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Albert Jay Nock (1873 – 1945)


Influential American author, educational theorist, capitalist anarchist, social critic of the early and middle 20th century, and a philosophical founder of the modern, libertarian conservative movement later embraced by Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Ron Paul.
Albert Jay Nock
It would seem that in Paine's view the code of government should be that of the legendary King Pausole, who prescribed but two laws for his subjects, the first being, Hurt no man, and the second, Then do as you please.
Nock quotes
"Democratic" State practice is nothing more or less than State practice. It does not differ from Marxist State practice, Fascist State practice, or any other. Here is the Golden Rule of sound citizenship, the first and greatest lesson in the study of politics: you get the same order of criminality from any State to which you give power to exercise it; and whatever power you give the State to do things for you carries with it the equivalent power to do things to you.
Nock
Once, I remember, I ran across the case of a boy who had been sentenced to prison, a poor, scared little brat, who had intended something no worse than mischief, and it turned out to be a crime. The judge said he disliked to sentence the lad; it seemed the wrong thing to do; but the law left him no option. I was struck by this. The judge, then, was doing something as an official that he would not dream of doing as a man; and he could do it without any sense of responsibility, or discomfort, simply because he was acting as an official and not as a man. On this principle of action, it seemed to me that one could commit almost any kind of crime without getting into trouble with one's conscience.
Clearly, a great crime had been committed against this boy; yet nobody who had had a hand in it — the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, the complaining witness, the policemen and jailers — felt any responsibility about it, because they were not acting as men, but as officials. Clearly, too, the public did not regard them as criminals, but rather as upright and conscientious men.
The idea came to me then, vaguely but unmistakably, that if the primary intention of government was not to abolish crime but merely to monopolize crime, no better device could be found for doing it than the inculcation of precisely this frame of mind in the officials and in the public; for the effect of this was to exempt both from any allegiance to those sanctions of humanity or decency which anyone of either class, acting as an individual, would have felt himself bound to respect — nay, would have wished to respect. This idea was vague at the moment, as I say, and I did not work it out for some years, but I think I never quite lost track of it from that time.




Nock Albert Jay quotes
If you can tough the fancy of the masses, and have the sagacity to keep always one jump ahead of their vagaries and vacillations, you can get good returns in money from serving the masses, and good returns also in a mouth-to-ear type of notoriety … Taking care of the Remnant, on the contrary, holds little promise of any such rewards. A prophet of the Remnant will not grow purse-proud on the financial returns from his work, nor is it likely that he will get any great renown out of it. Isaiah’s case was exceptional to this second rule, and there are others, but not many.
Nock Albert Jay
Above all things the mass-mind is most bitterly resentful of superiority. It will not tolerate the thought of an elite; and under a political system of universal suffrage, the mass-mind is enabled to make its antipathies prevail.
Albert Jay Nock quotes
Our preceptors were gentlemen as well as scholars. There was not a grain of sentimentalism in the institution; on the other hand, the place was permeated by a profound sense of justice. ... An equalitarian and democratic regime must by consequence assume, tacitly or avowedly, that everybody is educable. The theory of our regime was directly contrary to this. Our preceptors did not see that doctrines of equality and democracy had any footing in the premises. They 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.
Albert Jay Nock
The State always moves slowly and grudgingly towards any purpose that accrues to society's advantage, but moves rapidly and with alacrity towards one that accrues to its own advantage; nor does it ever move towards social purposes on its own initiative, but only under heavy pressure, while its motion towards anti-social purposes is self-sprung.
Nock Albert Jay quotes
As Dr. Sigmund Freud has observed, it can not even be said that the State has ever shown any disposition to suppress crime, but only to safeguard its own monopoly of crime. ... Taking the State wherever found, striking into its history at any point, one sees no way to differentiate the activities of its founders, administrators and beneficiaries from those of a professional-criminal class.
Nock
Culture is knowing the best that has been thought and said in the world; in other words, culture means reading, not idle and casual reading, but reading that is controlled and directed by a definite purpose. Reading, so understood, is difficult, and contrary to an almost universal belief, those who can do it are very few. I have already remarked the fact that there is no more groundless assumption than that literacy carries with it the ability to read. At the age of seventy-nine Goethe said that those who make this assumption "do not know what time and trouble it costs to learn to read. I have been working at it for eighteen years, and I can't say yet that I am completely successful."
Nock Albert Jay
One of the most suggestive episodes recounted in the Bible is that of a prophet's attempt — the only attempt of the kind on the record, I believe — to count up the Remnant. Elijah had fled from persecution into the desert, where the Lord presently overhauled him and asked what he was doing so far away from his job. He said that he was running away, not because he was a coward, but because all the Remnant had been killed off except himself. He had got away only by the skin of his teeth, and, he being now all the Remnant there was, if he were killed the True Faith would go flat. The Lord replied that he need not worry about that, for even without him the True Faith could probably manage to squeeze along somehow if it had to; "and as for your figures on the Remnant," He said, "I don't mind telling you that there are seven thousand of them back there in Israel whom it seems you have not heard of, but you may take My word for it that there they are."
Albert Jay Nock
This story is much worth recalling just now when so many wise men and soothsayers appear to be burdened with a message to the masses. … I can not remember a time when so many energumens were so variously proclaiming the Word to the multitude and telling them what they must do to be saved. This being so, it occurred to me, as I say, that the story of Isaiah might have something in it to steady and compose the human spirit until this tyranny of windiness is overpast. I shall paraphrase the story in our common speech, since it has to be pieced out from various sources; and inasmuch as respectable scholars have thought fit to put out a whole new version of the Bible in the American vernacular, I shall take shelter behind them, if need be, against the charge of dealing irreverently with the Sacred Scriptures.




Albert Jay Nock quotes
The mass-man is one who has neither the force of intellect to apprehend the principles issuing in what we know as the humane life, nor the force of character to adhere to those principles steadily and strictly as laws of conduct; and because such people make up the great and overwhelming majority of mankind, they are called collectively the masses. The line of differentiation between the masses and the Remnant is set invariably by quality, not by circumstance. The Remnant are those who by force of intellect are able to apprehend these principles, and by force of character are able, at least measurably, to cleave to them. The masses are those who are unable to do either.
Albert Jay Nock
In every civilization, however generally prosaic, however addicted to the short-time point of view on human affairs, there are always certain alien spirits who, while outwardly conforming to the requirements of the civilization around them, still keep a disinterested regard for the plain intelligible law of things, irrespective of any practical end. They have an intellectual curiosity, sometimes touched with emotion, concerning the august order of nature; they are impressed by the contemplation of it, and like to know as much about it as they can, even in circumstances where its operation is ever so manifestly unfavourable to their best hopes and wishes.
Nock quotes
I may mention one or two characteristic traits as having no virtue whatever, because they are mine by birth, not by acquisition. I have always been singularly free of envy, jealousy, covetousness; I but vaguely understand them. Having no ambition, I have always preferred the success of others to my own, and had more pleasure in it. I never had the least desire for place or prominence, least of all for power; and this was fortunate for me because the true individualist must regard power over others as preeminently something to be loathed and shunned.
Nock Albert Jay
In general I wish we were in the habit of conveying our meanings in plain explicit terms rather than by indirection and by euphemism, as we so regularly do. My point is that habitual indirection in speech supports and stimulates a habit of indirection in thought; and this habit, if not pretty closely watched, runs off into intellectual dishonesty.
The English language is of course against us. Its vocabulary is so large, it is so rich in synonyms, it lends itself so easily and naturally to paraphrase, that one gets up a great facility with indirection almost without knowing it. Our common speech bristles with mere indirect intimations of what we are driving at; and as for euphemisms, they have so far corrupted our vernacular as to afflict us with a chronic, mawkish and self-conscious sentimentalism which violently resents the plain English name of the realities that these euphemisms intimate. This is bad; the upshot of our willingness to accept a reality, provided we do not hear it named, or provided we ourselves are not obliged to name it, leads us to accept many realities that we ought not to accept. It leads to many and serious moral misjudgments of both facts and persons; in other words, it leads straight into a profound intellectual dishonesty.
Nock Albert Jay quotes
There are two methods, or means, and only two, whereby man's needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means. The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means. The primitive exercise of the political means was, as we have seen, by conquest, confiscation, expropriation, and the introduction of a slave-economy. The conqueror parcelled out the conquered territory among beneficiaries, who thenceforth satisfied their needs and desires by exploiting the labour of the enslaved inhabitants. The feudal State, and the merchant-State, wherever found, merely took over and developed successively the heritage of character, intention and apparatus of exploitation which the primitive State transmitted to them; they are in essence merely higher integrations of the primitive State.
The State, then, whether primitive, feudal or merchant, is the organization of the political means. Now, since man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion, he will employ the political means whenever he can – exclusively, if possible; otherwise, in association with the economic means.
Albert Jay Nock
We have two distinct types of political organization to take into account; and clearly, too, when their origins are considered, it is impossible to make out that the one is a mere perversion of the other. Therefore when we include both types under a general term like government, we get into logical difficulties; difficulties of which most writers on the subject have been more or less vaguely aware, but which, until within the last half-century, none of them has tried to resolve.
Albert Jay Nock quotes
By consequence I hold that no one ever did, or can do, anything for "society."... Comte invented the term altruism as an antonym for egoism, and it found its way at once into everyone's mouth, although it is utterly devoid of meaning, since it points to nothing that ever existed in mankind; This hybrid or rather this degenerate form of hedonism served powerfully to invest collectivism's principles with a specious moral sanction, and collectivists naturally made the most of it.
Albert Jay Nock
It may now be easily seen how great the difference is between the institution of government, as understood by Paine and the Declaration of Independence, and the institution of the State. ... The nature and intention of government … are social. Based on the idea of natural rights, government secures those rights to the individual by strictly negative intervention, making justice costless and easy of access; and beyond that it does not go. The State, on the other hand, both in its genesis and by its primary intention, is purely anti-social. It is not based on the idea of natural rights, but on the idea that the individual has no rights except those that the State may provisionally grant him. It has always made justice costly and difficult of access, and has invariably held itself above justice and common morality whenever it could advantage itself by so doing.
Nock Albert Jay
If, say, you are a preacher, you wish to attract as large a congregation as you can, which means an appeal to the masses; and this, in turn, means adapting the terms of your message to the order of intellect and character that the masses exhibit. If you are an educator, say with a college on your hands, you wish to get as many students as possible, and you whittle down your requirements accordingly. If a writer, you aim at getting many readers; if a publisher, many purchasers; if a philosopher, many disciples; if a reformer, many converts; if a musician, many auditors; and so on. But as we see on all sides, in the realization of these several desires, the prophetic message is so heavily adulterated with trivialities, in every instance, that its effect on the masses is merely to harden them in their sins. Meanwhile, the Remnant, aware of this adulteration and of the desires that prompt it, turn their backs on the prophet and will have nothing to do with him or his message.
Isaiah, on the other hand, worked under no such disabilities. He preached to the masses only in the sense that he preached publicly. Anyone who liked might listen; anyone who liked might pass by. He knew that the Remnant would listen; and knowing also that nothing was to be expected of the masses under any circumstances, he made no specific appeal to them, did not accommodate his message to their measure in any way, and did not care two straws whether they heeded it or not. As a modern publisher might put it, he was not worrying about circulation or about advertising. Hence, with all such obsessions quite out of the way, he was in a position to do his level best, without fear or favour, and answerable only to his august Boss.


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