A Very PrivatenPersonnby Brad LinaweavernThe State of the Union: Essays innSocial Criticismnby Albert Jay NocknEdited and with a Foreword bynCharles H. HamiltonnIndianapolis: Liberty Press;n340 pp., $20.00nWhen Albert Jay Nock died inn1945, American civilization hadnknown saner times. Having just conquerednthe worid through the FinalnDeal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, thennew colossus had a growing appetite,nundaunted -by expanse or expense. Itnwas something on the order of: Todaynthe earth, tomorrow the universe!nThe author of Our Enemy, the Statenhad not so much warned as observednwhat every victorious state will inevitablyndo; and the author oi Memoirs of anSuperfluous Man entertained no illusionsnabout the implications of totalnvictory in the last war he lived tonwitness. The recently terminated enemynhad been hamstrung by its Weltanschauung,nbound to an exclusivist racialnfantasy. The new enemy had ansimilar weakness, with class taking thenplace of race. These ideologies hobblednthemselves. They were parochial.nNot so the victorious American empirenwith a vision that excluded no one andnnothing from its all-devouring hopes.nThe mystery is how such an indiscriminatenmachine as 20th-century Americannculture could coexist with as discriminatingna native son as Albert JaynNock.nCharles Hamilton has brought togethernessays never before included inna book with others taken from booksnlong out of print, as well as a numbernof classic essays. In the wake of thenuproar produced by the publication ofnH.L. Mencken’s diaries several yearsnago, the new Nock collection arrivesnon the scene at an interesting time. Ifnthese two old friends could only see thenREVIEWSnAmerica of the present day (where thenmost humdrum of their daily observancesnwould be suspect, challenged,nand condemned), what would theynmake of it?nIn his time. Nock found more examplesnof the humane life in Europenthan in America, but he drew no hardnand fast conclusions concerning this.nAs several pieces in this collectionnattest, he viewed people and places suinspecie aeternis. Although a singletaxer,nindividualist, and anarchist, henwas immune from the desire to torturenreality into preconceived patterns.nMencken, the cynic, would sometimesnallow the emotion of the moment toncolor his reporting; Nock, by contrast,nwas almost aloof The bracing, classicalncurriculum of which he never tirednwas, in his view, immunization againstnunrealistic expectations; but the wholenof the 20th century runs against realism,nand it is all too easy to beginnbelieving in solutions in spite of oneself.nNock could be writing about thenPersian Gulf War when he excoriatesn”pseudo-patriotic flatulence,” “perfectionist-patrioticnliterature,” and “inertnromanticism” in a piece entitled “ThenReturn of the Patriots,” originally publishednin 1932 in Virginia QuarterlynReview; he even speaks of “our gloriousnrepublic” in tones as sarcastic asnthose of Gore Vidal — or Henry Adams.nIn “The Criminality of thenState,” which first appeared in thenAmerican Mercury in the terribly difficultnyear of 1939, he writes, “Manynnow believe that with the rise of then’totalitarian’ State the world has enterednupon a new era of barbarism. Itnhas not. The totalitarian State is onlynthe State; the kind of thing it does isnonly what the State has always donenwith unfailing regularity, if it had thenpower to do it, wherever and whenevernits own aggrandizement made thatnkind of thing expedient.” This neverbeforenanthologized essay alone isnworth the price of the book.nWas there ever really a day whennsomeone who expressed such viewsncould be accepted as a conservative? Innnn”A Little Conserva-tive,” excavated bynHamilton from a 1936 issue of thenAtlantic Monthly, Nock considers theninadequacy of all political labels. Henpreferred to regard himself as a “radical”nin the original sense of the word,nand with characteristic prescience observed:n”In the glossary of politics andnjournalism, the commonest, nay, theninvariable connotation of ‘conservativism’nis in terms of money; a ‘conservativenpolicy’ is one by which a largernflow of money can be turned towardsnone set of beneficiaries rather thanntowards another . . .” (Of course, thisndefinition works equally well to describenother political creeds, and Nockngenerously includes them.) One isnstruck again and again by how muchnNock was a private person whonthought the best place to be was beyondnpolitics. Not even to advancencauses in which he placed a modicumnof faith would he subject himself to thennecessities of political action. “Mynindividualism,” he explained, “was anlogical extension of the anarchist principle.”nAnd if conservatism had nonidentity when Nock wrote (classicalnliberalism was a lost cause), then hownpointless is today’s brouhaha over neoconservatism,na word bereft of even thenshadow of meaning. Modern liberalsnwant what neoconservatives want, andnvice versa. None of them will evernrelinquish their dream of free lunches,nendlessly redistributed. They are allnjobholders in search of a rationale.nProbably the most disturbing essaynin the book is the previously uncollectedn”Peace the Aristocrat,” from thenMay 1915 issue of the AtlanticnMonthly. Nock points out why thencommon man prefers war to peace, fornin war he shares his miseries and has ansense of being part of the grand purpose.nNock has it that war serves “theninstinct for equality”; and that thenpolitician realizes that war is simplynmore interesting and exciting thannpeace — “this instinctive knowledge isnthe primary essential qualification fornhis squalid trade.”nThe critics of Albert Jay Nock pronouncenhim a dandy and a snob, butnAPRIL 1992/35n