Robert Higgs: A Personal and Professional Appreciation

Article excerpt

In 1996, Robert Higgs and I launched The Independent Review. We sought to create an interdisciplinary source of serious analysis challenging political correctness and the pervasive paradigms of positivism, scientism, reductionism, historicism, nihilism, militarism, dehumanization, collectivism, and statism--in short, a journal devoted to political economy, the ideas and institutions of liberty, and the critical analysis of government policy. As Bob explained in the "Editor's Welcome" in the journal's first issue,

Writing that would interest only economists or only philosophers or only historians--indeed work that would interest only the practitioners of any academically defined scientific or humanistic specialty--does not appear in this journal. Rather, it features writing that crosses the boundaries of a variety of disciplines, including all the social sciences, philosophy, history, law, and related fields.... Highly formal and technically challenging work does not appear in The Independent Review.... [W]hatever the merits of esoteric forms of communication in the various disciplines, my aims as editor dictate that the common language of this journal, as a rule, must be English. I reject the work of writers who cannot express their ideas clearly. Those who write with vigor, wit, and flair will be received with open arms ... But certain types of analysis require more than words. Authors who make appropriate use of mathematical or statistical analysis, as opposed to just showing off, will find these pages accessible to them.... The Independent Review provides an outlet for writers engaged in the development and extension of [the] classic tradition. However, I do not exclude papers written from alternative perspectives. Indeed, I hope to feature illuminating debates. In any event, many questions remain open; no one has all the answers. Normative as well as positive analyses will find a place here, and no attempt will be made to avoid the hard questions. On the contrary. (Higgs 1996, 5-7)

For seventeen years, Bob served as editor, overseeing all aspects of the content of the journal, infusing the journal with consistently high standards of content and readability, and ultimately producing sixty-six 160-page, on-time issues with 922 articles, reviews, and special features, including his ever-popular and insightful column "Etceteras." Working with an excellent group of scholars, Bob edited every issue carefully and beautifully both for scholarly rigor and readability, a feature seldom evident in other journals. The privilege I have had of working with Bob goes back much earlier, however, to 1983, when the economist M. Bruce Johnson approached me with a proposal from Bob to complete a book manuscript on the political economy of government power and growth, entitled "Crisis and Leviathan." Bruce and I were then at the helm of the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), which I had been hired to organize and where I served as president and Bruce as research director. Both of us could see the unique merit in Bob's project. Despite my concerted efforts to attract modest funding for the project to enable Bob to spend a summer completing the manuscript, however, I could raise no interest from grant makers, who believed that, "with the election of Ronald Reagan, the battle of ideas has been won, and it is now time to govern."

About to give up, I happened to be speaking with the economist and PRI Advisory Board member Murray Rothbard and mentioned my disappointing efforts. Murray immediately noted that he knew of Bob's work and urged me to send a proposal to him that he could submit at the upcoming board meeting of the Center for Libertarian Studies. Several weeks later Murray phoned me the good news that the center had approved a grant of $10,000 through its Ludwig von Mises Fellowships program, which was funded by the Sarah Scaife Foundation. Bob was able to complete the manuscript, I arranged for its publication through Oxford University Press, and we thus set a course of working together. …