NEW YORK, NY — Leonard Liggio has died, at the age of 81.
He was my friend for close to sixty years, and I came to know him well. Today my mind is filled with thoughts and memories of him.
Leonard was a Catholic, a scholar, and a libertarian.
His Catholic faith was his lodestar. Leonard was a “birthright Catholic,” and from his childhood through to university and graduate work at Georgetown and Fordham and for the rest of his life, Leonard enriched his understanding of his religion and participated in the sacraments of his Church. Ultimately, he was admitted into the Order of the Knights of Malta.
But he was also a Christian in another sense as well. I never witnessed Leonard treat other people with anything but evident respect, and his life was filled with innumerable kindnesses. A small example: once Leonard took me to a meeting of Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker group. Day was a left-anarchist with confused views on economics, but he favored her for her opposition to war and because each year she and her associate Ammon Hennacy publicly protested on the anniversary of the atomic incineration of the Japanese cities. I saw Leonard privately slip to Day what was at the time a notable contribution. Here also he was following Jesus’s admonition, “When you do some act of charity, do not announce it with a flourish of trumpets, as the hypocrites do in synagogue and in the streets…when you do some act of charity, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing…”
Leonard’s style was different from that of many of us today. There were no grand proclamations, but rather a quiet but highly effective boosting of these projects here, of those individuals there. In this way over the years he promoted our ideals, much as an Italian Christian Democratic politician might operate, but needless to say without the financial corruption.
Leonard Liggio was a humble man. He never stood in judgment of the personal foibles and idiosyncrasies of his friends. I suppose he believed that his job was to see to the perfecting of his own soul. Yet he could act forcefully. Once when we traveling in Europe, in Germany as I recall, I was startled to hear Leonard say, “Your hand is in my pocket!” I saw that he had caught a young woman’s forearm in an iron grip. He cast it disdainfully away, and the little thief scampered off.
Leonard was a man of immense learning, the most learned person I knew of his generation. Yet no one ever wore his learning more lightly. He pioneered the study of the highly significant school of French liberals of the early nineteenth century, introducing them to the English-speaking world. He introduced Murray Rothbard and me to historical revisionism, which has become a standard component of libertarian thought today. I know that Murray very much appreciated Leonard’s many suggestions in regard to his multi-volume work, Conceived in Liberty, on libertarian currents in colonial and revolutionary America.
Leonard was a member of the Circle Bastiat, the group of friends that met very often at Murray and Joey Rothbard’s apartment on the Upper Westside. We met for intense discussions of politics, both theoretical and contemporary, for the drinks and little snacks that Joey prepared, and for lots and lots of laughs. When the Circle was invited to Ayn Rand’s place after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, the incipient Randroids engaged the lady in an enthusiastic many-hours-long discussion. Leonard, off to the side and having not the slightest interest in “Objectivism,” closed his eyes and had himself a nap.
Like Murray, Leonard closely and passionately followed the American political scene. In fact, that is how we met, during Robert Taft’s 1952 presidential campaign, at the Taft headquarters in a midtown Manhattan hotel. Though we were unaware of it at the time, that campaign was the last stand of the Old Right. Once we went to witness Taft defending his book, A Foreign Policy for Americans, on the TV show of a noted Ikebot, Tex McCrary, a leader of the Eastern globalist establishment. Leonard made sure that we were seated under the microphones that came down to capture audience applause, and from time to time he would say, in a firm voice, “God bless you, Senator Taft!” and similar words of encouragement for our champion.
Leonard was always a libertarian, but in the context of the organizations he worked with, his style was different from that of many of us today. There were no grand proclamations, but rather a quiet but highly effective boosting of these projects here, of those individuals there. In this way over the years he promoted our ideals, much as an Italian Christian Democratic politician might operate, but needless to say without the financial corruption.
On his deathbed, he received the Last Rites of the Catholic Church. I trust that my friend Leonard is spending eternity with the Master he worshiped.
The Catholic Leonard was posted at the Lew Rockwell blog on October 16. It is reprinted with permission.
Ralph Raico is a leading historian of classical liberalism. Among many other works, Ralph is the author of two outstanding collections of essays, Classical Liberalism and the Austrian School and Great Wars and Great Leaders. As the latter title suggests, he is a great exponent of revisionist history. In all of his work, he shows profound learning, keen analytic powers, and an unwavering commitment to liberty. He was one of Murray Rothbard’s closest friends and a great friend to Joe Sobran as well.