The name of Leonard Liggio won't say much to non libertarians: but it means a lot to the insiders of the libertarian movement. Leonard, who passed away yesterday, was a great and benevolent figure in this movement of ours. He stood out because he was different than many of his fellow intellectuals.
How? In what sense? Leonard was not a particularly accomplished writer. He wrote little, as opposed to his life-long friend Murray Rothbard, who wrote enough for an entire generation of scholars. Among Leonard's contributions, a great article on Charles Dunoyer, and another one on Richard Cantillon stand out. He also co-authored an article on Bruno Leoni's Freedom and the Law, with Tom Palmer.
The names of Dunoyer, Cantillon and Leoni may suggest that Leonard was quite interested in classical liberalism as a global enterprise, rather than an exclusively Anglo-Saxon adventure. Though he may not have been very prolific, Leonard nudged many other scholars to work on these and other, often forgotten authors. In the late 70s - early 80s, it was Leonard who was responsible for reintroducing French libertarians to Frederic Bastiat, for example, presenting him as the most likely patron saint for the cause of liberty in their country. He never tired of suggesting new readings and books to his friends: either in person or by e-mail.
Leonard was himself a sort of humane, smiling version of Wikipedia. He had a profound understanding of the history of political thought, rooted in an extremely detailed knowledge of the history of political facts. He entered the libertarian movement in his youth and never got out. He lectured extensively all over the world, knew the movement deep down to the youngest research assistant in the most remote university who showed the vaguest interest in libertarianism, and contributed greatly to nurture new ideas and help younger scholars. I did have a brief internship at the then-Atlas Economic Research Foundation, some fourteen years ago (wow! time flies). Leonard's personal history made him a rather intimidating figure to a kid obsessed with contemporary libertarianism such I was. And yet he was always the gentlest of persons, and every morning took care of distributing newspaper clippings and photocopies to the staff, interns included. He always remembered where you were coming from, and what you cared about, and selected "food for thought" accordingly.
Why was Leonard different from most of us? His prodigious memory is not, I think, the reason. Neither is the astonishing fact he could sleep through a lecture and listen to it at the same time, making the most apropos comment as he apparently just woke up. I think the right answer was provided by Pete Boettke in a Facebook comment. Writes Pete:
he was involved in every organization in the modern libertarian movement and that means also all the oversized egos and all the wrangling for position and control, and yet Leonard was never bitter. He simply moved on. I am sure he had a sense of disappointment and perhaps even injustice, but in my 25+ years of knowing him he never expressed resentment or bitterness with the turn of events. I think his personal example is a very important one to admire and copy. Being bitter is not that way to advance the ideas of true and radical liberalism. That is one of the thoughts that popped into my head in thinking about this great man --- he was always a cheerful warrior for the cause of liberty.
Intellectuals are very often, and almost by definition, "me!me!me!" persons. Leonard wasn't. He put the values he believed in and cherished--the ideas of liberty--above any stupid ego play. But, furthermore, he also really cared about other people. He didn't dream of having disciples, he didn't want to make converts, he was a truly radical libertarian that never rejoiced in sectarianism. He did care to help youngsters to grow their own way, by pursuing those very ideas he held dear. This is the reason why he is and will be so sorely missed by all those had the privilege of crossing his path.