23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2001
Albert Jay Nock was perhaps one of the only three truly enduring bellettrists 20th century American letters yielded up. He deployed a truly lyric and insinuating prose style of uncommon grace and oddly puckish wit, and it served to unfurl one of the rarest of American minds - a shamelessly recalcitrant individualist whose intellectual evolution never obstructed or abrogated the core of the man: that the individual deserved his long-stolen propers; that the lowest common denominator should be tolerated but not consecrated or canonised; and, above all, that the State was an organism worthy of that which its crimes ever deserves: the fear and loathing of any and every man and woman who cares a whack about his or her fellows. To read him is a singular joy. And you will find no more sensible or beautifully-balanced introduction to the man and his singularity of writing than in this volume which Mr. Hamilton has composed with uncommon brilliance.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Albert J. Nock (c.1870-1945)was one of the few Americans who expressed intelligent, honest opinions and had the courage to do so when many were too timid or apprehensively conventional to write anything intelligent. Nock was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His family lived in New York State and then in Michigan. Nock was mostly self educated and was encouraged to learn Greek and Latin, study the Classics, and learn advanced mathematics. Nock was convinced this was all he needed to know to make intelligent discourse. Nock began his career as an Anglican clergyman in Titusville, Pennsylvania which is approxomately 20 miles from where this reviewer resided when a teenager. As an aside, if anyone suggested that students seriously study the Classics today, the "Education Experts" would try to have that person shot. The collection of essays in this anthology consist of essays re religion, the State, War, and teaching/learning. These essays should make thoughtful men and women think about ultimate questions and provide good reasons for solitude to read the Great Books and to think for themselves.
As mentioned above, Nock was an Anglican pastor. He viewed religion in the U.S. in a state of decline. Nock viewed religion as something uplifting and condusive to humane life and compasssion. Nock well argued that religion in American at the turn of the 20th. century and during/after World War I as vicious, dismal, hypocritical, and depressing. Nock contrasted religion in the U.S. with Rabelais'(1494-1553) PANTAGRUEL. Rabelais's work was full of humor, parady, and fun. Readers should note that Rabelais was a Catholic monk.
Nock was concerned that U.S. Puritanism led to nativism, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and mean spiritedness. Nock cited examples of religious do-gooders having men arrested because they were at their place of business on Sunday. Nock excoriated clergy for their inability to mind their own damned business. Nock could have cited H.L. Mencken's quotes re the Puritan spirit. One quote was, "Show me a Puritan, and I will show you an SOB." Another of Mencken's quotes was, "A Puritan is someone who goes to be at night and worries that someone somewhere is happy." Mencken's last quote is priceless when he wrote, "John Calvin was the father of Puritanism which is to say the worst obscenity ever hoisted on Western Civilization."
One of the essays in this book summarizes Nock's concern about religion. The essay was titled "Isaiah's Job." Nock noted that Isaiah was commanded to severely critisize the people of Israel. Isaiah was told that all of his criticism would mostly fall on deaf years. Isaish condemned the elite for their greediness, cruelty, concern over religious forms without any sense of conviction, etc. Isaiah was also told that that the dull, mean spirited masses would not heed his warnings, but Isaiah's job was to appeal to the Remnant who would survive future catasrophies to help rebuild a better society. Isaiah was not very popular, but he did not flinch from his mission.
Another sacred cow that Nock vigorously attacked was American education. Nock did not spare any reservations. Nock was critical that American education was based far too much on "money grubbing and mindless conformity." Nock stated that he was not against technical learning, but the lack of learning the Classics, Great Literature, Classical Music, etc. made Americans less humane. Nock cited examples of terrible writing and the stupid curriculum in some colleges/universities. For example, one university offered a class in baby tending. The class offerings in such vague areas such as life processes, weight lifting, etc. were severely critisized. As an aside, the undersigned remembers that a Maryland teacher got fired for teaching Classical Literature to a high school class whose students had trouble with reading and written expression. This reviewer does know how he did it, but his students took an avid interest in the Classical literature and did very well on reading and writing tests. Yet, he was fired because the books he used (which he paid from his pocket) were not on "The Offical State Curriculum." Nock knew very well that Education Experts were phonies, and their writing was so much "academic bafflegab.
Another topic of concern was The State. Nock saw the state as an instrument of "...taking money out of one set of pockets and putting into another." (Voltaire:1694-1778). Does this sound familiar? Nock viewed the state as largely as an instrument of useless coercion. He remarked at the large number of laws in Great Britian and the U.S. Nock wrote that a large number of laws reduced self respect and personal responsibility. As Cicero wrote, "As the laws increase, the more corrupt the people are." Nock added to his criticism of The State with examples senseless and stupid laws. Readers (intelligent readers) would be amused at the examples cited by Nock.
Nock's criticism of war and diplomacy was clear and precise. He cited the hypocrisy of all political leaders expecially after W.W. I. Nock undermined Pres. Wilson's lofty statements. Nock was clear that the "winners" were simply involved with looting and control of the world's land resources. Nock chided Wilson for his alleged naivety and foolishness. The Big Five (Great Britain, the French, Italy, Japan, and the U.S.)were going to use the League of Nations as a machinery of control of vast areas of the world. Nock could have mentioned that especially the British and French borrowed and spent so much on W.W. I that they could no longer afford an empire. Nock cited examples from the winners and losers of W.W. I of expansion, cruelty, tyranny, etc., and he was blunt to mention the U.S. Nock's understanding of war and diplomacy was solid. Nock once said all he needed to know about, war, diplomacy, politics, etc. occured up to the year 1500, and he could figure the rest without nationalist propaganda filters.
Nock probably realized that his essays and criticism would not change Americans. However, he may have seen his work as similar to Isaiah's Job. Nock was not a blind conformist, and he was not a blind visionary. Nock was a thoughtful, learned man who had the courage of his convictions to express himself.
James E. Egolf April 5, 2009