Albert Jay Nock

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Albert Jay Nock
Born (1870-10-13)October 13, 1870
Scranton, Pennsylvania
Died August 19, 1945(1945-08-19) (aged 74)
Wakefield, Rhode Island
Resting place Riverside Cemetery
South Kingstown, Rhode Island
Occupation writer and social theorist
Nationality American
Alma mater St. Stephen's College
(now known as Bard College)
Subject Libertarianism

Albert Jay Nock (October 13, 1870 – August 19, 1945) was an influential American libertarian author, educational theorist, and social critic of the early and middle 20th century.

Life and work[edit]

Throughout his life, Nock was a deeply private man who shared few of the details of his personal life with his working partners. He was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania (U.S.), to a father who was both a steelworker and an Episcopal priest, and he was raised in Brooklyn, New York. Nock attended St. Stephen's College (now known as Bard College) from 1884–1888,[1] where he joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity. After graduation he had a brief career playing minor league baseball, then attended a theological seminary and was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1897. Nock married Agnes Grumbine in 1900 and had two children, Francis and Samuel (both of whom became college professors), but separated from his wife after only a few years of marriage.[2] In 1909, Nock left the clergy and became a journalist.

In 1914, Nock joined the staff of The Nation magazine, which was at the time supportive of liberal capitalism. Nock was an acquaintance of the influential politician and orator William Jennings Bryan, and in 1915 traveled to Europe on a special assignment for Bryan, who was then Secretary of State. Nock also maintained friendships with many of the leading proponents of the Georgist movement, one of whom had been his bishop in the Episcopal Church.

However, while Nock was a lifelong admirer of Henry George, he was frequently at odds with the left-leaning movement that claimed his legacy.[citation needed] Further, Nock was deeply influenced by the anti-collectivist writings of the German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer[citation needed], whose most famous work, Der Staat, was published in English translation in 1915. In his own writings, Nock would later build on Oppenheimer's claim that the pursuit of human ends can be divided into two forms: the productive or economic means and the parasitic, political means.

Between 1920 and 1924, Nock was the co-editor of The Freeman. The Freeman was initially conceived as a vehicle for the single tax movement. It was financed by the wealthy wife of the magazine's other editor, Francis Neilson,[3] although neither Nock nor Neilson was an dedicated single taxer. Contributors to The Freeman included: Charles A. Beard, William Henry Chamberlin, Thomas Mann, Lewis Mumford, Bertrand Russell, Lincoln Steffens, Louis Untermeyer, Thorstein Veblen and Suzanne La Follette, the more libertarian[4] cousin of Senator Robert La Follette. Critic H.L. Mencken wrote:

His editorials during the three brief years of the Freeman set a mark that no other man of his trade has ever quite managed to reach. They were well-informed and sometimes even learned, but there was never the slightest trace of pedantry in them. –H.L. Mencken[5]

When the unprofitable The Freeman ceased publication in 1924, Nock became a freelance journalist in New York City and Brussels, Belgium.

"The Myth of a Guilty Nation,"[6] which came out in 1922, was Albert Jay Nock's first anti-war book, a cause he backed his entire life as an essential component of a libertarian outlook. The burden of the book is to prove American war propaganda to be false. The purpose of the war, according to Nock, was not to liberate Europe and the world from German imperialism and threats. If there was a conspiracy, it was by the allied powers to broadcast a public message that was completely contradicted by its own diplomatic cables. Along with that came war propaganda designed to make Germany into a devil nation. The book has been in very low circulation ever since. In fact, until a recent release by the Mises Institute, it had been very difficult to obtain in physical form.

In the mid-1920s, a small group of wealthy American admirers funded Nock's literary and historical work to enable him to follow his own interests. Shortly thereafter, he published his biography of Thomas Jefferson. When Jefferson was published in 1928, Mencken praised it as "the work of a subtle and highly dexterous craftsman" which cleared "off the vast mountain of doctrinaire rubbish that has risen above Jefferson's bones and also provides a clear and comprehensive account of the Jeffersonian system," and the "essence of it is that Jefferson divided all mankind into two classes, the producers and the exploiters, and he was for the former first, last and all the time." Mencken also thought the book to be accurate, shrewd, well-ordered and charming.[5]

In his two 1932 books, On the Disadvantages of Being Educated and Other Essays and Theory of Education in the United States, Nock launched a scathing critique of modern government-run education.

In his 1936 article "Isaiah's Job",[7] which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly and was reprinted in pamphlet form in July 1962 by The Foundation for Economic Education, Nock expressed his complete disillusionment with the idea of reforming the current system. Believing that it would be impossible to convince any large portion of the general population of the correct course and opposing any suggestion of a violent revolution, Nock instead argued that libertarians should focus on nurturing what he called "the Remnant".

The Remnant, according to Nock, consisted of a small minority who understood the nature of the state and society, and who would become influential only after the current dangerous course had become thoroughly and obviously untenable, a situation which might not occur until far into the future.[8] Nock's philosophy of the Remnant was influenced by the deep pessimism and elitism that social critic Ralph Adams Cram expressed in a 1932 essay, "Why We Do Not Behave Like Human Beings".[9] In his Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, Nock makes no secret that his educators:

did not pretend to believe that everyone is educable, for they knew, on the contrary, that very few are educable, very few indeed. They saw this as a fact of nature, like the fact that few are six feet tall. [...] They accepted the fact that there are practicable ranges of intellectual and spiritual experience which nature has opened to some and closed to others.

In 1941, Nock published a two-part essay in the Atlantic Monthly titled "The Jewish Problem in America".[10] The article was part of a multi-author series, assembled by the editors in response to recent anti-Semitic unrest in Brooklyn and elsewhere "in the hope that a free and forthright debate will reduce the pressure, now dangerously high, and leave us with a healthier understanding of the human elements involved."

Nock's argument was that the Jews were an Oriental people, acceptable to the "intelligent Occidental" yet forever strangers to "the Occidental mass-man."[11] Furthermore, the mass-man "is inclined to be more resentful of the Oriental as a competitor than of another Occidental;" the American masses are "the great rope and lamppost artists of the world;" and in studying Jewish history, "one is struck with the fact that persecutions never have originated in an upper class movement". This innate hostility of the masses, he concluded, might be exploited by a scapegoating state to distract from "any shocks of an economic dislocation that may occur in the years ahead." He concluded, "If I keep up my family's record of longevity, I think it is not impossible that I shall live to see the Nuremberg laws reenacted in this country and enforced with vigor" and affirmed that the consequences of such a pogrom "would be as appalling in their extent and magnitude as anything seen since the Middle Ages."

Despite this obvious dread of anti-Semitism, the article was itself declared by some to be anti-Semitic, and Nock was never asked to write another article, effectively ending his career as a social critic.

Against charges of anti-Semitism, Nock answered, "Someone asked me years ago if it were true that I disliked Jews, and I replied that it was certainly true, not at all because they are Jews but because they are folks, and I don't like folks."[citation needed]

In 1943, two years before his death, Nock published his autobiography, Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, the title of which expressed the degree of Nock's disillusionment and alienation from current social trends. After the publication of this autobiography, Nock became the sometime guest of oilman William F. Buckley, Sr.,[12] whose son, William F. Buckley, Jr., would later become a celebrated author and speaker.

Nock died of leukemia in 1945, at the Wakefield, Rhode Island home of his longtime friend, Ruth Robinson, the illustrator of his 1934 book, "A Journey into Rabelais' France". He is buried in Riverside Cemetery, in Wakefield.

Thought[edit]

Describing himself as a philosophical anarchist,[13] Nock called for a radical vision of society free from the influence of the political state. He described the state as that which "claims and exercises the monopoly of crime". He opposed centralization, regulation, the income tax, and mandatory education, along with what he saw as the degradation of society. He denounced in equal terms all forms of totalitarianism, including "Bolshevism... Fascism, Hitlerism, Marxism, [and] Communism" but also harshly criticized democracy. Instead, Nock argued, "The practical reason for freedom is that freedom seems to be the only condition under which any kind of substantial moral fiber can be developed. Everything else has been tried, world without end. Going dead against reason and experience, we have tried law, compulsion and authoritarianism of various kinds, and the result is nothing to be proud of."[14]

During the 1930s, Nock was one of the most consistent critics of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs. In Our Enemy, the State, Nock argued that the New Deal was merely a pretext for the federal government to increase its control over society. He was dismayed that the president had gathered unprecedented power in his own hands and called this development an out-and-out coup d'état. Nock criticized those who believed that the new regimentation of the economy was temporary, arguing that it would prove a permanent shift. He believed that the inflationary monetary policy of the Republican administrations of the 1920s was responsible for the onset of the Great Depression and that the New Deal was responsible for perpetuating it.

Nock was also a passionate opponent of war and what he considered the US government's aggressive foreign policy. He believed that war could bring out only the worst in society and argued that it led inevitably to collectivization and militarization and "fortified a universal faith in violence; it set in motion endless adventures in imperialism, endless nationalist ambitions," while, at the same time, costing countless human lives. During the First World War, Nock wrote for The Nation, which was censored by the Wilson administration for opposing the war.

Despite his distaste for communism, Nock harshly criticized the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War following the parliamentary revolution and Bolshevik coup in that country. Before the Second World War, Nock wrote a series of articles deploring what he saw as Roosevelt's gamesmanship and interventionism leading inevitably to US involvement. Nock was one of the few who maintained a principled opposition to the war throughout its course.

Despite becoming considerably more obscure in death than he had been in life, Nock was an important influence on the next generation of laissez-faire capitalist American thinkers, including libertarians such as Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, Frank Chodorov,[15] and Leonard Read, and conservatives such as William F. Buckley, Jr.. Nock's conservative view of society would help inspire the paleoconservative movement in response to the development of neoconservatism during the Cold War. In insisting on the state itself as the root problem, Nock's thought was one of the main precursors to anarcho-capitalism.

Works[edit]

  • The Myth of a Guilty Nation.[1] New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1922. [2]
  • The Freeman Book.[3] B.W. Huebsch, 1924.
  • Jefferson.[4] New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1926 (also known as Mr. Jefferson).
  • On Doing the Right Thing, and Other Essays.[5] New York: Harper and Brothers, 1928.
  • Francis Rabelais: The Man and His Work. Harper and Brothers, 1929.
  • The Book of Journeyman: Essays from the New Freeman.[6] New Freeman, 1930.
  • The Theory of Education in the United States.[7] New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1932.
  • A Journey Into Rabelais's France. [8] William Morrow & Company, 1934.
  • A Journal of These Days: June 1932–December 1933. William Morrow & Company, 1934.
  • Our Enemy, the State.[9] William Morrow & Company, 1935.
  • Free Speech and Plain Language. William Morrow & Company, 1937.
  • Henry George: An Essay. William Morrow & Company, 1939.
  • Memoirs of a Superfluous Man.[10] New York: Harper and Brothers, 1943.

Miscellany

  • World Scouts,[11] World Peace Foundation, 1912.
  • "Officialism and Lawlessness." [12] In College Readings on Today and its Problems, Oxford University Press, 1933.
  • Meditations in Wall Street, with an introduction by Albert Jay Nock,[13] W. Morrow & Company, 1940.

Published posthumously:

  • A Journal of Forgotten Days: May 1934–October 1935. [14] Henry Regnery Company, 1948.
  • Letters from Albert Jay Nock, 1924–1945, to Edmund C. Evans, Mrs. Edmund C. Evans, and Ellen Winsor. The Caxton Printers, 1949.
  • Snoring as a Fine Art and Twelve Other Essays.[15] Richard R. Smith, 1958.
  • Selected Letters of Albert Jay Nock. The Caxton Printers, 1962.
  • Cogitations from Albert Jay Nock.[16] The Nockian Society, 1970, revised edition, 1985.
  • The State of the Union: Essays in Social Criticism. Liberty Press, 1991.
  • The Disadvantages of Being Educated and Other Essays. Hallberg Publishing Corporation, 1996.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Wreszin, Michael (1972). The Superfluous Anarchist: Albert Jay Nock, Brown University Press, p. 11.
  2. ^ Powell, Jim (March 1, 1997). "Albert Jay Nock: A Gifted Pen for Radical Individualism". The Freeman (Foundation for Economic Education). 
  3. ^ Neilson, Francis (1946). "The Story of 'The Freeman'," The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 3–53.
  4. ^ Presley, Sharon (1981). "Suzanne La Follette: The Freewoman," Libertarian Review (Cato Institute).
  5. ^ a b Mencken, H.L. (1926). “The Immortal Democrat,” American Mercury, Vol. 9, No. 33, p. 123.
  6. ^ Originally published in 1922 by B. W. Huebsch, Inc. Published in 2011 by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
  7. ^ Nock, Albert Jay (1956). "Isaiah's Job", The Freeman/Ideas on Liberty, Vol. 6, No. 12, pp. 31–7.
  8. ^ Harris, Michael R. (1970). Five Counterrevolutionists in Higher Education: Irving Babbitt, Albert Jay Nock, Abraham Flexner, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Alexander Meiklejohn, Oregon State University Press, p. 97.
  9. ^ Cram, Ralph Adams (1932). "Why We Do Not Behave Like Human Beings," The American Mercury, Vol. 27, No 105, pp. 41–8.
  10. ^ Nock, Albert Jay (1941). "The Jewish Problem in America," The Atlantic Monthly, June 1, pp. 699–705.
  11. ^ Crunden, Robert Morse (1964). The Mind and Art of Albert Jay Nock, Henry Regnery Company, pp. 183–84.
  12. ^ Buckley, Jr., William F. (2008). Let Us Talk of Many Things: The Collected Speeches, Basic Books, p. 430.
  13. ^ Wreszin, Michael (1969). "Albert Jay Nock and the Anarchist Elitist Tradition in America," American Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 2, Part 1, pp. 165–89.
  14. ^ Nock, Albert Jay (1924). "On Doing the Right Thing," American Mercury, Vol. 3, No. 11, p. 257–62.
  15. ^ Nitsche, Charles G. (1981). Albert Jay Nock and Frank Chodorov: Case Studies in Recent American Individualist and Anti-statist Thought, (Ph.D. Dissertation), University of Maryland.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]