Phillip W. Magness

Historian – 19th century United States

Leonard P. Liggio, 1933-2014

Leonard P. Liggio, a great historian, friend, and colleague at GMU and the Institute for Humane Studies, passed away this morning. I drafted this obituary for the IHS page, and I’m reposting here in his memory:liggio

We are saddened by the passing of Leonard P. Liggio, who died this morning at the age of 81 after a brief illness. Many followers of IHS knew Leonard as an inordinately knowledgeable and congenial fixture of the broader liberty movement, as well as a key player in IHS history. He was an important link to the formative days of our organization in 1961, and indeed to the intellectual resurgence of classical liberal thought that occurred over more than a half century of his dedicated intellectual pursuits.

Leonard came to know IHS founder Baldy Harper in the early 1950s as a student participant at a Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) seminar. He was a historically minded student in an economics-dominated discussion, but recounted hearing the formative lectures that became Ludwig von Mises’s book Theory and History and finding himself amidst the nascent post-war revival of interest in the Austrian economics tradition. Along with Harper and Mises, he joined an intellectual circle that included such company as Leonard Reed, Frank Chodorov, and Henry Hazlitt as well as a new generation of classical liberal scholars including Ralph Raico, George Reisman, Louis Spadaro, and Murray Rothbard.

When Harper moved on from FEE to the William Volker Fund, he took Leonard under his wing as a research assistant, and Leonard contributed to the development and publishing of several classic works of libertarian scholarship. With this background and his own studies in history, Leonard served as second author for Murray Rothbard’s historical work on the American founding, Conceived in Liberty.

Leonard was at Baldy Harper’s right hand during formative discussions around the founding of IHS and helped in the composition of Harper’s founding memoranda for the Institute. He joined Mises, Hayek, Hazlitt and numerous other classical liberal luminaries on our founding board of academic advisors, while taking on a number of faculty roles in law and history. He maintained active connections to Harper until the latter’s death in 1973, designing the curriculum for several early IHS faculty conferences and student seminars. Leonard continued this capacity as a scholarly fellow at IHS in 1974 and 1975 and helped bring F.A. Hayek to the IHS office in Menlo Park, California, for a summer in residence along with a dozen or so graduate students. After a brief interlude that included positions at the newly formed Cato Institute and teaching at several colleges, Leonard returned to IHS in 1978 and later succeeded Spadaro in 1980 as president.

During Leonard’s time at the helm, he oversaw an ambitious effort to begin cultivating the next generation of classical liberal academics. In 1985 the Institute accepted an invitation to move east and affiliate with George Mason University, better positioning its programs in an academic environment and allied with a growing free-market economics program at Mason. Though Leonard left his day-to-day role as president in 1989, he assumed the position of Distinguished Senior Scholar, taught at IHS seminars, and until shortly before his most recent illness maintained a frequent presence at IHS gatherings. Meanwhile, he served the broader liberty movement in multiple capacities, including terms as president of the Mont Pelerin Society and the Philadelphia Society, and most recently serving as executive vice president of the Atlas Network.

We have lost a tireless champion of liberty today, although we take comfort in the vibrant intellectual movement he helped build and the growing network of individuals whose lives he touched. These are a lasting testament to his life’s work.


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