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AlbertJayNock

Albert Jay Nock's State Of The Union

I recently finished reading State Of The Union, a collection of essays by Albert Jay Nock, the guy in my userpic.

This is a posthumous collection. Since it wasn't assembled by Nock himself, it necessarily cannot have the cohesiveness of his brilliant Memoirs Of A Superfluous Man, which I read last year. But editor Charles Hamilton does a pretty good job of selecting and arranging the essays.

All of Nock's trademark ideas are included here.  There is an essay about education, and the importance of teaching the classics. There's also a very early essay, written while he was still an Episcopal priest, called  The Value  To The Clergyman Of Training In The Classics.

There are other essays dealing with culture and literature. Pantagruelism, a lecture on Rabelais given to the Johns Hopkins medical faculty, is included here. (If a medical faculty seems an odd audience for a lecture on Rabelais, it's helpful to remember that he was a physician.) Last year when I read Memoirs Of A Superfluous Man his enthusiasm for Rabelais nudged me to read Gargantua and Pantagruel. This essay made me want to read it again.

Although SOTU was primarily meant to be a collection of Nock's social criticism, there is a gracious helping of political thought.  Nock, along with H.L. Mencken, helped lay the groundwork for modern libertarianism. Sometimes his libertarianism  is easy to spot from the title, as is the case with The Criminality Of The State and The Anarchist's Progress. A particular intriguing entry is Liberalism, Properly So Called , in which he bemoans "the extraordinary spectacle of Liberals doing their best to destroy the cardinal freedoms and immunities which liberals formerly defended." That's a common enough charge these days, but  considering that the essay was written in the 1930's it's quite prescient.

Although he had strong opinions, Nock was not really an activist. In fact, he could almost be called an anti-activist. In The Anarchists Progress, he speaks of a friend  who suggested he run for Congress, because he would be a change from the "damned rascals" there.
Nock's response was "don't  you see it would be ... a short time... before I should be a damned rascal, too?" A lot of people quote Lord Acton's dictum on power corrupting, but Nock is one of the very rare few honest enough to apply it to himself. In Snoring As A Fine Art, he extols the value of  "less thinking, planning, legislating, organizing, and a great deal—oh yes, a very great deal—more snoring".

Nock did not advocate complete passivity. In Isaiah's Job , one of his most famous essays, he advocates speaking one's mind. But true to form, he suggests not worrying about whether or not the masses will listen. If you preach the right message, the people who can benefit from it (whom Nock calls "the Remnant") will find you and listen to what you have to say.

This book was a joy to read, and I'm sure I will return to it many times.



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