I read Bob Higgs’s book, Crisis and Leviathan, when it first came out in 1987.
I was a college freshman or sophomore at the time, and it had a profound influence on me. I was already deeply libertarian, but mostly from instinct, a healthy Kansas fear of governmental authority, reading every dystopian science fiction book under the sun, and having devoured all I could from Hayek, Mises, Hazlitt, and Kirzner. Bob, though, gave me something different. Not only did he have all of the economics down, but he also understood the evils of ideology and the corruption of language, especially by the nationalists. In some ways, looking back, Bob reminds me of Mises and Orwell combined in one, at least in terms of intelligence. And, he’s a patriot, but no nationalist.
In terms of personality. . . . In 1996, Jim Otteson and I made a pilgrimage to Auburn, Alabama, to meet Higgs. I found I liked him even better than his books—and I already thought the world of his books (Transformation; as well as Competition or Coercion remain favorites as well). So, I like everything about Bob: his writing, his speaking style; and his personality. What a blessing this man is to our country and, frankly, to western civilization.
He’s also incredibly humble.
As some of you Imaginative Conservative readers might know, I’ve been reading—with careful attention—William Shirer’s masterful, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It is one of the most disturbing and fascinating things I’ve ever read. One has to immerse oneself in it to get its meaning. I hope to post a book review about/of it here fairly soon.
To catch up on some deep political economy, I’ve begun rereading (for the umpteenth time), Bob’s Crisis and the Leviathan. A few passages from Bob have stuck with me for years. Reading Shirer and Higgs together has been truly enlightening. From Higgs:
“The mixed economy that has prevailed in the United States since World War II, a uniquely American form of participatory fascism, has lent itself to a substantial expansion of the scope of governmental authority over economic decision-making. Given capitalist color by the form of private property rights, the system has denied the substance of any such rights whenever governmental authorities have found it expedient to do so. No individual economic right whatever, not even the right to life, has been immune from official derogation or disallowance . . . .” (256)
And again from Higgs:
“But assuming that our luck holds and our society survives, we do know something–at least abstractly–about the future. We know that other great crises will come. Whether they will be occasioned by foreign wars, economic collapse, or rampant terrorism, no one can predict with assurance. Yet in one form or another, great crises will surely come again, as they have from time to time throughout all human history. When they do, governments almost certainly will gain new powers over economic and social affairs. Everything that I have argued and documented in the preceding chapters points toward this conclusion. For those who cherish individual liberty and a free society, the prospect is deeply disheartening.” (262)
Bob is a man of prophetic vision; it should be remembered that he wrote this during an economic boom, a relatively peaceful time, and before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nearly a quarter of a century later, how can we not see that Bob saw something many of the rest of us on the Right didn’t? God bless you, Bob, and your work. The only thing better than CRISIS AND LEVIATHAN would be an updated CRISIS AND LEVIATHAN (2012 edition). I’m starting a novena now. . . .
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.