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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/7034/albert-jay-nocks-laws-of-political-process/

Albert Jay Nock’s Laws of Political Process

August 24, 2007 by

Albert Jay Nock (1870–1944) was an outstanding representative of early twentieth century libertarian thought and advocacy. Even today the libertarian movement, impacted though it is by the subsequent thought of Ludwig von Mises (1881–1973), Murray Rothbard (1926–1995), Ayn Rand (1905–1982) and others, pays a nostalgic tribute to Nock as an early advocate and belletrist.

This paper by Mark Sunwall is an inquiry into whether and to what extent Nock may be considered more than just a brilliant writer and journalist. To what extent may we consider Nock a social scientist? The question probably would not have bothered Nock himself in the least, but it is important to raise in the light of contemporary libertarian theory. FULL ARTICLE


Paul Marks August 25, 2007 at 5:05 am

Albert Jay Nock was clearly a great man. However, trying to apply broad social theories to history often runs into problems.

For example, there were Revolutionary murders in 1789 itself and within a year of the start of the French Revolution there was the theft of property belonging to the Church and other people and organizations (although, given Nock’s opinions on land it is possible that he would not have considered the government stealing of land to be theft)and the introduction of fiat money (only notionally linked to the stolen land).

In short to say that the French Revolution was O.K. in the early stages and then went wrong for such and such social reasons, is simply wrong.

One can not rightly try for the broad social view of history leaving aside the “details”, because history is these “details” – history is not an a priori subject (although I now see where Murry Rothbard may have got the idea that it was).

Anthony August 25, 2007 at 6:13 am

Can you demonstrate where Rothbard said it was? Because, in FANL, he clearly stated that aprioristic thinking is to be avoided in History.

gene berman August 25, 2007 at 3:25 pm

I agree with Nock’s “take” on most things but, in the matter of “Epstein’s Law” and Gresham’s Law, I believe the intent to have been more facetious (not unknown to the man) than instructional.
Insofar as is concerned “Epstein’s Law,” it is simply one more way of observing that men choose what is good over that which is less good (mu/mu, of course); men economize effort as they do other resources–the fact that they require economizing being what qualifies them as “resources” in the first place.

In the matter of Gresham’s Law, the relationship is even more clearly a humorous or sardonic one.
The displacement of something good by the less good in cultural matters is due to an entirely different process than that by which “bad money drives out good”–indeed there is an almost opposing type of process occurring. Rather than being spurned by the market in favor of bad money, the good is actually hoarded (as though an invisible premium and higher future expectation attached to it) and the bad pushed on others in transactions; the process occurs for the simple reason that authority has declared equivalence between the two that the market rejects. Like other forms of price control, the supply (of good money) simply disappears when its price (in terms of the less-good money) is fixed too low.

Anthony August 25, 2007 at 7:30 pm

There seems to be a mistake in the article – it dubs praxeology as “a posteriori”. Now I have my qualms with the rationalist/empiricist divide (I think Aristotelian groundings for praxeology are superior), but even so, praxeology is a priori.

TGGP August 27, 2007 at 4:28 pm

Class conflict theories, no matter the variety, are poor explanations of politics.
As Bryan Caplan has shown, voters are not self-interested and rational, as class-interest theories claim.

I wouldn’t consider the Austrian school the main font of libertarianism. I would say Ayn Rand and the Chicago-school or neo-classical economists are both more influential, for better or worse (the latter for the former and the former for the latter in my opinion, to put it unnecessarily awkwardly).

Anthony August 27, 2007 at 6:32 pm

How is the Chicago School’s greater influence “for the better”?

gene berman August 27, 2007 at 7:22 pm


The Chicago and Austrian Schools are veins of economic thought and theory; neither is a social movement nor political party, though both espouse a much greater degree of economic freedom than is or has been actual. It is for that reason that both are frequently associated with “libertarianism.” And, it is true that, at least up to now, the Chicago School has been by far the more influential–and not only in the matter of “libertarianism.”

However, things often change and they do seem to be changing presently. There cannot be any doubt that the Austrian School has received–and continues to attract–an increasing attention, not only in the U.S. but around the world. And responsibility for such increase must be credited, in the main, to this very site.

But I am not of the opinion that “libertarianism” is particularly important when compared to better appreciation of economic science. Whoever understands economic phenomenon and wants good outcomes (as opposed to bad ones) and prosperity and peace (as opposed to destruction, waste, and conflict) will most certainly be “libertarian” in outlook, regardless of his politics.

And that brings us back to the Austrian/Chicago
division. Quite apart from the matter of who happens to wield greater influence in public at any given moment and despite the further fact that the Chicago School (and Milton Friedman himself) have expressed vehemently their devotion to the principles of market freedom and the enormous superiority of both economic and social life in the freer society, at the very heart of matters, followers of the Chicago School DO NOT actually believe in individual freedom. What they believe, essentially, is that the reins of power need not be exercised nakedly nor brutally–that theirs is a better way, in which the essence of total control over mens’ economic choices can be exercised gently, unobstrusively, and with minimal negative impact on economic well-being.

To Archimedes is attributed “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum high enough–and I’ll move the world!” Friedman and his followers aim to control (stabilize) the economic life of the world (or at least of the U.S.) without any coercion or interference with trade EXCEPT ONE: control of the quantity of money in circulation.

The schism is even wider than it appears. In the first place, Chicagoans fail in understanding the principle of the interconnectedness of ALL economic phenomena: NO change occurs in isolation and without, ultimately, realization of its full effects throughout the economy. But they fail at an even deeper level (or, I should say that at that deeper level, they differ from Austrians in their theory as to the origin of money and its proper place in human society. Neither explanation can be proven beyond question but the Austrian, to me, is by far the more logically plausible.) I don’t want to go into the difference (and it would take even longer than I’ve already been) but, at base, Chicagoans attribute the origin of money, its use, and its value to function of authority; Austrians see those matters as arising from individual human economic behavior. One is correct and the other not (and, if you’re an Austrian, the conclusions to be reached go on from there.)

TGGP August 27, 2007 at 9:52 pm

Why is the Chicago school’s influence for the better? Because they are empiricists and they are willing to respectfully go toe-to-toe with people that disagree with them. The Austrian School, especially since its domination by Rothbard, has isolated itself so that it is only heard by a chorus of yes-men true-believers. Hoppe and Kinsella have both claimed that anyone arguing against anarcho-capitalism is logically engaged in self-contradiction. Who even bothers to debate them? Furthermore, this seclusion breeds crankishness. You get people like Ayn Rand and Andrew Galambos.

Gene, give me some data supporting your ideas about a rising Austrian school. Maybe GMU, but a lot of people here don’t consider them legitimate Austrians (I suppose Menger wasn’t either then). There was a time when an Austrian could win a Nobel prize, or engage in a running debate with German historicists or socialist calculators, when a Frank Knight or Keynes grappled with their ideas. Who has engaged the Austrians in a Methodensreit since? Bryan Caplan, already an anarcho-capitalist and admirer of Mises on Public Choice ideas and Rand (in literature though not philosophy) as well as being quite an eccentric guy. Austrians seem to take pride in the fact that they are outsiders shunned by other economists, when economists are the most amenable to their ideas. The ones in the Mises Institute put their hopes in populism instead, despite the fact that populism has such an anti-libertarian track-record that the Nolan Chart makes it the opposite quadrant to libertarianism.

TGGP August 27, 2007 at 10:07 pm

Also, regarding central banking, I believe Milton Friedman advocated abolishing the Federal Reserve.

Anthony August 28, 2007 at 6:24 am

TGGP, that is not true. Dr Block, for instance, constantly engages mainstream critics of Austrianism, as do Boettke, Klein etc (oh my… but none of them are empiricists…) Hoppe deals with political economy, not economics explicitly – and so what if he believes he has established solid grounds for his ethical theory? He has been critiqued, and has responded to criticism, as have others on his behalf.

Mark Sunwall August 29, 2007 at 9:11 pm

First of all I would like to thank all who have had corrections or suggestions regarding the article on this thread. If you tried to contact me directly it may have been to an older email account which is not active. Mea culpa…I’ll try to get Mises staff to repair the link.

Finally I hope the Nockians out there, and you know who you are, will continue to increase the “remnant” and prosper.

In liberty,

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