Nocking About

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I recently finished reading Albert Jay Nock’s “Our Enemy, the State” (1935). I can think of few works so appropriate for navigating what’s currently going on in our country. I recommend it to everyone, as a re-read or new read. It’s chilling to realize the extent to which Nock is writing about today, as much as he is about the “progressive” era. It’s equally chilling that despite all our self-perceived modern sophistication, so many citizens remain ignorant about the nature of the state.

An illustrative passage:

“It is a curious anomaly. State power has an unbroken record of inability to do anything efficiently, economically, disinterestedly, or honestly; yet when the slightest dissatisfaction arises over any exercise of social power, the aid of the agent least qualified to give aid is immediately called for. Does social power mismanage banking-practice in this-or-that special instance – then let the State, which never has shown itself able to keep its own finances from sinking promptly into the slough of misfeasance, wastefulness and corruption, intervene to “supervise” or “regulate” the whole body of banking practice, or even take it over entire.”

I need not say more, but I will – just a little.

Not only does Nock’s work predict our future from the past, it is one of the best discussions of the distinction between state and government I have read. So, being a government and politics Ph.D. candidate, I did a quick search to see whether it graced any syllabi that I’ve had or that may be easily accessible online.

No. It didn’t.

In undergraduate and graduate classes, I’ve had to read a pile of literature on the nature of man and the nature of the state. I’ve had to read (among others) Aristotle, Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Dewey, Nietzsche, whole hosts of Marx and of Lenin – even the Marquis de Sade and Rimbaud. No Nock.

Given this conspicuous absence of Nock’s work and other libertarian-flavored literature, ignorance about the real difference between the state and government is unsurprising. It’s no wonder our society is poised to repeat the mistakes of the past, no wonder that Nock might as well be writing about the current administration. To borrow the words of a famous icon of academia, even the most educated among us, by virtue of that education, operates under a “false consciousness” about the nature of the state.

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