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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5683/our-enemy-the-state-available-again/

Our Enemy, The State (Available Again)

September 27, 2006 by

What does one need to know about politics? In some ways, Nock has summed it all up in this astonishing book. Here was a prominent essayist at the height of the New Deal. In 1935, hardly any public intellectuals were making much sense at all. They pushed socialism. They pushed fascism. Everyone had a plan. Hardly anyone considered the possibility that the state was not fixing society but destroying it bit by bit.

And so Albert Jay Nock came forward to write what need to be written. And he ended up penning a classic of American political commentary, one that absolutely must be read by every student of economics and government.

Consider his opening two paragraphs:

If we look beneath the surface of our public affairs, we can discern one fundamental fact, namely: a great redistribution of power between society and the State. This is the fact that interests the student of civilization. He has only a secondary or derived interest in matters like price-fixing, wage-fixing, inflation, political banking, “agricultural adjustment,” and similar items of State policy that fill the pages of newspapers and the mouths of publicists and politicians. All these can be run up under one head. They have an immediate and temporary importance, and for this reason they monopolize public attention, but they all come to the same thing; which is, an increase of State power and a corresponding decrease of social power.

It is unfortunately none too well understood that, just as the State has no money of its own, so it has no power of its own. All the power it has is what society gives it, plus what it confiscates from time to time on one pretext or another; there is no other source from which State power can be drawn. Therefore every assumption of State power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power; there is never, nor can there be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and roughly equivalent depletion of social power.

The theory is good enough and strong enough for the forging of an entire apparatus of libertarian thought, which he does here. But then he pushes the envelope. He discusses American history in a way that you will never read in the civics texts.

He praises the Articles of Confederation as the closest model of American freedom. And he blasts the men who hammered out the Constitution as nothing but usurpers engaged in a coup d’etat. Far from heralding the drafters, he exposes them as public creditors, land speculators, money lenders, and industrialists looking for privilege. They tossed out the Articles and used unscrupulous methods to ram the Constitution down the public’s throat.

It was in this stage of American history, Nock says, that the state was unleashed. Next came the party system, and the dynamics of statism that causes “every intervention by the State” to enable another so that “the State stands ever ready and eager to make” interventions through deceit and lies.

One realizes many important points about Nock when reading this. First, he was brilliant, original, and courageous. Second, he hated politics — indeed he hated politics so much that he wanted a society that was completely free of it. This is why he is often described as anarchist. Third, he surely was one of the great stylists of the English language in the history of 20th century writing.

Those who have read Nock know that there is something about his writing that tugs very deeply on one’s conscience and soul. This book will linger in your mind as you read the daily headlines. He makes his points so well that they become unforgettable.

In so many ways, it is a tragedy that years have gone by when this book has been unavailable. But here it is again, just as hot, just a revealing, as it was in 1935. It is the ultimate handbook of the political dissident. If you aren’t one yet, you may find that Nock is a very persuasive recruiter into his informed army that makes up the remnant who know.

Softcover, 166 pages, with introduction by Edmund Opitz, and including an index and a special quotation index.


Chestertonian September 27, 2006 at 8:37 pm

Are you all a bunch of philistines? Where are the comments of encouragement? This is an amazing book that screams to be read (more than once, in fact). Order yourselves a copy, and then one for your mother, your significant other, and your co-workers. You won’t regret it.

Nice to see the Mises Store expanding its collection, I noticed it in the library last time I went to visit. Sic semper tyranis.

Kenneth R. Gregg September 27, 2006 at 9:30 pm

I’m always glad to see AJN’s wonderful writings available in any format, and this is, along with “Memoirs of a Superfluous Man,” among Nock’s best works.

For those of you who are of a scholarly bent, I would recommend looking through the library stacks for “The Freeman” (1920-24). There you will find many essays never reprinted by Nock, Francis Neilson, Suzanne LaFollette and other libertarian lights of the time. One of the most interesting series printed within its venerable pages is Nock’s “The State”, which is an early version of “Our Enemy The State.” It has a number of fascinating differences, however, such as Nock’s moral argument against the state and a sympathetic view of the Russian Soviet Experiment(!).

During the 1920′a, many libertarians looked at Lenin’s Revolution with great libertarian potential. By the time of the publication of “Our Enemy The State” in the 1930′s, the humanitarian mask on Lenin’s face had come off in radical circles (even though the NY Times reporters were proclaiming otherwise) and the libertarians who had not already been expunged from the left by the communist takeover of “the movement” were now attacked by FDR’s minions as “reactionaries” belonging to the right wing of American politics.

Nock’s changes from the original “The State” to those in “Our Enemy The State” were reflections of these new understandings by Nock and other libertarians.

Just a thought.
Just Ken

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