A couple months ago, Rich asked me to do a piece on Albert Jay Nock for the magazine. I kept kicking it down the road because other things came up and I found I kept needing to read one more thing by or about the guy before I knew what I wanted to say. I still feel that way, but I had to take a stab at actually writing the thing for the magazine. I sent it off to NR HQ yesterday. I’m not sure what folks will make of the piece, but I can’t remember a time I got more out of revisiting one of the old-timers of conservatism. I really wish I spent more time reading Nock before I wrote my book, because he crystalizes a lot of ideas I labored over. I am a renewed fan.
Anyway, in the process I’ve found all of these Nockian quotations that couldn’t make it into the piece, but seem worthwhile nonetheless given what’s going on in Washington these days (the greatest storehouse of them being “Cogitations” put out by the Albert Jay Nock Society and available on various sites, though FEE’s version won’t download for me). Anyway, here are a few I thought some readers might find of interest (apologies for any typos resulting from my transcription):
A falling stock market seems to clarify and stimulate thought. When it is rising, nobody cares to know why or how, but when it falls, everyone is eager to know all about it, and yards of explanation come out in he newspapers from pundits and in our colleges and the investment departments of our banks.
Let us suppose that instead of being slow, extravagant, inefficient, wasteful, unadaptive, stupid, and at least by tendency corrupt, the State changes its character entirely and becomes infinitely wise, good, disinterested, efficient, so that anyone may run to it with any little two-penny problem and have it solved for him at once in the wisest and best way possible. Suppose the state close-herds the individual so far as to forestall every conceivable weakness, incompetence; suppose it confiscates all his energy and resources and employs them much more advantageously all around than he can employ them if left to himself. My question still remains – what sort of person is the individual likely to become under those circumstances?
To take another example, the present state of public affairs shows clearly enough that the State is the poorest instrument imaginable for improving human society, and that confidence in political institutions and nostrums is ludicrously misplaced. Social philosophers in every age have been strenuously insisting that all this sort of fatuity is simply putting the cart before the horse; that society cannot be moralized and improved unless and until the individual is moralized and improved. Jesus insisted on this; it is the fundamental principle of Christian social philosophy. Pagan sages, ancient sages, modern sages, a whole apostolic succession running all the way from Confucius and Epicetus down to Nietzche, Ibsen, William Penn, and Herbert Spencer – all of these have insisted on it.
The State has no money. It produces nothing. Its existence is purely parasitic, maintained by taxation; that is to say by forced levies on the production of others…What such schemes (as Social Security) actually come to is that the workman pays his own share outright; he pays the employer’s share in the enhanced price of commodities; and he pays the government’s share in taxation. He pays the whole bill; and when one counts in the unconscionably swollen costs of bureaucratic brokerage ones sees that what the workman-beneficiary gets out of the arrangement is about the most expensive form of insurance that could be devised consistently with keeping its promoters out of jail.
And for you inactivists out there:
I learned early with Thoreau that a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone; and in view of this I have always considered myself extremely well-to-do.
More as the spirit moves.