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[...] Nock understood a truth that is nearly unspeakable now, in the wake of the disastrous era of Big Government, that although the West in general pays great obeisance to the idea of Freedom, and America in particular is, at least theoretically, founded upon the primacy of the idea, most people (the mass-men) do not give a fig about it. And since in a democracy the masses will wield power, the prospects for the West appeared pretty bleak : Considering mankind's indifference to freedom, their easy gullibility and their facile response to conditioning, one might very plausibly argue that collectivism is the political mode best suited to their disposition and their capacities. Under its regime the citizen, like the soldier, is relieved of the burden of initiative and is divested of all responsibility, save for doing as he is told. He takes what is allotted to him, obeys orders, and beyond that he has no care. Perhaps, then, this is as much as the vast psychically-anthropoid majority are up to, and a status of permanent irresponsibility under collectivism would be most congenial and satisfactory to them. Given a just and generous administration of collectivism this might very well be so; but even on that extremely large and dubious presumption the matter is academic, because of all political modes a just and generous collectivism is in its nature the most impermanent. each new activity or function that the State assumes means an enlargement of officialdom, an augmentation of bureaucracy.Read more ›
...and this was his crowning glory, instinct with the serene twilit retrospection of his final hour. It is a book, in the words of one critic, "too good to be true." And, in spite of its title, Albert Jay Nock's MEMOIRS OF A SUPERFLUOUS MAN bears only the faintest resemblance to the memoir genre to which we are now accustomed. The sublimely cultivated Nock (1870-1945), essayist, social critic, diarist, and biographer, was very likely the most supremely differentiated American literary personality of the first half of this century, and in his twilit retrospection Nock provides as intellectually moving a summa of his response to the character of his times as we have any right to expect. As we pass, via Nock's MEMOIRS, through the vanished world of his late-Victorian youth and classical education, and see through his eyes the deep tidal evolution of our countrymen away from their earlier rootedness in stout yeoman independence, and towards the accelerating conformity induced by the Faustian bargain we have struck with mass-market materialist democracy, dominated by the gangsterish brutality of the modern centralized state, we find to our unceasing delight that Nock has left untouched no significant dimension of life: manners, morals, religion, culture, literature, politics, history, marriage, and, toward the end, even death itself - each is thrown in turn into the sharpest and most surprising relief by a mind so accustomed to viewing all questions "sub specie aeternitatis" under the aspect of eternity), that no reader can come from even an initial absorption by this book without emerging with a view of the world forever cleansed and purified of everything not essential to living the humane life.Read more ›
A consummate stylist, essayist, biographer and critic Albert Jay Nock (1870-1945), in this his crowning work, surveys, from the twilit retrospection of Olympian old age, the tidal shift in American culture and politics over his lifetime from a republic of stout yeoman Jeffersonian democracy - to the now-familiar world of the total state and total war. Nock's vast learning and startling, eccentric insights into virtually every sphere of human endeavor make him seem a spirit from another world.
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But even if this pause in the march of Collectivization should prove to be of long-lasting duration, it should not be seen as a refutation of Nock's ideas, but as a tribute to them. For if Nock's arguments seem self-evident to us now, it is all too easy to forget how truly superfluous they seemed in 1943. Nock, who was writing before even Hayek's Road to Serfdom had been published, is one of the incredibly small group of men who kept alive the idea of freedom and who resisted the, at the time seemingly inevitable, force of collectivization. If his most dire predictions did not come true it is not solely because he overestimated the opposition, but because a powerful counterrevolution eventually rose up, structured around ideas like his, and it is in this regard that modern conservatism owes him a tremendous, almost completely unacknowledged, debt.
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Albert J. Nock (1870-1945)lived when he thought many Americans and Europeans went "from civilization to decadence." He actually argued Americans went from barbarianism to decadence without passing through civilization. Nock live when peace, law-and-order, cosmopolitan communities, etc. were the norm. He saw Americans and Europeans become colletivized thoughtless men and women who lost the capacity to do serious reading, thinking, and writing.
These MEMOIRS began with Nock's childhood, early eduation, experience in boarding school, and college learning. Nock remembered when learing was more informal but much more authenic and thoughtful. Nock reflected on the fact that trash literature replaced The Great Books whose publishers had to fight for survival. Nock made the interesting observation that The Great Books re history, literature, philosophy, etc. were designed to impart wisdom and make men think. The trash literature only appealed to sensations and base tastes. Then there were the Uplifters who could not mind their own business and who wanted to engineer others to be like the Uplifters, and bad literature relected this trend. Fortunately for Nock, he had access to good books and enough men and women who could relate to these books.
Nock had harsh words for politics or what he called ecnonomism. He carefully diagnosed that the entry of the US into the Spanish-American War clearly showed that absolutism can flourish as well under republicanism as under atuocracy. He saw the trend to what he called "Statism" whereby people exist for the State which Nock thought was opposed to a peaceful society of free men and women. Nock noted William Penn's remark (1644-1718) that"...Read more ›