14/CHRONICLESnA SUPERFLUOUS MAN by Martin Morse Woostern”I once voted at a presidential election. There being no real issue atnstake, I cast my vote for Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. I knew Jeff wasndead, but I voted on Artemus Ward’s principle that if we can’t havena live man who amounts to anything, by all means let’s have anfirst-class corpse.”n—Albert Jay Nock, A Journal of These DaysnOne of the hazards of Washington hfe is the risk ofnrunning into people whose poHtics is their rehgion.nYou see them everywhere at receptions, eyes blazing withnunhallowed fire, proselytizing for a cause whose victory isnalways within sight.nThe right-wing political fanatic wages war on the pleasuresnof life. If only pornographic magazines, mood-alteringndrugs (except vermouth), and premarital sex could benbanned, then Americans would stand tall, keep their hairnshort, and vote a straight Republican ticket until they die.nThe left-wing political fanatic has her mind on onenImportant Subject, which is the core of her existence.nAnyone who does not spend every waking moment worryingnabout the nuclear freeze or South Africa is simply not ancaring person.nWhenever I cross paths with one of these people, I wish InMartin Morse Wooster is associate editor of WilsonnQuarterly.nnnhad a copy of Albert Jay Nock’s Memoirs of a SuperfluousnMan. I would fortify myself with Nock’s advice. “One ofnthe most offensive things about the society in which I laternfound myself was a monstrous itch for changing people,” henwrote. “It seemed to me a society made up of congenitalnmissionaries, bent on reforming and standardizing peoplenaccording to a pattern of their own devising . . . the momentnone wishes to change anybody, one becomes like thensocialists, vegetarians, prohibitionists; and this is, as Rabelaisnsays, ‘a terrible thing to think upon.'”nFew people read Nock these days. That is a shame. Nocknwas one of the great curmudgeons of American journalism,na first-class grouch whose opinions seasoned dozens ofnissues of Harpers, The Atlantic, The American Mercury,nand most of the other major journals of the 20’s and 30’s.n”Albert Jay Nock belongs to the great American tradition ofnthe judicious eccentric,” says Jacques Barzun, “a genuinenpolitical mind, a true scholar, an intellectual hedonistnwhose classic prose is graced with insidious wit.”nNock spent the first four decades of his life searching for anvocation. Born in Brooklyn in 1870, he was graduated fromnSt. Stephen’s College, later “reorganized off the face of thenearth” to become Bard College. Nock drifted through thenlate Victorian and Edwardian eras, first as a semiprofessionalnbaseball player, then as an Episcopalian minister.nIn 1908, he went through a messy divorce which lednhim to abandon wife, children, and church for a year ofnrecovery in Brussels. When he returned. Nock began hisnsecond career as a writer.nFor the first 10 years of his career, he was seen as anliberal. He spent five years as an editor at The AmericannMagazine, a muckraking monthly featuring the work ofnLincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell. Steffens rememberednNock fondly in his memoirs as “that finished scholar [who]nput in mastered English for us editorials which expressednwith his grave smile and chuckling tolerance ‘our’ interpretationsnof things human.”nIn 1914, Nock met Francis Neilson, a prominent politiciannin the British Liberal Party. Neilson had the manuscriptnof How Diplomats Make War, a study of the machinationsnof the British Foreign Office. Nock found anpublisher and provided an introduction, stating that Neilson’snwork would “shift our sympathies squarely away fromnthe whole filthy prairie-dog’s nest of traditional diplomacy,nwherever found.”nNeilson was to repay Nock’s favor many times over. Inn1917, he married Helen Swift, heir to the meat-packingnfortune. Mrs. Neilson paid for Nock’s salary at The Nation,nwhere for two years he assisted Oswald Carrison Villard inn