Orrin Woodward LIFE Leadership Team

Winner of the 2011 Independent Association of Business Top Leader Award; Orrin Woodward shares his leadership secrets.

Albert Jay Nock – Our Enemy the State

Posted by Orrin Woodward on December 27, 2009

In the last two months, I have enjoyed two books from Albert Jay Nock immensely.  One is his classic, Our Enemy the State and the second was Memoirs of a Superfluous Man.  Every serious student of the present economic conditions in the United States of America should read both of these classics.  Nock’s prose is enjoyable to read in itself, but when combined with a powerful intellect full of ideas and stunning wit yields an over the top experience!  I wish I had read Mr. Nock’s books much earlier in my own intellectual journey.  Start with Our Enemy the State and follow it up with Memoirs of a Superfluous Man.  I promise you that it will make you think and question some of your existing presuppositions.  Learning is a process of sharpening your thinking on the greatest minds of the ages and Albert Jay Nock is certainly one of the minds of the ages.  Below is a short biography on Mr. Nock. God Bless, Orrin Woodward

Albert Jay Nock

Few authors wrote about individualism as elegantly as Nock (1870-1945). He brought impressive knowledge to any subject he wrote about, and he expressed himself with remarkable grace and style. As H.L. Mencken remarked, “Nobody gives a damn what you write–it’s how you write that interests everybody.”

Yet for many libertarians, he was a blazing light in the vast darkness of the 20th century. Nock denounced the use of force against peaceful people. He believed one ought to be able to do just about anything as long as it doesn’t hurt other people. He urged Americans to stay out of foreign wars which subvert civil liberties at home and seldom secure liberty abroad.

He launched The Freeman magazine (1920-1924) which, although it published articles by leading “progressives,” became known for his own individualist commentary. He focused on ideas his book Mr. Jefferson (1926) was concerned not about the famous events of Jefferson’s life but about his ideas. Historian Merrill Peterson called the book “The most captivating single volume in the Jefferson literature.” Nock collaborated on four volumes about the 16th century French individualist Francois Rabelais. He did a book on the social philosophy of Henry George (1929).

Nock was invited to lecture at Columbia University, and he subsequently turned the texts into one of his most famous books, Our Enemy, the State (1935). He brought together ideas of Jefferson, pamphleteer Thomas Paine, German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer and English philosopher Herbert Spencer. He presented fundamental issues with refreshing clarity. Nock wrote “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.”

He produced a number of superb essays which have appeared in various collections. Reader favorites would probably be “On Doing the Right Thing” (1924) and “Isaiah’s Job” (1936). “The practical reason for freedom,” he reflected, “is that freedom seems to be the only condition under which any kind of substantial moral fibre can be developed–we have tried law, compulsion and authoritarianism of various kinds, and the result is nothing to be proud of.”

The Disadvantages of Being Educated and Other Essays presents Nock’s elegant and radical essays on the state, education and liberty. Nock presents a case that not everyone can be educated and that therefore compulsory government schooling is doomed to failure. What many people describe as education, he notes, is really training for medicine, law, or some other trade, and while competence is obviously important, the training is different than education. He explains his refreshing views on authentic liberal education. Delightful book. Nock’s Cogitations is an elegant commentary on liberty, the state, economics, war, politicians, art and more.

Nock’s best-known and most charming work is Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943). He skipped the details of his life and chronicled the development of his ideas. He spoke out with refreshing candor about the “superstitious servile reverence for a sacrosanct State.” He discussed the evils of government schools. With the world engulfed by collectivism and war, he was pessimistic. Yet his determination to quietly persevere with his individualist views inspired later generations to carry on.

2 Responses to “Albert Jay Nock – Our Enemy the State”

  1. […] challenges instead of government solutions that cause more troubles than they solve.  Albert Jay Nock taught that Society solved problems through voluntarism, but the State solved […]

  2. […] and the underlying reason why they believe what they believe, then true dialogue can begin.  Albert Jay Nock is a gentlemen in his writings who forces you to think through your existing presuppositions.  […]

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