Our Enemy, the State

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Our Enemy, the State
Title page of the book
AuthorAlbert Jay Nock
CountryUnited States
PublisherWilliam Morrow & Company
Publication date
TextOur Enemy, the State at Wikisource

Our Enemy, the State is the best-known book by libertarian author Albert Jay Nock, serving as a fundamental influence for the modern libertarian and American conservatism movements. Initially presented as a series of lectures at Bard College, it was published in 1935, and attempts to analyze the origins of American freedom, as well as questioning the nature and legitimacy of authoritarian government. Nock differentiates between that, which he refers to as "the State" (as described by Franz Oppenheimer in his book The State) and legitimate government, including governing oneself or consensual delegation of decision-making to leaders one selects.

The Text[edit]

Nock is not attacking government, per se, but "The State", authority that violates society itself, claiming to rule in the people's name but taking power away from the community.[1][2]

In his opening paragraphs, he states that the expansion of the state comes at the expense of social power, shrinking the role of community. Denying that the two are the same, he points out the historic origin of authoritarian government through conquering warlords and robber barons. This reflects the influence of Franz Oppenheimer on Nock, a key proponent of the conquest theory of the state.[3]

Nock argues, further, that the Articles of Confederation that preceded the US Constitution were actually superior to it,[4] that the reasons given for its replacement were excuses by land speculators and creditors looking to enrich themselves.[5]

While he did laud the Founders for establishing a legitimate government, as opposed to state, that was intended to protect natural rights.[6]

The state, according to Nock, "turns every contingency into a resource for accumulating power in itself, always at the expense of social power". People become conditioned to accept their lost freedom and social power as normal, in each subsequent generation, and so the State continues to expand, and society to shrink.[7] He cites Thomas Paine as pointing out that the state "even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one".

He goes on to quote Sigmund Freud as noting that government does not actually show any tendency to suppress crime, but only to protect its own monopoly over it. Along with Paine and Freud, Nock talks about the usurpation of power and resources by The State in the context of Benjamin Franklin, Henry George, and others.[8] In fact, he argues that this seizure is comparable to the gathering of land by the Crown in 1066 England, be it in the Federalization of land in Western states or elsewhere as "needed" for control over the populace.

There are two methods, according to Nock, by which a mans needs and desires can be satisfied.[4]

One is the production and exchange of wealth, which he sees as natural, honest, and healthy. The other is by the initiation of force to rob others of it, whether by conquest, confiscation, slavery, or other coercive means. The former he sees as freedom, the latter as the inevitable function of the state.

Like Lysander Spooner in No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority, Nock disputes both the legitimacy of an inherited constitution and the other arguments used to justify claiming it legitimately binds its subjects. He attacks the motivations and legitimacy of the Founding Fathers directly, not simply their ability to impose a contract on subsequent generations. The protection of Natural Rights found in the Declaration of Independence, and advocated by Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine was abandoned by the largest body of the Founders as the American Revolution ended.

Nock sees The State as expanding radically under FDR, the New Deal merely being a pretext for 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.[9] 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.[10]


The book has been cited as an influence by a wide range of thinkers and political figures, including Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand,[11] Barry Goldwater, H.L. Mencken, and L. Neil Smith.[12] It is seen as a key foundation for the modern American conservatism movement that grew out of reaction to the expanding State of the New Deal.[13][14] Considering the expansion of The State in the years since, Our Enemy, the State has been cited as increasingly apt over time, among Conservatives.[15]

Nock had argued in the book that something like the modern conservative movement should be formed of what he described as The Remnant, those remaining people who recognized The State as a destructive burden on society.[16]

In arguing that John F. Kennedy was actually Conservative, Ira Stoll cited his ownership of Our Enemy, the State as well as The Man Versus the State, by 19th century leader of the individualist movement, Herbert Spencer.[17]


  1. ^ Monica Perez — Our Enemy the State
  2. ^ Do You Hate the State? — Murray Rothbard — The Mises Institute
  3. ^ Franz Oppenheimer on the origin of the state in conquest and subjection by one group over another (1907)
  4. ^ a b >Stylish Elegance: A Biography of Albert Jay Nock
    He developed the lecture texts into his great radical prolemic, Our Enemy, the State. He drew from ideas of German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer who had written about the violent origins of the state. Nock championed the natural rights vision of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, the case for equal freedom articulated by Herbert Spencer. Nock ignored a taboo and spoke kindly of the American Articles of Confederation (1781-1789), the association of states without a central government.
  5. ^ Our Enemy, the State — Ludwig von Mises Institute
  6. ^ The State faces humiliation and bankruptcy, and that’s the good news
    But until the New Deal, while virtually everyone would have recognized that the United States had a government, whether it had a “state” would have been a much more complicated question. For Nock, the government is the machinery created by the Founders to protect our individual rights, our shores from foreign enemies, and, well, that’s about it.
  7. ^ The Counsel of Despair? Albert J. Nock on Self-Government
  8. ^ Albert Jay Nock and Alternative History
  9. ^ The Death of Conservatism
  10. ^ https://lfb.org/products/our-enemy-the-state-2/ Our Enemy, the State — Laissez-Faire Books]
  11. ^ Ayn Rand and the World She Made
    Rand is channeling the ideas of Albert Jay Nock, who argued that members of a society can be grouped in one or the other of two opposing camps: either they are "economic man," those who produce what they need to survive, or "political man," those who use charm or coercion to live off the productivity of others. Rand's fascinating contribution to this formulation is her depiction of the psychology. Nock's political man is her second-hander; his economic man is her individualist hero, reliant on his own ego as the fountainhead of productivity and value. In Roark's self-defense at trial, he says, "The creator's concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite's concern is the conquest of men."
  12. ^ The Wisdom of Albert Jay Nock: A Collection of Quotations
  13. ^ Debating the American Conservative Movement: 1945 to the Present
    In 1935, journalist Albert Jay Nock wrote a book widely circulated by conservatives in the post-SecondWorldWar years, Our Enemy, the State. In the book, he outlined the conservative complaint against centralized government as a parasite that drained the productive forces from society. The State usurped individual rights in the name of the amorphous collective. For postwar conservatives such as Nock, the New Deal welfare state embodied the worst aspects of the growth of leviathan government in America...
  14. ^ The Right Talk: How Conservatives Transformed The Great Society into the Economic Society
    Although his Our Enemy, the State achieved only limited acclaim at the time of its initial release, its lasting influence was confirmed by its being republished on two occasions. Postwar intellectuals such as William F. Buckley, Jr., and John Chamberlain paid homage to Nock for informing their views.
  15. ^ OUR ENEMY THE STATE, Illinois Review
  16. ^ The Conservative Ascendancy: how the GOP right made political history
  17. ^ JKK, Conservative

External links[edit]