On October 14, 2014, friends of freedom lost a lifelong champion of classical liberal thought with the passing of Leonard P. Liggio at the age of eighty-one. A deeply knowledgeable history scholar, Leonard was also much more; he was a central figure in building the modern classical liberal intellectual movement in the United States and around the world. In a career spanning sixty years, he played a formative role in organizations including the Mont Pelerin Society, the Philadelphia Society, the Institute for Humane Studies, and the Atlas Network. He also taught at several universities and was an advisory scholar for many organizations within the liberty movement.
Born on July 5, 1933, Leonard traced his interest in political ideas to his childhood and his first classical liberal inclinations to his mother. He grew up in a political household in the Bronx that devoured multiple daily newspapers and radio commentaries. Whereas his father was an FDR Democrat, his mother favored sound money, lower government spending, and, as World War II loomed, Republicans' traditional noninterventionism and opposition to Stalin's Soviet Union. "The facts from 1941-45 led me to agree with my mother," he said (Liggio n.d.a, first paragraph). (1)
His interest in peace and in the institutions of a free society that foster it would be an enduring theme of his scholarly and organizational career.
As a teen, he excitedly followed Robert Taft's efforts to win the Republican presidential nomination on a noninterventionist platform. And having heard a debate sponsored by the American Historical Association on FDR's taking the United States into war, he decided to go to college at Georgetown University to study history with one of the debaters, Charles Tansill, the author of Back Door to War.
Once at Georgetown, Liggio joined Students for Taft--providentially beginning a series of personal and intellectual contacts that would put him at the center of the budding classical liberal intellectual movement. He came to know Ralph Raico and George Reisman, the Students for Taft leaders in New York (who would go on to distinguished careers in academia). They introduced him to the recently formed Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), where he was welcomed by its founder, Leonard Read, and resident economist, F. A. "Baldy" Harper, and invited to seminars.
Through FEE, he read Frederic Bastiat's work The Law and other writings. And along with Raico and Reisman he began sitting in on the graduate seminar at New York University hosted by eminent Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, often spending his college breaks taking notes in the back of the classroom. Leonard recalled with fondness the interdisciplinary diversity of the discussions as Mises lectured from a draft of his book Theory and History, which would be published by Yale University Press and brought together historical theory, epistemology, and philosophy in a sweeping methodological treatise on the social sciences. The enrolled students went home, he recalled, "and the 'real' students stayed to discuss the seminar" (Liggio n.d.b, third paragraph). It was there that Leonard met Murray Rothbard, beginning an important forty-year friendship and intellectual...