Libertarian History/Philosophy

Remembering Leonard P. Liggio



Leonard P. Liggio

I lost one of my favorite teachers this week, as did so many other libertarians, not to mention the freedom movement as a whole. Leonard P. Liggio, 81, died after a period of declining health. Leonard was a major influence on my worldview during the nearly 40 years I knew him. While I had not seen him much in recent years, I have a hard time picturing the world — and the noble struggle for liberty — without him. He was one of my constants.

Leonard was not my teacher in the formal sense. I never got to take any of his classes. But like many libertarians of my generation and beyond, I learned so much from him through occasional lectures and especially conversations.

Since the early 1950s, before he had reached the age of 20, Leonard was a scholar and activist for individual liberty, the free-market order, and the voluntary network of social cooperation we call civil society. (He was in Youth for Taft in 1952, when the noninterventionist Sen. Robert Taft unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination. See Leonard's autobiographical essay in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians, edited by Walter Block.)

In his long career, Leonard was associated with the Volker Fund (a pioneering classical-liberal organization), the Institute for Humane Studies, Liberty Fund, the Cato Institute, and finally, the Atlas Network. He was also on the faculty of several universities, including George Mason Law School, after doing graduate work in law and history at various institutions.

Leonard studied with Ludwig von Mises and a long list of eminent historians. He knew the founders of the modern libertarian movement: F.A. Harper, Leonard Read, Pierre Goodrich, Ayn Rand, and more. He was an early member of the Mont Pelerin Society, founded by F.A. Hayek, and eventually president of the organization. As a young man he became close friends with Murray Rothbard, Ralph Raico, George Reisman, Ronald Hamowy, Robert Hessen, and others who comprised their Circle Bastiat. He literally was present at the creation of the movement and helped to make it what it would become.

I believe I originally met Leonard in 1978, at the first Cato Institute summer seminar at Wake Forest University. (I was a newspaper reporter in those days.) However, I may have been introduced to him the year before in San Francisco. That was the year Cato was founded. Leonard was an original staff member and editor of its unfortunately short-lived journal, Literature of Liberty.

I remember Leonard's lectures at the Cato seminar very well. Among other things, he lectured on the history of Western imperialism. This left a permanent impression on me. I recall that he explained that the imperialists in Africa compelled indigenous individuals to work in the mines by requiring payment of taxes in a currency obtainable only by doing such work. Leonard's insights on imperialism and war — and the long-standing classical-liberal opposition to those horrors — account for my passion for these subjects.

I saw Leonard on and off over the next several years as I held various libertarian-movement jobs with the Council for a Competitive Economy, the late Inquiry magazine, and Citizens for a Sound Economy. But my contact with him increased dramatically in 1985 when I went to work for the Institute for Humane Studies, where Leonard also worked. That was the year IHS, led by John Blundell (who, alas, also died this year), moved from Menlo Park, California, to George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Now I was in a position to talk to Leonard nearly every day (though he traveled often). What an opportunity!

One thing you learned about Leonard right away is that he could generate a long bibliography on virtually any topic in the humane studies at the drop of a hat. He was incredibly multidisciplinary. You knew to bring a notebook with you when asking him for reading suggestions. I had many occasions to seek his guidance when working on research projects, such as my papers on noninterventionist Old Right (PDF) and U.S. intervention in the Middle East, which would have been much tougher to write without his help. (I dedicated the latter paper to Leonard, among others.)

He was unfailingly generous with his time and deep knowledge of history and political thought. You didn't have to know Leonard for long to appreciate his encyclopedic mind, which astounded even seasoned scholars. I still marvel at his ability to read, assimilate, and integrate prodigious amounts of information, not just about history, but also law, legal institutions, philosophy, political theory, contemporary politics, and so much more.

During these years Leonard was a regular at an informal Monday-night dinner gathering known as the Clarendon Club, which was held at an excellent Vietnamese restaurant in the Little Saigon section of Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, DC. I recall these weekly get-togethers fondly because the conversations about politics, history, philosophy, religion, and whatnot were such joyful occasions and I learned so much. The other regulars included Jeff Tucker, Roy Cordato, Joe Sobran, Tom Bethell, Yuri Maltsev, and Phil Nicolaides, with occasional visits from Pat Buchanan and Tony Snow. Good friends, good talk, good food: who could ask for more!

Leonard had the remarkable ability to find common ground with diverse people. He was a radical libertarian devoted to individualism, free markets, and peace. He was a sworn enemy of tyranny, imperialism, and war. But he could overcome ideological disagreements with others by finding those areas in which they believed in human dignity and freedom. He was welcome in New Left circles during the Vietnam War (he participated in Bertrand Russell's War Crimes Tribunal on Vietnam in 1971) and some years later at the conservative Heritage Foundation and Philadelphia Society. The key to his success was his ability to show the connections among the mercantilism, imperialism, regulation of business, welfarism, and government spending, inflation, and debt.

One thing that made it easy for him to reach people of diverse persuasions was his unmistakable kindness. You could see it in his eyes and in his smile. Leonard was the quintessential gentleman and scholar. When he explained some controversial point in his soft but clear voice, you couldn't help but listen. He was a natural teacher, a wonderful storyteller, which a good historian ought to be.

His role in building the modern global libertarian movement may be unappreciated by many friends of freedom because he was so unostentatious. But he is beloved by libertarians throughout the world for his indefatigable efforts. Leonard had few rivals when it came to the number of young libertarians he advised as they embarked on their intellectual careers. He knew the value of networking, and he developed that craft to perfection.

Leonard's approach to activism set an example for us all. Brian Doherty, whose Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement discusses Liggio's role, put it well:

Liggio had, as one admiring student of his once told me, a vast thousand-year vision of the slow spread of liberalism across the globe, one that allowed him to contemplate both past and present with equanimity, neither despairing for liberty's future nor being unrealistically enthusiastic about its imminent victory. He was the man I met and was impressed by in 1988: inspired and inspiring but calm and steady in the promotion of these ideas, and the organizing and aiding of students and intellectuals who wanted to understand and promote them better.

He was truly unique, the soft-spoken radical who could talk to anyone.

What is even less appreciated about Leonard is his written work. He never wrote a book, but he contributed many articles and book reviews to many publications, including Left and Right: A Journal of Libertarian Thought, a mid-'60s publication that he founded with Rothbard; Libertarian Forum, a later newsletter edited by Rothbard; Radical History Review; The Journal of Libertarian Studies; and The Libertarian Review.

You can get a sense of Leonard's intellectual interests by surveying the titles of his articles: "English Origins of Early American Racism," "Isolationism, Old and New," "Early Anti-Imperialism," "Palefaces or Redskins: A Profile of Americans," "Massacres in Vietnam," "Your Right to Be Against War," "Charles Dunoyer and French Classical Liberalism" (a discussion of pre-Marx classical-liberal theory of class conflict); "Felix Morley and the Commonwealthman Tradition: The Country-Party, Centralization and the American Empire," "Why the Futile Crusade?" (a favorable and wide-ranging review of Sidney Lens's The Futile Crusade: Anti-Communism as American Credo), "Oil and American Foreign Policy," and "Richard Cantillon and the French Economists." (Many of these are online. Check the links above.)

I acknowledge that this is an inadequate tribute to Leonard Liggio, but I cannot find the words to do him justice. So I'll end with the words Benjamin Tucker used to close his obituary to his friend and teacher, Lysander Spooner, "Our Nestor Taken From Us":

I am at the end of my space, and have not said half that I had in mind. It would be easy to [go on and on]. But I must not do it, I need not do it. Does not his work speak for him as I cannot? It is ours, my readers, to continue that work as he began it. And we shall not have rendered him his full reward of praise unless it shall be said of us, when we in turn lay down our arms and lives, that we fought as good a fight as he and kept the faith as he did.

NEXT: VID: Officers Spend Year Busting Ginseng Diggers

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  1. How can we forget his apologia for Lenin and Mao?

    1. Who?

      The article focuses on Hayek and Pinocchet.

    2. Wrong link? I see nothing in there about Mao or Lenin.

      1. As late as 1970, you could see a future president of the Mont Pelerin Society writing kindly about Lenin, Tito, and Mao.

        There is a link to a Liggio article.

        1. Reading the article linked in the link, it's not difficult to understand that Liggio is examining the presence and role of anarchic thought in revolutionary politics. Believing that Liggio admired Lenin or Mao on this basis is wrong, though par for the course with a magazine whose writers think nothing of casually smearing non-Beltway libertarians. Slate-wannabe Cathy Young called Tom Woods a neo-Confederate for opposing Lincoln's slaughter, and it wasn't two months ago that Gillespie smeared Hayek as a Pinochet apologist referencing the Walker piece that you quoted. Walker's passage:

          Hayek said he would "prefer to sacrifice democracy temporarily, I repeat temporarily, rather than have to do without liberty, even if only for a while"

          JW then says that this is "an awfully sanguine way to talk about a state that tortured its opponents, censored the press, and imprisoned and murdered people for their political views," as though Hayek was supporting dictatorship rather his obvious meaning that freedom under a dictator was superior to democratic slavery. JW might also be surprised to discover that Hayek considered a hangnail preferable to colon cancer.

          That support for liberty over democracy would be at all controversial to Walker and Gillespie is evidence that they doesn't take the liberal tradition seriously. Or perhaps they're signalling to fellow cosmos that they're not nasty radicals like that crude, unsophisticated Pinochet-lover Hayek.

  2. Ha, they deleted my post! I feel almost as good as when Cavanaugh banned me.

  3. Why is Ayn Rand considered libertarian? Objectivists, I gather, would, erm, object.

    1. Yea, never got this either. Other than her defense of capitalism I'm not sure the link.

    2. Her objections to libertarians were basically twofold. First, she didn't like that they would (as she saw it) ally with others merely due to agreement on specific issues, rather than requiring that allies arrive at the issues for the "right" (usually meaning, her) underlying philosophical reasons. Second, she saw them as having plagiarized her beliefs. So, if the criteria for "libertarian" is "holds certain positions on issues of freedom", then her objections ironically define her as one. When she lays out her idea of a proper government, she's describing a minarchy. So unless you're an anarchocapitalist who thinks minarchists aren't really libertarians, or unless you're an Objectivist who thinks objectivism isn't libertarianism because Ayn Rand said it isn't... well, if it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck.

      1. Only Objectivists can make libertarians seem reasonable

      2. That's a pretty good synopsis David.

        Objectivists shoot liberty in the foot because they are intolerant of any deviation from their ideology. For instance, they are intolerant of people's religious beliefs... Not that they are necessarily wrong in their conclusions (IMO). But as their philosophy stands, it would most certainly be considered a subset of libertarianism. They are the bigots of freedom and this is the main reason I'm not an Objectivist.

        As I understand it, her biggest issue with libertarianism was the inclusion of anarchists. While I don't agree that the ancap end-state is possible, we agree on the vast majority of issues. I seen no reason we can't team up in the name of liberty. When minarchist libertopia is achieved, we can split up and fight amongst ourselves. Think of the world where the two parties are Anarchists and minarchists.

        But I digress. Objectivists are pompous libertarians obsessed with purity.

        1. I think that's also a good summary, Francisco, but I know from long experience around here that some regular old libertarians can be pompous and obsessed with purity!

          1. Sadly, every group has that, but you're right. I recall getting into a discussion with someone here, a few months ago, who went through all manner of contortions trying to prove that F. A. Hayek wasn't a libertarian.

          2. Objectivists are pompous libertarians obsessed with purity.

            But Francisco d'Anconia, isn't the Francisco d'Anconia in Atlas Shrugged an Objectivist? You're insulting your namesake.

        2. Objectivist, Craig Biddle, has shared the stage with libertarians lately, and I did not find him pompous or stressing "purity" so much as stressing rational arguments. The newest crop of Objectivist writers coming out of ARI seem anything but pompous. Have you kept up with them or even the current group instructors--Yaron Brook, Onkar Ghate and Elan Journo? The seem very even keeled, and fairly modest in their approach although very dedicated to reason and Objectivists approaches.

          Further, the current CEO of Cato, John Allison, has a longstanding relationship with ARI and his latest book I think is being distributed by ARI.

          Your purity criticism may have had some credence it the past, but seems unfounded.

          1. ..unfounded now.

          2. Wake me when the excommunication of David Kelley has been revoked.

            1. Maybe when Peikoff dies. Who knows what all the details are about this riff.

        3. To some degree, there's also the matter that some prominent libertarians (Rothbard in particular) were once members of Rand's circle but subsequently split with her. For a champion of rationality, she sure could let emotion cloud her thought processes sometimes. I'm no fan of Rothbard, to put it mildly, but his being part of the libertarian movement is no reason to disdain it. Following that pattern, I'd have to forgo using the Internet because megadouche Al Gore was in favor of it.

          1. MNR wasn't part of her inner circle. He met with her a few times when he was in his early 20s and was creeped out, then started going over to Collective meetings with the rest of the Circle Bastiat after Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957.

            He was engaging in therapy for phobias with Branden at that time, at which point he remembered how robotic, joyless, and brutal the Objectivists were and ditched them for good. It didn't help that Rand insisted that he had to leave his wife for being a Christian and that Branden, his psychologist, actually used intimate details of his life against him in his Randian "trial."

            Rand's insistence on natural rights and the moral nature of man rubbed off on Rothbard to the good of everyone--it's hard to imagine an American libertarianism grounded solely in continental utilitarianism--but the Collective and the Circle were different groups with similar goals in roughly the same way that CATO and the Mises Institute are today.

            That's mostly tangential; I agree that libertarianism is a much broader movement with deep historical and continental roots that run way beyond Paterson/Rand or Mises/Rothbard.

      3. Objectivist disagreements with libertarians intellectuals are mainly based upon their rejection of deeper philosophical basis of freedom and liberty. Objectivist defend freedom by specifically looking at the nature of man: his requirements for survival, the necessity of producing values using his mind and rationality, and the necessity of having freedom to act--all arguments first put forth by Rand.

        Libertarians take a "big tent" approach and accept philosophical approaches that ignore the underlying philosophical justifications for freedom. For a full discussion check out Biddle's Libertarianism versus Radical Capitalism. See his Objective Standard site.

  4. The horror. The horror.

    Two articles suggest we might see Romney v. Warren in 2016.

    And note Warren's chilling threat toward banks in the last line of the first article.

    1. Seasteading has never looked more attractive.

      1. 'The game is rigged' is Warren's meme. And it will resonate as she 'hammers' it home. I can see her doing a tour with Naomi Klein.

        1. What scares me is that there are people who will vote for Warren because of how "important" it is for the US to have elected a woman as president. I know people who to this day stand by voting for Obama twice despite disagreeing with his policies and even straight up thinking he might be a bad person because the mere historical fact of a black president somehow outweighs any other considerations.

          Which is weird, because the race card is still played so often that the edges are fraying, and racist people are still racist, so I'm not sure what if anything has changed. But my Progressive friends assure me that we're living in a historical moment.

          1. That has a lot to do with the "intentions trump everything" mindset of progressives.

        2. And the pathetic thing is that she's right. The game is rigged - by people like her.

        3. Of course the game is rigged. We are a meritocracy. See Warren Buffet or the Google guys. Or Elon Musk.

          1. Popularity contests based on blatant lies and funded by underhanded cronyism don't equal a meritocracy.

    2. Warren, for all her faults, has been willing to attack her own party's coziness with Goldman Sachs cronyism. I find her way less cynical and psychopathic than Hillary.

      1. Unfortunately her solutions are worse than the disease

      2. I find her way less cynical and psychopathic than Hillary.

        There are mass murderers and child rapists sitting in prison right now who are less cynical and psychopathic than Hillary.

        1. And they might well be free if only they had hired Hillary as their attorney.

      3. Like when Obama fined Goldman $550 million? That kind of cronyism? Do you just spit out Bratfart talking points randomly?

        1. Go fuck yourself.

          1. Which ex Goldman CEO Treasury Secretary bestowed on GS Fed discount window privileges even though they are not a deposit bank?

            The stupid around here is amazing.

            1. I wasn't arguing with you. I just want you go fuck off.

            2. Yes, Goldman has cozy relationships with Reoublicans as well as democrats. And even though they had to shell out a paltry $550M, I'm sure lots of them still donated heavily to Obama.

              None if this forgives Hank Paulson's ridiculous conflict of interest, but if you think Wall St has a significantly different relationship with Democrats vs. republicans, you are a blind turd.

              Sorry, I know I'm not supposed to engage with it.

              1. Nope. Besides the fine the Obama administration has curbed their trading activity and imposed higher capital requirements on them.

                Tell me how they aid Goldman. They don't.

                One of their Board members was convicted in 2012.

                1. A quick google search seems to indicate that while GS bought and paid for Obama in 2008, the contributions went down significantly in 2012.
                  So if your argument is that Obama took their money, then stabbed them in the back, then OK.

        2. 550 million is just the cost of doing business when profits are in the billions

        3. 550 million is just the cost of doing business when profits are in the billions

    3. Romney v. Warren in 2016

      I'm not sure my liver could take this.

      1. Could someone explain the strong dislike for Romney around here? I mean, SLD and all that, but he was hands down the better candidate in 2012 compared with Obama. When was the last time the Republicans ran a better nominee? It wasn't W or Dole; it certainly wasn't McCain.

        If the Dems nominate Warren and the GOPs nominate Romney, that's a no-brainer - if you're a major-party voter, that is.

        1. Why would I perpetuate the current fucked up system by voting for the lesser of two evils? If Republicans want my vote they gotta earn it by running libertarians.

          1. No Francisco, I get that. I certainly wouldn't say "You should vote for Romney" to anyone. I haven't voted major party since 1996. What I mean is, pretend we live in an America where only two parties exist; is Romney really just fractionally better than Elizabeth Warren?

            1. Yes, because he has no core beliefs in free markets or liberty. And the media and bureaucracy would continually pull him to the left for which there would be little effective political opposition.

              Meanwhile, a Warren presidency would create an even greater backlash than Obama has.

            2. Yes. Fractionally better. He is the stereotypical establishment republican. From what I've seen, he has absolutely no regard for liberty and would keep us on the same path to hell.

        2. Could someone explain the strong dislike for Romney around here?

          He's a slimy statist with no core belief beyond a conviction that he should rule. He's also a liar about his 'business' experience with Bain.

          I mean, SLD and all that, but he was hands down the better candidate in 2012 compared with Obama.

          Yes, he would have made Obamacare 'work' well enough to become permanent, would have made a 'historic' compromise with the left on gun control and otherwise been a useful fool for the left and set the stage for a further lurch to the left as any inevitable failures got blamed on markit failyurs.

          1. I'd vote for a Scientologist before I'd vote for a Mormon.

        3. Romney campaigned on restoring the defense and Medicare cuts of Obama and was cozy with the nation building Iran war Zionist cult.

        4. My biggest issue with him is that he talks a lot about small government and all that, but he supports pretty much the same kind of big government solutions that Obama does.

          If he won, people would conflate "small government" with "giant, bungling, ineffective government" more than they already do.

          1. What Akira said

    4. A commie vs a national socialist.

      Is this a great country or what?

  5. RIP, I didn't even know about this important figure - shows the gaps in my knowledge.

  6. Owners of an Idaho wedding chapel face prosecution for failing to celebrate same-sex unions.

    "The city [of Couer D'Alene] passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2013. It applies to housing, employment and "public accommodation." Religious entities are exempt from the ordinance. But in May city attorney Warren Wilson told The Spokesman-Review that The Hitching Post, which is a for-profit business, likely would be required to follow the ordinance."

    1. ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation

      Thought crime.

    2. The wedding chapel owners are Pentecostal ministers -

      1. To be fair, pentecostals are crazy.

        1. True, I'm all for freedom for everyone but not icky people.

          1. I can be for religious freedom and still think speaking in tounges is completely insane.

            I used to attend a pentecostal church, for years and years. Don't dig into my jabs at religion as if you know something about me.

    3. I'd like to hope that this kind of outrage will cause many religious conservatives to rethink anti discrimination laws (which have long covered discrimination based on religious orientation) in general, since many only seemed to discover them as problematic when teh gayz got added to the list.

      1. Like the first amendment?

        1. I thought it was obvious I was talking about things like the CRA.

      2. Bo, time out from our hatred of each other for a serious lawyer question.

        Has anyone ever argued the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act under 14A?

        1. serious lawyer

          Best or worst superhero ever?

      3. Wait, are you arguing that people who are against anti-discrimination thought crime laws should reconsider their views when sued for anti-discrimination thought crimes?

        1. Were most religious conservatives against anti-discrimination laws before gays were added to, say, religious groups as a protected class? I must have missed that.

          1. Yes.

          2. My recollection is that yes, they were, although probably not to a man, and again, this is my recollection only.

            But, veiled charges of hypocrisy aside, so what? They either have a beef or they don't.

          3. Historically, yes. Religious conservative groups were instrumental in the anti-slavery movement - John Brown being the most well-known manifestation.

            The current dogma presenting religious=racist is nonsense.

            BTW - I am atheist.

    1. It was the least I could do, comrade.

    2. "A cute booty without all kinds of painted crap is a lot prettier,"

      "a tattoo on the ass is already evidence of some disability in the head. Childbirth is hardly something to add."

      "I don't like it; nobody should have it. Case closed."

      1. My wife decided she wanted a tattoo right above her ass. I like it, because it's the Rogue Trader compass symbol from Warhammer 40k. We're nerds.

        Not all "tramp stamps" are ugly, thank you so very much.

        1. "Not all "tramp stamps" are ugly, thank you so very much."

          Just wait a few years.

  7. I don't know why but I always seem to take people that stress a middle name of 'P' less seriously. Not because of any moronic piss jokes, more just the fact that it's phonetically weird, especially with alliteration.

    I mean, think about it: Adolf P. Hitler, Vladimir P. Lenin. Less serious right?

    1. Sure sure, John P. Titor.

      1. See, Dmitry P. Medvedev gets it.

        1. Damn, looks like I've been P'd.

  8. 'The game is rigged' is Warren's meme.

    She should know. She helped rig it.

    1. She spotted the rigging and used it. Agree that she isn't worried about cutting the rigging below her at this point but building it? I think you give her too much credit. Reinforce is a better term, although she's done so in a purely careerist manner.

  9. Could someone explain the strong dislike for Romney around here?

    To be honest, he wasn't the worst of the batch of idiots puked up by the RNC (Gangrinich? Seriously?), but he was a pathetic spineless wimp who allowed himself to be smeared and mischaracterized by pretty much anybody with access to a political megaphone.

    Tell me one single thing Romney said he would do as President. I cannot recall anything but vacuous platitudes and second rate sloganeering.

  10. Could someone explain the strong dislike for Romney around here?

    I'll go. He struck me as a pussy. An entitled pussy, from an area of the country that makes it their business to tell you how to live, and he seemed to embrace that ideology.

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  12. til I looked at the draft saying $4742 , I did not believe that my mom in-law could actually erning money in their spare time from there computar. . there great aunt haz done this 4 only twelve months and recently repayed the depts on there house and got a top of the range BMW . check
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  13. Sometimes man you jsut ave to roll wit tit.

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