Monday, October 29, 2012

Our Enemy, The State (VIDEO)

Laissez Faire Books presents, "Our Enemy, The State," by Albert Jay Nock, read by Stefan Molyneux. To discover more titles from the laissez faire tradition, please visit


by Stefan Molyneux, host of Freedomain Radio

There is a scene in the movie "Barfly" where a woman turns to the main character and says "I can't stand people. I hate them. You hate them?" He turns to her and drawls, "No, but I seem to feel better when they're not around."

By his own report, Albert Nock didn't like people very much:

"Someone asked me years ago if it were true that I disliked Jews, and I replied that it was certainly true, not at all because they are Jews but because they are folks, and I don't like folks."

He never cried as a child, and as a young man he had a ferocious temper, so it's hard to imagine that he came by his distaste for mankind as a result of a stalwart dedication - endlessly rejected and attacked, as is generally the case - to improving the lot of his fellow citizens. Nock did not lose faith with mankind and end up bitter -- he started off bitter, and so it cost him much less to clearly see the follies of those around him.

So - before you start this book, fair warning is in order.

"Our Enemy, The State" is founded on a pessimism so deep, so profound and so bottomless that it is as if we are Pandora, opening the creaky, face-blasting chest of demons, and finding at the bottom not a glowing spirit of hope, but a grey bag of words that, when we touch them, dissolve us into blowing ash.

Nock builds this case slowly, carefully, and relentlessly. He divided general decision-making into social power, and State power. The expansion of State power, he argued, always comes at the expense of social power, resulting in a continual escalation of statism, until the inevitable fascist or totalitarian collapse. He differentiates between the State, and 'government'; the State is theft and exploitation, while 'government' is the spontaneous problem-solving that always arises in the absence of centralized coercion.

Nock also understood that, like all animals, people always want something for nothing - and there's no better way to get something for nothing than to manipulate the credulous masses into surrendering liberty and risk to the almighty political machinery of the State -- as he repeatedly points out, people always forget that when you ask the State to do something for you, it will always end up doing something to you.

The State is founded on conquest and confiscation -- this much is understood about the ancient world by most educated people, but Nock makes a powerful case that the same principles drove the foundation of the American Republic as well. The British ban on westward expansion stalled the insatiable greed of land speculation, and this drove the Founders -- rabid speculators almost to a man -- to risk political independence.

The unraveling of the myth of the noble founding of America opens the door -- a trapdoor, really -- to a special kind of despair faced by those who recognize that high moral language is almost always a cover for endless subterranean pickpocketing.

Moralists generally hope that when evil is exposed, good people rally to beat back the darkness -- however, when high moral language is invented and used by evil to cover itself -- and greedily accepted by those hoping to profit from the injustices of State power -- then the robbers of mankind hold all the weapons -- physical, emotional and linguistic -- and all hope is effectively lost. As Nock points out, no revolution has succeeded in the West since the mid-19th century, and none can be expected to succeed anytime soon. No less an authority than Lenin himself is quoted as saying that no revolution can be expected to succeed unless the soldiers and the police are discontented, and nothing of the sort appears imminent anywhere across Western civilization -- particularly when soldiers and policemen so depend on the State for rent-seeking wages, bloated pensions and health care freebies.

Due to the implacable irrationality of mankind, Nock viewed the escalating expansion of State power as more a force of nature than the effects of ignorance. When considering the idea of a society free of centralized coercive oligarchies, he wrote:

"Perhaps, some aeons hence, if the planet remains so long habitable, the benefits accruing to conquest and confiscation may be adjudged over-costly; the State may in consequence be superseded by government, the political means suppressed, and to the fetisches which give nationalism and patriotism that present execrable character may be broken down. But the remoteness and uncertainty of this prospect makes any thought of it fatuous, and any concern with it futile..."

No comments: