Why are unattainable utopian visions attractive and inspirational to so many while the promises of liberty, under which a vastly-improved society can actually be attained, are so often disregarded? Leonard Read, among America’s most prolific defenders of liberty in the 20th century, considered that question.
In Let Freedom Reign, Read argued that liberty’s failure to gain more adherents than utopian statism derived in substantial measure from the fact that the ends envisioned, rather than the means involved, often motivate people. Unlike the utopian visions, the freedom philosophy recognizes that a system of free markets is an “amoral servant” that does not claim to generate no objectionable results to anyone. For this reason, liberty faces an inspirational disadvantage.
A good illustration of utopianism’s “advantage” over freedom is the utopian’s assertion that he can deliver equality of results (implicitly assumed to be equality at a high level of prosperity). This in turn leads to rationalizations for cutting freedom off at the knees. Yet some forms of inequality are inseparable from astounding social benefits, particularly the massive gains from specialization among people with differing abilities and circumstances, coordinated through voluntary market arrangements.