Repost-Two Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’

Full essay here.

According to my observations (for which I claim nothing by that they are all I have to go by) inaction is better than wrong action or premature right action, and effective right action can only follow right thinking. “If a great change is to take place,” said Edmund Burke, in his last words on the French Revolution, “the minds of men will be fitted to it.”


‘It is a primary instinct of human nature to satisfy one’s needs and desires with the least possible exertion; everyone tends by instinctive preference to use the political means rather than the economic means, if he can do so.

Albert Jay Nock, a strange animal:  Philosophical anarchist…but one whose anti-statism (the State maintains a monopoly on crime) is such that he ends up in a fairly conservative position.

Also On This Site:  How many libertarians are fundamentally anti-theist…and would some go so far as to embrace utilitarianism, or Mill’s Harm Principle which both of which are often used by the State-Builders?

What about Kantian agnosticism…or is that part of the Enlightenment project of reason that Libertarians perhaps ought to be more careful with?:  A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’Via An Emailer: Some Criticism Of Leo Strauss?

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4 thoughts on “Repost-Two Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’

  1. Nock is one of my favorite essayists and I like to think of myself as one of the remnant. I am interested in why you consider him conservative, certainly not just because of his anti-statism?

  2. Malcolm, thanks for reading and commenting.

    Great question.

    I guess I should say that I think Nock ends up in a position by which conservatism could be seen from where he is (a State of anarchy, or semi-anarchy). In so doing, he is questioning the cry of most liberals: Things can and thus need to be changed for the better (often with an attendant transposed Christian metaphysics or philosophical idealism…they’ve got plans for you and me, and unintended consequences as well).

    The conservatism visible might be that of conservatives who are Statists only by default, seeing actions in defense of the State and the maintenance of current institutions as they are (which good Burkean conservatives want based in virtue and duty and with more freely entered into obligations and contracts between people…while some other conservatives want those institutions additionally grounded in religious idealism and doctrine) as the least worst option and a necessary and natural outflow of human civilization and human nature.

    Such conservatism might recognize that a Nockian state of anarchy or semi-anarchy is a welcome retreat for individuals, and extremely wise, but ultimately challenged by events, lest the remnant end up ruled by very bad men, rather than simply less bad men. He also writes really well, and is fun to read.

    I guess that’s how I reconcile my own libertarian and conservative leanings. Upon reflection, I can’t say that Nock is in a conservative position, but ends up much closer to such a position than he was prior: He’s advocating no change and yet, also, no action.

  3. Nock believed that the human personality is sacrosanct. Nothing is more important. He also believed that everyone had to learn from their own experience. Paternalistically trying to protect someone from experiencing life’s vicissitudes would violate the sanctity of the human personality. Character is everything. How can someone build character without being allowed to experience both success and failure?

    Based on this argument from autonomy Nock developed a visceral hatred of the state (although he seemed to believe that local government was OK). Consequently, I don’t see any way that Nockianism and conservatism can be reconciled. Nock only chose to do nothing because people had to be ready to accept liberty and until that time came there really was not that much to do.

  4. Malcolm,

    Thanks for clarifying. It’s appreciated.

    As you highlight, I don’t think I’ve made anywhere near a good case that Nockianism and conservatism can be reconciled.

    I do think that anarchic thinking is deep (Noam Chomsky’s anarcho-socialism, Nock, Rothbardian libertarianism) but out in the real world, in lieu of the vacuum that anarchy creates as a movement, something worse, and more authoritarian usually comes along.

    One could do a lot worse than Nock’s wisdom however.

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