The Nockian Society

It’s been most of my adult lifetime since I first encountered the writings of Albert J. Nock. Back in 1976, his work was mentioned in F. Paul Wilson’s SciFi book An Enemy of the State.  I have an idea that it is a lot easier to beat the state in Science Fiction than in the world I occupy.  This week I stumbled across a reference to the Nockian Society ( The Nockian Society | Albert Jay Nock ) and realized that the old guy’s writings have been online for a dozen years, that it’s Jay not J., and that the society has no meetings, no dues and no officers.  Organizationally, it sounds like a good fit for Trego.

The first book of Nock’s that I encountered was his 1935 work Our Enemy the State.  At a time when folks had a huge selection of ideologies to select between, Nock described political systems in their ultimate simplicity:

“Besides the idea that an individual person could be superfluous, and along with many other original notions, Nock also contributed three more fundamental ideas to American — indeed, worldwide — social and political thought:

  • He defined the State as a monster distinguishable from government.
  • He made a clear distinction between education and job training.
  • He defined Isaiah’s job, giving the thinking person a reprieve from the burden of educating the world.”

Probably the most current application of Nock’s thought can be shown by this quotation on the society page – all taken from Nock’s writings, and showing the difference between economic means and political means.  To Nock, political means breaks down to uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others:

“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 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.  He will, at the present time, that is, have recourse to the State’s modern apparatus of tariffs, concessions, rent monopoly, and the like.

Wherever economic exploitation has been for any reason either impractical or unprofitable, the State has never come into existence; government has existed, but the State, never.

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 antisocial.  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.

“…justice costly and difficult of access.”  A court run by a benevolent government would deal with laws in plain text and would not need lawyers to persuade the court what mysteries are hidden in the law, which, in America and under the State, is not law but regulations promulgated by the un-elected fourth branch of government, the regulatory branch, which branch finds no support in the Constitution.  -DAW-

[This is] the great truth which apparently must forever remain unlearned, that if a regime of complete economic freedom be established, social and political freedom will follow automatically; and until it is established neither social nor political freedom can exist.  Here one comes in sight of the reason why the State will never tolerate the establishment of economic freedom.  In a spirit of sheer conscious fraud, the State will at any time offer its people “four freedoms,” or six, or any number; but it will never let them have economic freedom.  If it did, it would be signing its death warrant, for as Lenin pointed out, “it is nonsense to make any pretense of reconciling the State and liberty.”  Our economic system being what it is, and the State being what it is, all the mass of verbiage about “the free peoples” and “the free democracies” is merely so much obscene buffoonery.

All of the foregoing is taken chiefly from Our Enemy the State, with pieces from Memoirs of a Superfluous Man and Nock’s letters.”

“The popularity – possibly even the acceptability – of Nock’s writing has never approached mainstream, or been included in the platforms of our political ideologies.  Perhaps this is explained by including another description, not written by Nock:

The Reverend Edmund A. Opitz wrote this in a 1996 review of Robert M. Thornton’s book, The Disadvantages of Being Educated:

Our Enemy, the State appeared in 1935 and has been the subject of some controversy ever since concerning the distinction Nock makes between Government and The State; essentially it is the same distinction made by Bastiat between The Law, whose purpose is justice between persons, and The Law perverted to advantage some at the expense of others.  This arrangement is clear in the case of the Norman Conquest of England.  The Normans parceled out the land — 20 percent to the king, 25 percent to The Church, and the rest to 170 Norman noblemen.  Such a regime is The State, and may have been the kind of thing that Ludwig von Mises had in mind when he pointed out that All ownership derives from occupation and violence.  (Socialism, p. 32 and Human Action, p. 679) Nock’s words clarify the issue:… when society deprives The State of the power to make positive interventions on the individual — power to exercise positive coercion on him in his economic and social life — then at once the State goes out of existence, and what remains is government… government as contemplated by Mr. Jefferson in the Declaration, by Paine, by Franklin, and the 18th century British Whigs and Liberals.  That’s all.  But, as Nock pointed out in another context, most people do not want a government that will let them alone; they want a government they can use to their own advantage, and at the expense of everyone else, i.e., they want The State.”

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