“You Can’t Be A Philosophicker And A Politicker At The Same Time”: Libertarian Essays By A. J. Nock

Title: The State of the Union

Author: Albert Jay Nock

Review on Goodreads

Amazon

They have helped the truth along without encumbering it with themselves

Albert Jay Nock

This book was loaned to me shortly before I came to Germany. I didn’t have a lot of reading time back in the States, so I brought it along with me.

I was told the author is like the father of libertarianism. Now, while I’m not a libertarian, I do sympathize with them almost full-heartedly. So I was excited to read the book.

I started reading the book by reading one of the middle essays as it had been recommended. I started the essay, laid the book aside, started it again, and again got distracted. I’ll admit, I had to oil my reading gears a bit before the words would process for me.

But once they did, I found myself loving the essay. I then started from the beginning of the book and read the rest of the book over a course of a month. Some of it I enjoyed thoroughly. Quite a few of the essays, though, didn’t make sense context wise, or were outdated. A couple of them even had ideas I didn’t quite like.

First, I’ll share from the essays I loved.

Isaiah’ s Job

I LOVED this essay. Read like a classic, but easy to understand. And, it punched a message straight through the gut to the heart. As a writer/ political enthusiast, I’ve always struggled with the question “Who is your audience?” People say limit it, but I hate limits and want to say, “I write for people. ALL PEOPLE.”
Yet I know I can’t. People are all different, and many of those differences cause most people to hate me or my words.
Part of me wants to cater to these many differences, to get them to understand my message.
But … that taints my message
Nock says,

I mustered courage to say that he had no such mission [to preach his message to the masses] and would do well to get the idea out of his head at once; he would find the masses wouldn’t care two pins for his doctrine, and still less for himself, since in such circumstances the popular favorite is generally some Barabbas.

Albert Jay Nock


He says we mustn’t write or preach for the mass, but rather the remnant. And in a way, I found myself convicted.
But, if I’m not to fight for success, how am I to find these few who need and desire my message?

Two things you know [about the Remnant], and no more: first, that they exist; second, that they will find you.

Albert Jay Nock

Almost creepy, but strangely comforting, isn’t it?
So, Remnant, what’s taking you so long to find me?

Peace of the aristocrat:

Unless peace is made interesting and lucrative, man will resort and embrace war

Albert Jay Nock

So, basically you can’t regulate peace and a little natural danger keeps man distracted from fighting with his neighbor.

Artemus Ward

Ward said of writers like himself that ‘they have always done the most toward helping my virtue on its pilgrimage, and the truth has found more aid from them than from all the grave polemists and solid writers that have ever spoken or written … They have helped the truth along without encumbering it with themselves.’ I venture to italicize these remarkable words. How many good causes there are, to be sure, that seek hopelessly condemned and nullified by the personality of those who profess them! One can think of any number of reforms, both social and political, that one might willingly accept if only one need not accept their advocates too.

Albert Jay Nock


Add religion to the list to the list of reforms, and that quote would be perfectly complete.
But isn’t it true? It’s because of these reasons that I rarely desire to fellowship with those who say they believe as I do, or I cringe when I go to political events that in theory are full of people as me.

Because even the best of ideologies are ruined by those that represent them. This is the power of mankind.

What We All Stand For

One of those articles that sucked me into all its horrific truths of what humanity is and can be.

… through it we are able to present a clear picture of a kind of community like that by many, in spite of repeated warnings, is still thought to have the elements of civilization.”

Albert Jay Nock

The article does well showing just how humanity uses the law not to protect rights, but to further their own agendas to be barbaric. It’s a sad piece at times, but one worthy reading.

Prohibition and Civilization/ Our Pastors and Masters

Both of these essays dealt with a lot of the same thoughts, so I’m grouping them together into one section.

They speak of the ideology behind prohibition, specifically but not limited toward alcohol. The first speaks of where we want to live:

The important thing to know about Kansas, for instance, is not the statistics of prohibition… but whether one would really want to live there.

Albert Jay Nock

And of how we want to live:

What matters is that, for life to be truly fruitful, like must be felt as a joy, and that where freedom is not, there can be no joy.

Albert Jay Nock

And of how we ought to feel about where we live:

For us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely.

Albert Jay Nock

The author states that he is a teetotaler, but to live under any regime is an “appalling calamity” because without freedom it is impossible to have joy, and one lacks anything “interesting” in life, if all is structured under a sort of socialism.

The Decline of Conversation

Nock starts out this essay with a quote from Goethe,

The Test of civilization is conversation.

Goetthe

And thus Nock discusses the state of conversation of America in 1926. It doesn’t seem to have changed all that much, still lacking any real depth. Still, when a “good” question is asked at a dinner table and one answers with any ounce of meaning, one is still more often than not the cause of annoyance for having ruined the taste of the food and the the air of the room. Not to mention, that you are now considered to have a screw loose for having the nerve to think and speak about your thoughts, much less have thoughts. It’s better to have silence than words, thinks the public. As Nock says, such people are merely “satisfied, not exhilarated.”

But for the intellectual,

Conversation depends upon a copiousness of general ideas and an imagination able to marshal them.

Albert Jay Nock


The mark of a strong civilization is their ideas. What do you care about? That is what you will produce. What do you think about? That is how you will live. Peace is not dependent upon us agreeing and never speaking, but on us learning from one another.


How can you have conversation if all you are expected to do is to agree?

Albert Jay Nock


It takes maturity to separate idea from person, and to handle both with ease, Nock suggests.
It takes maturity to speak and enjoy speaking regardless if your words are appreciated or disrespected.
It takes maturity to hear another’s ideas and to disagree without conflict.

In general, it is reflection, ideas, ideals, and emotions that set off the individual.

Albert Jay Nock


What sort of individual are you? One of shallow nature, or one who is quite enjoyable and stimulating to be with, one who needn’t,

…keep on doing something as long as the evening lasts. It is astonishing to see the amount of energy devoted to keeping out of conversation.

Albert Jay Nock


The only thing I don’t like about this essay is how Nock speaks of children, as if they are immature and thus incapable of worthwhile conversation.
Here, I must disagree. Conversation is not supported by maturity or its lack, but by stupidity and fearfulness. I have had many conversations of depth with children, some more profound than any I’ve had with people “older and wiser”.
Nock did add that he’s had little experience with children. But I think that makes his words about them all the more foolish, and even sad.
Because as Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” I think we should take care to never speak to a child as if they are ignorant, nor assume that they have no potential to understand more or share things of importance.


It is not age that marks a good conversationalist, but the choice thoughts and words of ones mind. Many more children are willing to be politically incorrect and THINK than our peers, and we should not think lightly of this.
Besides, children are the future and must always hold a large portion of our focused energy.

Ones Own Smoke

A short hilarious piece, starting out with a fun morbid take on philosophizing whether it’s cruel or moral to hold back ones blood from a mosquito. Of course, there’s much more to this article than that was the highlight for me.

The Criminality of The State

Stripping the American state of the enormous power it has acquired is a full-time job for our citizens and a stirring one; and if they attend to it properly they will HAVE no energy to spare for fighting communism, or for hating Hitler, or for worrying about South American or Spain, or for anything whatever, except what goes on right here in the United States

Albert Jay Nock

Other noteworthy parts:

There are seven parts to the collection. I enjoyed nearly all of the essays in the social critic, the humane life, and the miscellany sections. I didn’t much like the essays in the first part, and the second part were more dull than not (A biography of ideas and the Casualties of War).

The last essay in the book, On Doing The Right Thing was also amazing. Basically it dealt with the concept of just how can we do the right thing if right and wrong is up to the individual? What is the right thing to do?

And the essay, Thoughts From Abroad, was simply a fun piece on a country the author called “Amenia”. I really want to go visit this country to see if it’s anything as the author depicted it to be like, though I’m not sure if he meant for one to think it’s Armenia, or if I can ever truly know which country it is that I now wish to visit so very much.

As for the parts I didn’t like …

So far, one would think I really loved this book. But if I were to give it a rating, it would be between 3.5 and 4 stars. Probably closer to 4 stars, but still not a full five.

As I’ve said before, a few parts were dull and completely useless (in my opinion). But as the book was mostly full of amazing essays, I might have forgiven all those things if it hadn’t been for a few concepts that bothered me (or I simply didn’t like).

Here they are, according to my understanding:

  • That biographies are unnatural and unimportant, and basically a waste of time to read. This is so not true. Yes, I do agree that some people go overboard with biographies. Some people seem to think that if it’s a biography and about a real person it is automatically a good book, because all fiction is lies and biography is truth. But biographies can also contain lies greater than any fiction novel. Or they can simply be a waste of time to read, containing neither edification not enjoyment. That being said, I’m a huge fan of biographies, and I don’t believe they are such a modern thing as Nock made them out to be. Great men (and kings) have always had their biographies written. One of my favorite books happens to be a biography: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. I don’t care if the story is true of “false”, if it’s worth being told, it’s worth being told. And so, I think one shouldn’t say all biographies are basically evil.
  • I also didn’t like Nock’s opinion of marriage, or how he acted so unnatural toward it. In the forward, it said he’d been divorced, so maybe that’s partially why he was so bitter toward the idea of marriage and women in general.
  • I also didn’t like how Nock spoke of children, as if they added nothing to civilization; as if childhood is simply a disease one must quickly grow out of.
  • And while his bitter writing style was often enjoyable, sometimes it wasn’t. But that part grew on me.

Have you read anything by Nock? Do you know of any other Libertarian titles you’ve read and loved that you think I’d also enjoy? Do any of these essays look particularly interesting to you?