Living by a Premise
The 2023 graduation season is now underway. The famous, generous, and politically powerful (especially those currently in federal office, who are cheaper because they are banned from being paid for giving speeches) will be dispensing (often very limited) wisdom about the “real world” to hundreds of commencement audiences across America.
Some of the best speakers, however, will provide insight from humanity’s accumulated wisdom. One such speaker, unfortunately no longer with us, was Leonard Read, the founder and soul of the Foundation for Economic Education, which made him a central part of efforts to defend and expand liberty in America and throughout the world.
In particular, I would like to note the commencement speech he gave at Hillsdale College on June 3, 1972, published in Imprimis in their June 1972 issue.
The speech is notable because it emphasized three major themes that ran throughout Read’s works—our human purpose to grow or “hatch” (a process that can commence at any age), the way that living by Immanuel Kant’s premise of universality can aid in that hatching, and the recognition of what that process implies for the role of coercion in society:
I am here not to attend your graduation but to share in your commencement. . . .
. . . I have traveled a great deal of life’s road, the one you are now commencing, and therefore I wish to share with you some of the lessons I have learned along the way. . . .
First, do not wait until middle age, as I did, to adopt and live by a basic premise, a fundamental point of reference. Do it right now—at your commencement!
. . . years ago I realized that there was no chance of living the consistent life unless one did his reasoning from a basic premise. . . .
What, then, is man’s purpose as I see it? It is to grow, emerge, evolve, or to use an expressive term, hatch. . . . how does one use such a premise? He merely listens to his own or anyone else’s ideas, stands the ideas up against his premise, and if they do injury to it or are antagonistic to it, he is, perforce, against them. Or, if, on the other hand, they are in harmony with it, promotive of it, he is, perforce, in their favor. In a word, one’s own position can be qu
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