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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Our Enemy The State - book review

Albert Jay Nock's book Our Enemy, The State, was published in 1935.  I've written before about Nock and his seminal essay "Isaiah's Job".  There are a few serious reasons to discuss the 77 year old work of a man who died in 1945.

Our Enemy, The State, continues Nock's thesis that there are two main ways that people pursue successful outcomes:  A) the productive, or economic means, or the B) parasitic - political means.  Nock analyzes the main philosophical  and political threads leading up to, and including the founding of these United States.  He uses historical examples to support his premise.  His book is an intellectual stemwinder - written in such a manner and referenced with names and events that spur the intellectually curious reader to further exploration and study.  I recommend it without reservation.  It can be read for free here.

An early example of State Power negating and shrinking the practice and philosophy of the much stronger Social Power occurs early on with regard to the Johnstown Flood.  "When the Johnstown flood occurred, social power was immediately mobilized and applied with intelligence and vigour.  Its abundance, measured by money alone was so great that when everything was finally put in order, something like a million dollars remained.  If such a catastrophe happened now, not only is social power perhaps too depleted for the like exercise, but the general instance would be to let the State see to it."(p. 6) Nock is right about this, and it has gone further today.  We've seen this in every natural disaster in the U.S.  People  wait for FEMA to fix their problems.  As they are paying absurd amounts of their earnings in tax, they are waiting for the less competent, less capable, more corrupt institution to 'solve' their problems.  The Katrina Disaster is Nock's premise writ large.  On a micro level, how we deal with the homeless reflects this aspect of our society.  Because there are ham fisted government 'programs' that deal with the poor, the social power that used to deal with the poor and indigent has atrophied severely.  I see precious little charity when it comes to the homeless in NYC - after all, aren't their shelters and welfare for them?

Early on in the book Nock calls forth the statist / fascist philosophies of Hegel and Fichte.  (As a side note, the fact that he refers to these to philosophers is indicative of our education system today.  There are few schooled Americans who know who these two people were.  The fact that Nock cavalierly refers to them shows how dumbed down our education system has become).  "Thus, for example, when Hitler says that 'the state dominates the nation because it alone represents it', he is only putting into loose popular language the formula of Hegel, that 'the State is the general substance, where of individuals are but accidents'.  Or, again, when Mussolini says, 'Everyting for the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State,' he is vulgarizing the doctrine of Fichte, that 'the state is the superior power, ultimate and beyond appeal, absolutely independent.'" (p. 22)  The State is the new Religion.  Nock saw, during the regime of Hitler and Mussolini, what these reigns of terror were about.  Note, how what we would call the 'mainstream media' of the day, as well as the subject of 'history' in school today is starkly silent about who were the early identifiers of the governmental horror shows that became the Statist and Socialist killing machines.  Nock shows particular skill going further back in history and explaining how land expropriation is the first thing that the State does, and all oppression, of whatever kind, follows this baseline act.

In Our Enemy, The State, you get a preview of what one sees today with regard to the state.  Unthinking acceptance, drone like approval, all couched in a childlike 'debate' between Team Red and Team Blue.  When one mentions negative facts about the State, various members of the herd rise to the occasion to defend their deity - oftentimes with strong language.  Nock excels at pointing out this fact using a writing style and footnotes that send the reader into a web of history and social theory.  He summarily crushes socialist shibboleths (poverty in industrial England was caused by laissez faire), shows disdain for the intellect of the American electorate, and correctly pins the ills of society on the correct culprit - the State.

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