Albert Jay Nock witnessed and testified to the great change in civilization in the early 20th century: the decline of individual freedom and the rise in worship of the total state. His response? Resist - by penning some of the most important, formative works in what became known, later, as modern libertarianism.
A clear writer always, there's nothing Nock wrote that is not worth reading. But if you want to get a gist of the man and his times, then you can hardly do better than his two volumes of journals, here presented under one cover.
The journals cover two periods near the end of his life, a year and a half in the early 1930s, and a slightly shorter period in 1934 and 1935. These are in a sense travel journals, for Nock was on the move, with repeated trips to Europe as well as extensive travels in the U.S.
The journals begin as the Great Depression deepens. Nock's insights are many and varied. He notes that only American banks had failed: banks in England and Canada remained intact and afloat. He is taken aback at the petty tyrannies of the government's reaction to the depression, and states that "There is nothing like this to breed serf-mindedness, and nothing like serf-mindedness to destroy character." He goes on to speculate "that no people in the Middle Ages ever showed such general and inveterate serf-mindedness as the American people has showed for twenty years, and with so little excuse or reason."
And yet many of his insights run deeper, and seem less despairing. "[M]an is incapable of conducting a satisfactory collective life on any larger than township scale," Nock states. "Neither his collective intelligence nor his collective emotional power will stretch much beyond that.” Not everything good in life rests foursquare upon political government. Society governs itself to an amazing degree.
Nock remains a vital source for us individualists of today, who find our fortunes rising but just a bit. Even as everything seems to teeter on the edge of totalitarianism, just as it did (ominously) in Nock's "forgotten days".
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