or, is the price of freedom an intellectual and spiritual renaissance with all the hard thinking and difficult introspection required to energize such a revolution in thinking?

Some believe that freedom can be had simply by uncovering card-carrying Communists and then calling them names. To these people, our ills originate in Moscow. Be done with Soviet agents and, presto, freedom!

Others believe that the loss of freedom stems from what they call “the ignorant masses.” Merely finance educational programs aimed at “selling the man in the street.” Teach this ignoramus that there is no such thing as a free lunch or some other such simplicity that can be grasped as he passes a bulletin board or drowsily reads baby talk literature in a barber’s chair. Gain freedom by writing a check!

A considerable number offer political action as their highest bid for freedom. Organize “right down to the precinct level” and elect “the right people” to public office. As if freedom could be had by activating the present absence of understanding, so as to shift existing ignorance into high gear!

Another group believes that the price need be no higher than the cost of beaming radio reports behind the Iron Curtain—relating to those slave peoples how luxuriously we Americans revel in our gadgetry. Freedom as a consequence of exciting international envy!

Then there are those who would insure “a free world” by having the federal government coercively take the fruits of our own labor to subsidize foreign governments. As if friendship could be purchased for an exchange of cash; as if subsidized relationships were the essence of freedom; as if this kind of communism at home would discourage world communism!

The highest priced bid, in dollar terms, is the resort to the sword. Outdo the godless States in the hardware of mass slaughter and American freedom will remain intact!

Preservation—or Restoration?

But it is useless to name all the various panaceas proffered as our bids for freedom—bids aimed at the mere preservation of individual freedom. But we cannot preserve that which has already been so largely lost. We have a restoration job on our hands. Freedom must experience a rebirth in America; that is, we must re-establish it from fundamental principles. Most of the bids aimed at a renewed freedom are far too low. If this were not a fact, freedom would have been restored by now. In fact, it would never have been lost. The price of freedom is not increased political activity or even economic understanding, nor can the cost of freedom be stated in dollar terms.

Political collectivism, the antithesis of individual freedom, can be likened to a cancer. It is not like a skin cancer that can be treated with relative ease; it resembles the type known as “metastasis”—the wildly spreading kind. The disease has spread through the whole body politic, a fact not likely to be observed except by those who work full time on behalf of freedom. Nothing short of the best therapy ever known to man can cope with this problem.1

Freedom To Become What?

To realistically assess the price at which freedom may possibly be had, I believe we should begin by asking ourselves the most difficult of all questions: What is man’s earthly purpose? Perhaps no two of us can reach precisely similar answers. Nonetheless, the quest and the finding of an answer satisfactory to each of us—this intellectual and spiritual effort—is a part of the price we must pay for freedom. Without a purpose in life, a fundamental datum line, a basic point of reference, no effort aimed at restoring freedom makes much sense. Man needs to be free in order that he may fulfill the demands of his nature. Freedom to become what? is the only relevant question.

My own answer to this question is founded on three assumptions: (1) the primacy and supremacy of an Infinite Consciousness; (2) the expansibility of the individual human consciousness and (3) the immortality of the human spirit. With these assumptions in mind, I conclude that the individual’s earthly purpose is to come as near as he can to the realization of those creative powers which are peculiarly and distinctively included in his own potentialities. Man’s purpose is to grow, to emerge, to evolve in consciousness, partaking as much as he can of Infinite Consciousness.

If the above be accepted as the highest purpose of earthly life, it follows that any force—psychological or sociological—which retards or in any way restrains the individual human spirit in its emergence—bondage of any sort—is an immoral and evil force. Conversely, the absence of such retarding and restraining forces—freedom—is moral, good, virtuous. Viewed in this light, freedom is a necessary part of godliness.

The psychological restraints on freedom are such things as ignorance, insensitivity, pride, stupidity, personality defects, and the like. They are, no doubt, more stubborn impediments to emergence than are the sociological restraints. They might be termed spiritual faults which demand a spiritual remedy. This aspect of the problem is beyond my competence and outside the scope of this lecture. It is enough for me to touch on only a narrow but extremely important phase of the sociological aspect; man’s inhumanity to man as manifested by the misuse of governmental power.

Spiritual, Political, and Economic

This brings us to the second part of the over-all price that must be paid for freedom: the intellectual and spiritual effort required to grasp the full implications of the idea expressed in these words of the Declaration of Independence: [Men] . . . “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. . . .” This, quite obviously, is a political concept with tremendous spiritual overtones. Indeed, this concept is at once spiritual, political, and economic. It is spiritual in proclaiming the Creator as the endower of men’s rights and, thus, as sovereign. It is political in the sense that such an acknowledgment implicitly denies the State as the endower of men’s rights and, thus, the State is not sovereign. And this is an economic concept because it follows from a man’s inherent right to life that he has a right to sustain his life, the sustenance of life being nothing more nor less than the fruits of one’s own labor.

As freedom is a necessary part of godliness, so is spiritual faith—godliness—a necessary part of freedom. Or, so runs my argument. Freedom is to be restored only as we place faith in our Creator, and such faith is possible only as the human spirit is freed of stifling restraints. Spiritual faith and freedom are thus two reciprocating parts of a Divine Principle. In a strict sense, they are inseparable and, thus, they tend to rise and fall together. I use the word “tend” simply because they are not inseparable as are two sides of a coin, but inseparable as are two mountain climbers securely tied to each other by a long rope. There is a “play” between them, and it is this “play” which permits one to help the other advance and which may keep the other from falling. In any final analysis, they do rise and fall together. Alexis de Tocqueville had a full appreciation of this point:

For my own part, I doubt that man can ever support at the same time complete religious independence [atheism or agnosticism] and entire political freedom. And I am inclined to think that if faith be wanting in him, he must be subject; and if he be free, he must believe.2

Unless we believe that man’s rights are endowments of our Creator and, therefore, inalienable, we must conclude that the rights to life and liberty derive from some human collective and that they are alienable, being at the disposal of the collective will. There is no third alternative; we believe in the one or we submit to the other. If the latter, there is no freedom in the social sense; there is despotism.

Faith and FreedomA Divine Principle

If we lack this spiritual faith, our rights to life and liberty are placed on the altar of collective caprice and they must suffer whatever fate the political apparatus dictates. The record clearly shows what this fate is. Russia is the most degraded example, but practically every other nation, including our own, drifts in Russia’s direction. Among the Russians we note that freedom of choice has been forcibly lifted from the individual and shifted to the political collective. The dictator and his henchmen prescribe the manner in which the fruits of the citizens’ labor shall be expended and how his life shall be lived.

There is one other feature of the Moscow apparatus about which we should become acutely conscious: its godlessness. This is no accident. The political collective would undermine its own power if it condoned the peoples’ belief in the Creator as the endower of man’s rights. If Russians believed in and understood the full implications of the Creator concept, the political collective would fall. As suggested above, freedom and spiritual faith are two parts of a Divine Principle and tend to rise and fall together.

We do not have to confine our observations to Russia, however, to see faithlessness and the loss of freedom going hand in hand. This same phenomenon can readily be seen here at home. While we cannot measure the loss of spiritual faith with anywhere near the precision that we can calculate the loss of freedom, there is a great deal of evidence to support the conclusion that they are falling or, shall we say, failing together. For instance, we can measure with a near precision the average citizen’s loss in freedom of choice as it relates to the fruits of his own labor. During the past twelve decades, by reason of governmental expansion, his freedom of choice has declined steadily from 95-98 per cent to about 65 per cent—and the trend grows apace. In other words, taxation which once took only 2-5 per cent of earned income now deprives us of about 35 per cent.

Let us now reflect on the loss of faith in the Creator as the endower of man’s rights. This spiritual concept is rarely mentioned in our day. For all practical purposes, it is a forgotten element of faith. I am unaware of any contemporary textbook which develops the implications of this concept. Permit me to make an even more serious charge: The Creator sovereignty concept issues from all too few American pulpits! Bear in mind that the American ideal of individual liberty and limited government is the political implementation of a religious concept of man. Early American clergymen deserve much of the credit for this magnificent accomplishment. But their successors, by and large, and especially the men who have gained access to the ecclesiastical sounding boards, have forsaken this path and are now following in other footsteps. As a consequence, most of the people of our country have already crossed the border and have left this spiritual concept to history. They have accepted new ideas which put their God-given rights at the mercy of the State, which is, by its nature, an amoral and, thus, a godless apparatus.3 Here at home we sadly note another proof that faithlessness and the loss of freedom fail and fall together.

The Ultimate Goal

I do not mean to suggest that we should turn from the godless State to the Creator concept for reasons of mere material advantage. That would be to pervert religion, to get the sequence upside down, to confuse cause and effect. Faith in Infinite Consciousness—our Creator—is a spiritual achievement, a goal for which one strives for its own sake. The goal is the emergence of the individual human spirit that it may achieve its fullest measure of immortality. Desirable earthly consequences are a by-product of this pursuit. The highest aim is to bring individual consciousness into as near a harmony as possible with Infinite Consciousness.

However, once we have the sequence right, which is to say, when we first focus our thoughts and energies on life’s highest purpose, there follow the most efficacious earthly consequences. It is only when we tap The Source of all blessings that blessings become the lot of mankind. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”

As the removal of restraints—the practice of freedom—releases the perceptive powers of the individual and permits spirituality to grow, so does faith in the Creator bestow an increasing freedom. As suggested earlier, no governmental apparatus can lord it over a people who conceive of their rights as deriving from their Creator. This conception makes impossible, among those who hold it, any ascendancy of government beyond its principled position. It restricts the powers of government to the exercise of such force as any individual is morally warranted in employing. The individual, as a being responsible to his Creator, has a moral right to defend his own life and liberty and property against fraud, violence, misrepresentation, and predation. Lacking this right, he could not discharge his responsibility for the proper stewardship of his own life. Government, logically, can have no powers beyond those which individuals may properly exercise—if the Creator concept be accepted. Man is free to act creatively or productively as he pleases. Here we have the absence of any and all political restraints on creative action, in short, total freedom from governmental interference in this area.

I have used the term “total freedom.” It must be understood that freedom does not and cannot include actions which impair another’s freedom. Freedom, except in its psychological sense, is a social term. Socially speaking, freedom has a place in our vocabulary only as it describes a felicitous relationship of man to man. Therefore, freedom is not and cannot be synonymous with unrestrained action. To do as one pleases, if it infringes upon the freedom of another, is not freedom at all—it’s tyranny. It is impossible for freedom to be composed of freedom negations. Total freedom, then, as relating to society and government, is the ideal to be sought. This is a goal to be kept uppermost in mind, and any deviations from it are to be disapproved.

The Power of Right Thinking

At this juncture, there is one other point that needs emphasis: Merely to agree with the spiritual concept that men are endowed by their Creator with the rights to life and liberty is not at all adequate for bringing about the renaissance our serious national situation requires. Many people give lip service to this concept without relating the concept to its practical, political application. All of its implications must be brought into sharp focus in the minds of each of us. If this be accomplished—and it takes a bit of doing—then government, in our ideal theory, is automatically excluded from any action beyond securing the rights with which we are endowed by our Creator. Governmental tampering with or management of any creative activity becomes unthinkable. Creative activity is a manifestation of the Creator as it shows forth in men and, in good conscience, is not to be hampered or restrained or destroyed by man or any of his organizations. To interfere with this Divine Energy in any manner whatsoever is to thwart and defy our Creator, It is man putting himself above God.

Once enough of us to compose a leadership—it need not be large—accept and understand the full implications of “endowed by their Creator”; once we have our fundamental principles straight; once we have brought ourselves into harmony with Divine Providence; once we conquer completely any impulses to dethrone the Creator; then, our social problems untangle and the way to individual growth, evolution, emergence becomes clear. Life and liberty unobstructed by man, yes! But there is more, for in seeking to realize life’s highest purpose lies the pursuit of happiness. We are truly happy only when we are in a perpetual state of hatching, when our own consciousness is opening itself to Infinite Consciousness.4

Let us now reflect on the way of life that naturally follows an application of the endowed-by-their-Creator concept. We need only take note of several seemingly self-evident facts.

The Flow of Creative Energy

The most striking fact is that the creative potentiality in any individual is unknown. We only know that the aggregate potentialities among all who live is enormous; that creation manifests itself in strange ways and through persons we have no manner of guessing. For instance, about a century ago, there was a twelve-year-old lad of humble origin, a railroad newsboy, whom an irate trainman picked up by the ears and pulled into the baggage car. Who could have guessed that this boy would become the world’s greatest inventor? Little did that trainman know that he was abusing Thomas Alva Edison through whom Creative Energy was to flow with practical consequences rarely if ever equaled.

All energy seeks its destination, the fulfillment of its purpose. Holes in the dikes are but the result of potential energy trying to become flowing, kinetic energy. Likewise, Infinite Consciousness, at least as I conceive it, tries to flow into and through persons, manifesting itself as individual human consciousness. When not too much obstructed, it shows forth in man as insight, cognition, inspiration, inventiveness, in short, creativeness. Some creativeness we classify as material, other as intellectual, but all creativeness is spiritual.

Through whom will this Creative Energy flow? We can never know in advance any more than we can know what form it will take.

We do know that it manifests itself more or less to some extent in nearly everyone. For, who has never had an idea? We also know that the consciousness of a few is greatly expanded when compared to the mill run of us, as in an Edison, a Goethe, a Milton, a Beethoven, a Leonardo da Vinci, or a Henri Poincare, to mention but a few. Further, we know that it never manifests itself in any two individuals identically. Indeed, it is infinitely varied in its manifestations. Picture it as waves of energy, as an electrical current, sometimes imperceptible, now and then—and perhaps only momentarily—strong and vibrant. It shows forth unequally, differently, infinitely throughout humankind.

The Law of Attraction

These Infinitely varied waves of Creative Energy have their source in Infinite Consciousness and, accordingly, are governed by the laws thereof. These laws we try to discern and, to the extent that we do, we grow in consciousness, that is, partake of Infinite Consciousness. One law or principle, as stated by an eminent scientist, is highly relevant to this thesis:

All the phenomena of astronomy, which had baffled the acutest minds since the dawn of history, the movement of the heavens, of the sun and the moon, the very complex movement of the planets, suddenly tumble together and become intelligible in terms of the one staggering assumption, this mysterious “attractive force.” And not only the movements of the heavenly bodies, far more than that, the movements of earthly bodies, too, are seen to be subject to the same mathematically definable law, instead of being, as they were for all previous philosophers, mere unpredictable happenso’s.5

Why is the above quotation so relevant to this thesis? Simply because all the highly varied creative energies, as they manifest themselves in millions of individuals the world over, fall under this very law, this mysterious attractive force. These creative energies have an affinity for each other and, if not impeded, that is, if free, will automatically, spontaneously, miraculously configurate or draw together in the most unpredictable patterns to form the goods and services men live by. Think of yourself. Reflect on how helpless you would be were your life dependent on the tiny consciousness which is yours. You would perish. So would anyone else, similarly handicapped. Yet, we all live in relative luxury. What accounts for this? It cannot be explained except in terms of creative energy and creative energy exchanges, except by this mysterious attractive force in operation.

Why is it that each one of us will admit that “only God can make a tree”? Is it not because we acknowledge that we do not know how to make a tree? Molecules, in response to some mysterious law of attraction, form in never-ending patterns to give us trees, rocks, grass, an infinite variety of blessings we refer to as “nature.” Admitting only God can make a tree, are we not warranted in concluding that only God can make an automobile, a symphony, a pencil, a house, an infinite variety of things men live by? No single person on earth knows how to make an automobile, for instance.6 Yet, there are 75 million of them in our country. How come? These things we enjoy and live by are not ours by reason of any single-minded human management. They are simply varied creative energies configurating, drawn together without any human’s know-how, configurated by this mysterious law of attraction. Adam Smith observed this phenomenon and wrote that man, seeking only his own gain, is “led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

Such metaphors as the Invisible Hand, this mysterious Attractive Force, Infinite Consciousness, and Divine Providence, are shorthand terms, so to speak, describing facets of man’s experience with the workings of his Creator, God. Here we have Source, and it is man’s highest purpose to seek it and to achieve as near a likeness to it as he can. This means to become as creative as possible, to grow in consciousness. Further, it means that man should never, under any circumstances, individually or collectively, through government or any other agency, inhibit the flow of creative energies or creative energy exchanges. To hamper Creative Energy, in any manner, as it attempts to manifest itself in mankind, is to thwart Creation. Standing against Creation is no role for little, fallible man! The above convictions must come under the heading of spiritual faith. It is only in this faith—only in this belief that man gets his rights, his strength, his consciousness from his Creator—that freedom among men is possible. For, individuals with this faith, will never brook men or men-made authorities as the source of life, liberty, happiness, strength, consciousness. Faith in the Creator, if its implications be thoroughly understood, dispenses with all such nonsense. Society-wise, man frees himself with this spiritual faith. The intellectual and spiritual effort to achieve such a faith and such an understanding is the very lowest cost at which freedom comes. Any bids below this will never be heard, much less attended with success.


1 “It is not a hazarded assertion, it is a great truth, that once things are gone out of their ordinary course, it is by acts out of the ordinary course they can alone be reestablished.”—Edmund Burke in a letter to William Elliott, Esq., 1795.

2 From Democracy in America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945. p. 22.

3 For an explanation of the amorality of the State, see my “Conscience of the Majority,” The Freeman, March 1961. Copy on request.

4 ‘There was a Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who lived five centuries before Christ. Change is the law of life, he wrote, everything is in flux—including man. We are creatures in transit. We can’t drift along as we are, just being our jolly little selves; we must grow, and if we don’t, we decay. Heraclitus put this in a colorful way when he said: ‘We are here as in an egg.’ Now an egg cannot go on and on just being a good egg; it must either hatch or go bad. This is the nature of an egg, and in this respect the demand of our own nature is not essentially different.” — From The Freeman, July 1960, p. 53.

5 See Science Is a Sacred Cow by Anthony Standen. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, Inc., 1950. pp. 63-64.

6 Should anyone question the point that no person knows how to make an automobile, see my I, Pencil. Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. Copy on request.

Leonard ReadSource: Leonard E. Read. “Endowed by Their Creator”, Originally published in 1979 by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). Republished for the Internet by FEE, February 26, 2015.

Copyright © 1979, 2015 Foundation for Economic Education. Used with permission.

Called Unto Liberty is researched, compiled, and edited (with occasional introductory notes and commentary) by Steve Farrell, Founder and Editor In Chief of The Moral Liberal. Expect where otherwise noted: Copyright © 2015 Steve Farrell & The Moral Liberal.