Farewell to Our Friend, Leonard Liggio

Leonard Liggio

We are saddened to hear our friend Leonard Liggio passed away this morning. Today, the liberty movement has lost an intellectual champion. The Competitive Enterprise Institute has lost a colleague and ally. And on a personal note, I have lost a reliable, ever-present partner since I first started working in this movement several decades ago. 

Leonard was long the Don of the free market community. Realizing that CEI needed to move out of its infancy stage and expand its board of directors in the early 1990s, Fred Smith approached Leonard, who quickly agreed to serve on our team. He continued with that board role for nearly two decades, moving to emeritus status only last year. Leonard was whimsical in his conversation, grounded in his idealistic commitment, and often bemused by CEI’s temerity in translating classical ideas into actual reform. And, he was always supportive. 

 I asked Fred to recount a few of his own memories of Leonard. Here is his reply:  

  • Some years ago, at the Heritage Foundation’s Resource Bank meeting, the topic of Chicago politics came up during dinner. Leonard proceeded to offer a ward-by-ward political history of the Windy City—a surprising tour de force performance from someone most of us viewed as non-political. 
  • Leonard’s knowledge about economic history—actually history in general—was amazing. One time our friend Henri Lepage sought to do a series of interviews with Leonard on the classical liberal movement’s attitude toward war in the interval between the two world wars. I offered my weekend home on Cobb Island, in southern Maryland, as a peaceful environment for that project. Over a weekend, Henri asked Leonard questions while I sat in amazement with my—and my wife Fran’s—role largely focused on ensuring they were well fed.
  • When Leonard first fell ill, CEI’s new president, Lawson Bader, and I visited him. On arrival, we greeted friends as they were leaving; when we left we encountered friends who were arriving. Lawson focused on his plans for CEI; I outlined my new responsibilities as director of CEI’s Center for Advancing Capitalism. Leonard listened with interest, offered advice, and smiled as always at the hopes and challenges of defending freedom.

In 1996, I joined the Center for Market Processes, now the Mercatus Center, at George Mason University. Our office was located in a nondescript building in downtown Fairfax, Virginia. Our fellow tenants included the Institute for Humane Studies, GMU’s Program for Social and Organizational Learning, and the Atlas Network. And, we all happily shared Leonard. I used to joke with him that if I stomped my feet hard enough, pieces of dust and debris would rain down on his head in the office below. To me, it now seems like such a long time ago, but for Leonard his years at Atlas are but a blip in a career spanning many decades and continents, and including personal interactions with every hero and villain the libertarian movement has had to offer.    

In my time with Leonard he was always friendly, always willing to engage with me in conversation—which often was a history lesson—and one of the first to congratulate me when I became CEI’s president. I asked him to give me one more year on the board to assist us in the transition. He readily agreed.    

Transitions are always a bit painful, for new and old. But they also afford us a reminder on the value of legacy. Whether leading a free-market organization, teaching college or graduate economics, working in the political trenches, providing reading materials to those trapped behind the Iron Curtain, or filming video shorts to reach youthful audiences, we all stand on the shoulders, sweat, minds and successes of many who have come before. 

Leonard knew just about everything about classical liberalism—and just about everyone who helped build the movement. That is true. It is also true there are many more yet to come who will be worth knowing, and there will always be more to discover about the power of classical liberalism. But they, alas, will only read him, and of him. To know Leonard was to absorb the richness of his ideas and breadth of his insights. It was also a pleasure. Classical liberals are often typecast as a cantankerous lot. Leonard was certainly not. He was friends with all. Such is the power of legacy as generations move on.    

I close by echoing Fred’s words about Leonard:

"All creative lives are fascinating lengthy volumes with many chapters. I, like most, had the opportunity of perusing only a few selective chapters. But those that I’ve read have been fascinating. And when I talk to others and ask about 'Who to ask,' they always respond, 'Ask Leonard.'  He was a friend and colleague, his contributions were many, and his knowledge and wisdom cannot be replaced. His challenge to us at CEI, and to all who cherish liberty, is to do our best to keep its flame burning brightly."

Leonard, euge serve bone et fidelis,

Lawson Bader and the Competitive Enterprise Institute