DECEMBER 01, 1978 by LEONARD E. READ
True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read; and in so living as to make the world happier and better for our living in it.
—Pliny, The Elder
The Roman naturalist, Pliny, The Elder, was born in 23 A.D. When he passed away at the age of 56, he had written 37 books on the nature of the physical universe—including geography, anthropology, zoology, botany and other related subjects.
Pliny did, indeed, leave the world happier and better for having lived in it. His scientific findings have been far surpassed, as we would expect. And if we live our lives aright—in freedom—the miracles of the future will surpass our findings, as ours have his! He lived every moment of his life with zest enthusiasm—perhaps the greatest stimulus for noble works. Wrote Emerson: "Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is the triumph of enthusiasm. Nothing great was ever accomplished without it."
True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; it consists in noble deeds worth recording. This is to be distinguished from blatant notoriety. History presents far more writings of the latter sort than the former. Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and countless other great destroyers loom too large in written history.
Why these lopsided recordings? It is the bad, not the good, which attracts the public eye. Observe today’s media and the preponderance of reporting that does not deserve to be either written or read, spoken or heard.
The following is an attempt to think through and to understand Pliny’s three parts of True Glory. If even partially successful, I will make a small contribution to the displacement of that which should be neither written nor read.
• True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written—In my study of writing that deserves to be written, I’ve been surprised that most of the world’s great writers—past and present—never kept a daily journal. Obviously, they had other disciplines that brought out their remarkable writings. We are all different in all respects. As for me, I have kept a journal for nearly 27 years without missing a day—capturing every thought that comes to mind or that I have learned from others—a rewarding experience. What a discipline—writing such entries for nearly 10,000 days!
Recently I came upon my entry of August 11, 1955, long since forgotten:
If it were not for the gravitational force pulling us down, there would be no such concept as "up."
If there were no darkness, we would have no sense or appreciation of light.
If there were no evil, we would have no awareness of virtue.
If there were no ignorance, we would not know intelligence.
If there were no troubles, there would be no pleasures.
If there were no obstacles, there would be no aspirations.
If there were no insecurity, we would not know of security.
If there were no blindness, we would not be conscious of perception.
If there were no poverty, we would not experience riches.
If no man ever imposed restraint on others, there would be no striving for liberty and the term would not exist.
I now recall discovering, just a few days later, while reading Runes’ Treasury of Philosophy, that around 500 B.C. Heraclitus was saying the same thing: "Men would not know the name of justice if there were no injustice." This made me laugh at my "originality" and brought to mind Goethe’s assertion: "All truly wise ideas have been thought already thousands of times."
Assuming the above observations to be valid, then "doing what deserves to be written" is learning how to cope with and overcome life’s countless obstacles. It is an observed fact that the art of becoming—human development—is composed of acts of overcoming.
Gravitation, for instance, is a physical force drawing all and sundry toward the earth’s center. What else accounts for physical ascendancy! Were there no such force, there would be no ladders or airplanes or rain or snow—indeed, no life!
Obstacles are assuredly the source of aspirations. Human frailties—which lead to such things as governmental interventions of the kind that destroy creative activities—inspire their own overcoming. Why, then, do errors have their value? Their overcoming leads to evolution—human Liberty!
A Latin proverb: "Nothing is too often repeated that is not sufficiently learned." This encompasses an enormous realm, including every thought that reveals truth—repeating it over and over again, seeking improvement. Learning how to overcome may very well rank first in what deserves to be written!
• True glory consists in writing what deserves to be read—There are countless thousands of books, articles and commentaries that deserve to be read. The vast majority of these writings are known to a mere handful of people. I shall refer to only one that is an inspiring and instructive example: You Are Ex‑traordinary by Roger J. Williams.’ Professor Williams, a noted biochemist, became convinced that his wife’s death was caused by the doctor treating her as "an equal," rather than as an individual. This led the Professor to his first study in human variation, having to do only with the variation in taste buds in different people. The findings, published in Free And Unequal, are fantastic.²
Having an unusually inquiring mind, he began an investigation into ever so many other forms of variation. The findings appeared in 1956: Biochemical Individuality, somewhat technical for lay readers.³ Nevertheless, I read it with avidity, because it contained an important key to the freedom philosophy. It was this book that led to my acquaintance with the author.
We corresponded, and after answering a question of mine he added that he had just written a book, to be entitled You Are Extraordinary, designed, he said, for lay readers. The manuscript was enclosed.
Professor Williams is extraordinary. So are you and so am I and so is each human being. Indeed, no one is the same as a moment ago. Variation is a rule of all life—plant, animal and man.
Why does You Are Extraordinary deserve to be read? It makes the case for liberty. Wrote William Gifford:
Countless the various species of mankind; Countless the shades that separate mind from mind; No general object of desire is known. Each has his will, and each pursues his own.
Once variation is recognized as a fact of life, there can be no endorsement—none whatsoever—of know-it-alls controlling the creative actions of you or me or anyone. Authoritarianism dismissed as utter nonsense! We would witness our 16,000,000 public officials reduced to a mere fraction thereof. All but a few would return to that wonderful status of self-responsible citizens—America’s miraculous performance on the go again.
• True glory consists in so living as to make the world happier and better How do we live to make others happier and better? Here are a few guidelines, mostly gleaned from others:
A desire to stand for and staunchly to abide by what is believed to be righteous—seeking approval from God, not man.
Strive for that excellence in the understanding and explanation of freedom which will cause others to seek one’s tutorship. This brings happiness to both the striver and the seeker—and the world!
Live with zest and enthusiasm. Nothing great was ever accomplished in the absence of such spirit.
Be optimistic. This does not mean a blindness to dictocrats lording it over us. Rather, it is self-assurance that a turnabout is in the offing. The world is not going to the dogs as the prophets of doom proclaim. Optimism increases happiness for it is contagious.
If we would make the world happier and better, we might well heed these words by Albert Camus when accepting the Nobel Prize in 1957: "In all the circumstances of his life, the writer can recapture the feeling of a living community that will justify him. But only if he accepts as completely as possible the two trusts that constitute the true nobility of his calling: the service of truth and the service of freedom."
To serve truth and freedom is as high as we can go. When more of us than now attain this intellectual and moral height, the path toward glory will open:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
‘You Are Extraordinary, Pyramid Books. ‘Free And Unequal, University of Texas Press.
‘Biochemical Individuality, Wiley.