Albert Jay Nock (October 13, 1870 – August 19, 1945) was an American libertarian author, editor first of The Freeman and then The Nation, educational theorist, Georgist, and social critic of the early and middle 20th century. He was an outspoken opponent of the New Deal, and served as a fundamental inspiration for the modern libertarian and conservative movements, cited as an influence by William F. Buckley Jr. He was one of the first Americans to self-identify as "libertarian". His best-known books are Memoirs of a Superfluous Man and Our Enemy, the State.
Albert Jay Nock
|Born||October 13, 1870|
|Died||August 19, 1945 (aged 74)|
Wakefield, Rhode Island
|Resting place||Riverside Cemetery|
South Kingstown, Rhode Island
|Occupation||Writer and social theorist|
|Alma mater||St. Stephen's College|
(now known as Bard College)
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, the son of Emma Sheldon Jay and Joseph Albert Nock, who was both a steelworker and an Episcopal priest. He was raised in Brooklyn, New York. Nock attended St. Stephen's College (now known as Bard College) from 1884 to 1888, where he joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.
After graduation he had a brief career playing minor league baseball, and then attended a theological seminary and was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1897. Nock married Agnes Grumbine in 1900 and the couple had two children, Francis and Samuel (both of whom became college professors). In 1909, Nock left the ministry as well as his wife and children, 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 other Georgists in the left-leaning movement. Further, Nock was influenced by the anti-collectivist writings of the German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer, 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, although neither Nock nor Neilson was a 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 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.
"The Myth of a Guilty Nation," 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 World War I, 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.
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.
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", 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 persuade 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. 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". 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". 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." 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."
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."
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., whose son, William F. Buckley, Jr., would later become an influential 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.
Describing himself as a philosophical anarchist, 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."
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, Frank Chodorov, 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.
When Albert Jay Nock started The Freeman magazine in 1920, The Nation offered its congratulations to a new voice in liberal journalism. Nock rebuffed the gesture in a letter to the magazine's owner, Oswald Villard, in which he wrote, "I hate to seem ungrateful, but we haint liberal. We loathes liberalism and loathes it hard," identifying himself with Radicalism. Nock professed allegiance to a detached philosophical objectivity, expressed in his Platonist credo of "seeing things as they are". He had decried anti-Semitism in his earlier writings, but in his sixties he began giving vent to increasingly anti-Semitic and anti-democratic sentiments, leading Robert Sherrill, writing years later in The Nation, to call him "virulently anti-Semitic" and "anti-democratic".
The historian and biographer, Michael Wreszin, compared Nock's disillusionment with democracy and his attacks on the Jewish people to similar feelings held by Henry Adams. Before he died, Nock destroyed all his notes and papers, except a few letters and an autobiographical manuscript published posthumously as Journal of Forgotten Days (Nock was so secretive about the details of his personal life that Who's Who could not find out his birthdate).
In Journal of Forgotten Days, Nock wrote these passages about the Jews of New York City:
31 August—Leaving for New York today, in great dissatisfaction, to be tied to the public libraries, which are infested with Jews, Turks, infidels, and heretics, such as orthodox members of the Church of England are supposed to pray for in the Good Friday collect.
20 September—The Jewish holiday Yom Kippur yesterday closed New York up as tight as a white-oak knot. One would say there was not a hundred dollars' worth of business done in all the town. It sets one's mind back on Hitler's policy. The question is not what one thinks of it as an American, but what one would think of it if one were a German in Germany, where the control of cultural agencies is so largely in the hands of Jews—the press, drama, music, education, etc.—and where there is, or was, a superb native culture essentially antithetical. Is one's own culture worth fighting for? I think so. I think I would fight for it.
Nock took a jaundiced view of American politics and American democracy itself, and asserted that in all his life he voted in only one presidential election, in which he cast a write-in vote for Jefferson Davis.  In an article he wrote for the American Mercury Magazine in 1933, What the American Votes For, Nock claimed, "My first and only presidential vote was cast many, many years ago. It was dictated by pure instinct."
In Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943), Nock had this to say about mass democracy in America:
I could see how "democracy" might do very well in a society of saints and sages led by an Alfred or an Antoninus Pius. Short of that, I was unable to see how it could come to anything but an ochlocracy of mass-men led by a sagacious knave. The collective capacity for bringing forth any other outcome seemed simply not there."
The author Clifton Fadiman, reviewing Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, wrote: "I have not since the days of the early Mencken read a more eloquently written blast against democracy or enjoyed more fully a display of crusted prejudice. Mr. Nock is a highly civilized man who does not like our civilization and will have no part of it." Nock's biographer Michael Wreszin wrote concerning Nock's reaction to the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932: "Sailing to Brussels in February 1933, before Roosevelt's inauguration in March, he repeated in a journal his appreciation of Catherine Wilson's observation that the skyline of New York was the finest sight in America when viewed from the deck of an outbound steamer."
In the fictional The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith, as part of the North American Confederacy Series, in which the United States becomes a Libertarian state after a successful Whiskey Rebellion and the overthrow and execution of George Washington by firing squad for treason in 1794, Albert Jay Nock serves as the 18th President of the North American Confederacy from 1912 to 1928.
This early, quiet career as a minister ended abruptly in 1909, when Nock left the ministry, his wife, and his children to take up journalism.
One of Will Sr.'s favorite authors, Albert Jay Nock, became a personal friend and was often in the Buckley household when Bill was growing up. Along with being anti-democratic, Nock was, at least in his later years, "virulently anti-Semitic." Young Buckley fell under Nock's spell and never quit quoting him. Another of Will Sr.'s friends, Merwin K. Hart, was one of America's most notorious anti-Semites for three decades.
Jewish had been for [Henry] Adams what Finkman became for Nock, a synonym for avarice and materialism. When Nock lamented the presence of Jews and other undesirables in what he seemed to consider his private study, the New York Public Library, he echoed the fierce resentment of the elderly Adams against the presence of Jews in places that he loved, and on boats and trains.
A year later, in conversation with Mr. Nock, my father disclosed that he had voted for Willkie, thus departing from a near-lifelong resolution, beginning in his thirties, never to vote for any political candidate. He now affirmed, with Mr. Nock's hearty approval, his determination to renew his vows of abstinence, Willkie having been revealed—I remember the term he used—as a "mountebank." "They are all mountebanks," Mr. Nock said.
Nock didn't vote in 1932; in fact, he couldn't remember when he had last voted. He couldn't even remember the candidates, but he had, he claimed, weighed the issues carefully before casting a write-in vote for Jefferson Davis.
His attitude toward voting (and toward Jefferson Davis) is given in this passage: I once voted at a presidential election. There being no real issue at stake, and neither candidate commanding any respect whatever, I cast my vote for Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. I knew Jeff was dead, but I voted on Artemus Ward's principle that if we can't have a live man who amounts to anything, by all means let's have a first-rate corpse.
Agorism is a libertarian social philosophy that advocates creating a society in which all relations between people are voluntary exchanges by means of counter-economics, thus engaging with aspects of peaceful revolution. It was first proposed by libertarian philosopher Samuel Edward Konkin III (1947–2004) at two conferences, "CounterCon I" in October 1974 and "CounterCon II" in May 1975.Civil libertarianism
Civil libertarianism is a strain of political thought that supports civil liberties, or which emphasizes the supremacy of individual rights and personal freedoms over and against any kind of authority (such as a state, a corporation, social norms imposed through peer pressure and so on). Civil libertarianism is not a complete ideology—rather, it is a collection of views on the specific issues of civil liberties and civil rights.Consequentialist libertarianism
Consequentialist libertarianism (also known as libertarian consequentialism or consequentialist liberalism, in Europe) refers to the libertarian position that is supportive of a free market and strong private property rights only on the grounds that they bring about favorable consequences, such as prosperity or efficiency.Frank Chodorov
Frank Chodorov (February 15, 1887 – December 28, 1966) was an American member of the Old Right, a group of libertarian thinkers who were non-interventionist in foreign policy and opposed to both the American entry into World War II and the New Deal. He was called by Ralph Raico "the last of the Old Right greats."Geolibertarianism
Geolibertarianism is a political and economic ideology that integrates libertarianism with Georgism (alternatively geoism or geonomics), most often associated with left-libertarianism or the radical center.Geolibertarians hold that geographical space and raw natural resources—any assets that qualify as land by economic definition—are rivalrous goods to be considered common property or more accurately unowned, which all individuals share an equal human right to access, not capital wealth to be privatized fully and absolutely. Therefore, landholders must pay compensation according to the rental value decided by the free market, absent any improvements, to the community for the civil right of usufruct (that is, legally recognized exclusive possession with restrictions on property abuse) or otherwise fee simple title with no such restrictions. Ideally, the taxing of a site would be administered only after it has been determined that the privately captured economic rent from the land exceeds the title-holder's equal share of total land value in the jurisdiction. On this proposal, rent is collected not for the mere occupancy or use of land as neither the community nor the state rightfully owns the commons, but rather as an objectively assessed indemnity due for the legal right to exclude others from that land. Some geolibertarians also support Pigovian taxes on pollution and severance taxes to regulate natural resource depletion and compensatory fees with ancillary positive environmental effects on activities which negatively impact land values. They endorse the standard right-libertarian view that each individual is naturally entitled to the fruits of their labor as exclusive private property as opposed to produced goods being owned collectively by society or by the government acting to represent society, and that a person's "labor, wages, and the products of labor" should not be taxed. Along with non-Georgists in the libertarian movement, they also support law of equal liberty, advocating "full civil liberties, with no crimes unless there are victims who have been invaded".Geolibertarians are generally influenced by the Georgist single tax movement of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, but the ideas behind it pre-date Henry George and can be found in different forms in the writings of John Locke, the English True Levellers or Diggers such as Gerrard Winstanley, the French Physiocrats (particularly Quesnay and Turgot), Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Jean-Baptiste Say, Frédéric Bastiat, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer and Thomas Spence. Prominent geolibertarians since George have included Albert Jay Nock, Frank Chodorov and Milton Friedman(on consequentialist grounds). Other libertarians who have expressed support for the land value tax as an incremental reform include John Hospers, Karl Hess and United States Libertarian Party co-founder David Nolan.International Alliance of Libertarian Parties
The International Alliance of Libertarian Parties (IALP) is an alliance of right-libertarian political parties across the world. Its mission is to promote libertarian politics internationally. The IALP has 21 members as of 2018.At the 2014 Libertarian National Convention in the United States, former chairman of the Libertarian National Committee Geoff Neale was appointed to help with the creation of an alliance of global Libertarian parties. On March 6, 2015 the IALP was formed with 9 founding members.Jester's privilege
Jester's privilege is the ability and right of a jester to talk and mock freely without being punished; for nothing he says seems to matter.
Martin Luther used jest in many of his criticisms against the Catholic Church. In the introduction to To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation he calls himself a court jester, and, later in text, he explicitly invokes the jester's privilege when saying that monks should break their chastity vows.Leonard Read
Leonard Edward Read (September 26, 1898 – May 14, 1983) was the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), which was one of the first modern libertarian institutions of its kind in the United States. He wrote 29 books and numerous essays, including the well-known "I, Pencil" (1958).Libertarian conservatism
Libertarian conservatism or conservative libertarianism is a political philosophy and ideology that combines right-libertarian politics and conservative values. Libertarian conservatism advocates the greatest possible economic liberty and the least possible government regulation of social life, mirroring laissez-faire liberalism, but harnesses this to a belief in a more traditional and conservative social philosophy emphasizing authority and duty. Libertarian conservatism prioritizes liberty as its main emphasis, promoting free expression, freedom of choice and free market capitalism to achieve socially and culturally conservative ends as they reject liberal social engineering, or in the opposite way but not excluding the above, libertarian conservatism could be understood as promoting civil society through conservative institutions and authority - as family, fatherland, religion, education - in the quest of libertarian ends for less state power.Libertarianism in the United States
Libertarianism in the United States is a movement promoting individual liberty and minimized government. Although the word "libertarian" continues to be widely used to refer to anti-state socialists internationally, its meaning in the United States has deviated from its political origins. The Libertarian Party asserts the following to be core beliefs of libertarianism: Libertarians support maximum liberty in both personal and economic matters. They advocate a much smaller government; one that is limited to protecting individuals from coercion and violence. Libertarians tend to embrace individual responsibility, oppose government bureaucracy and taxes, promote private charity, tolerate diverse lifestyles, support the free market, and defend civil liberties.
Through 20 polls on this topic spanning 13 years, Gallup found that voters who are libertarian on the political spectrum ranged from 17–23% of the American electorate. This includes members of the Libertarian Party, Republican Party (see Libertarian Republicans) and Democratic Party (see Libertarian Democrats) as well as independents. The largest currents present in the Libertarian and Republican parties comprise of right-libertarianism and libertarian conservatism respectively while the majority strand in the Democratic Party is left-libertarianism and bleeding-heart libertarianism.Neo-libertarianism
Neo-libertarianism is a political and social philosophy that is a combination of libertarian principles with modern liberal principles.Our Enemy, the State
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.Paleolibertarianism
Paleolibertarianism is a variety of libertarianism developed by anarcho-capitalist theorists Murray Rothbard and Llewellyn Rockwell that combines conservative cultural values and social philosophy with a libertarian opposition to government intervention.Propertarianism
Propertarianism, or proprietarianism, is a right-libertarian ethical philosophy that advocates the replacement of states with contractual relationships. Propertarian ideals are most commonly cited to advocate for a state or other governance body whose main or only job is to enforce contracts and private property.Suzanne La Follette
Suzanne Clara La Follette (June 24, 1893 – April 23, 1983) was an American journalist and author who advocated for libertarian feminism in the first half of the 20th century. As an editor she helped found several magazines. She was an early and ardent feminist and a vocal anticommunist.The Freeman
The Freeman (formerly published as The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty or Ideas on Liberty) is a defunct American libertarian magazine, formerly published by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). It was founded in 1950 by John Chamberlain, Henry Hazlitt, and Suzanne La Follette. The magazine was purchased by an FEE-owned company in 1954, and FEE took over direct control of the magazine in 1956.
In September 2016, FEE announced it would permanently end publication of the Freeman.Timeline of libertarian thinkers
This article is a list of major figures in the theory of libertarianism, a philosophy asserting that individuals have a right to be free. Originally coined by French anarchist Joseph Déjacque as an alternative to anarchism, in the 1950s American classical liberals decided to appropriate the term to for their philosophy which asserts that individuals have a right to acquire, keep, and exchange their holdings and that the primary purpose of government is to protect these rights.